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Feminism in Sophocles’ Antigone and Shakespeare’s Othello

Feminism in Antigone and Othello

Feminism has been one of the most important forces in shaping our modern-day society. Thanks to the women’s rights movement, females today enjoy rights and freedoms that are unprecedented in the history of Western civilization. However, it was not always this way. Whereas modern literature that contains feminist messages barely gets a second thought, readers in our time are intrigued and impressed by feminist works coming from a decidedly male-biased past. Two of the greatest works of Western literature, Antigone and Othello, written by the two great dramatists Sophocles and Shakespeare, have been said to illustrate feminist ideals in the “distant” past. Antigone, which embodies these ideals throughout and is primarily concerned with the inequity of gender roles, is such a play. Othello, while it contains occasional feminist sentiment, still keeps its women in conventional female roles and thus is not a feminist work.

In order to determine if these plays are feminist, we first require a working definition of the term. This alone is rather complicated, because the word itself is popularly used and misused in many different ways. In its simplest form, feminist doctrine states that women and men are equal and deserve the same rights and privileges. This, although widely accepted in our time, was not in the past. However, feminism also has been seen as the belief that men are the inferior sex, a belief that might more accurately be termed “anti-masculinism”. This belief has never been widely espoused in Western society, and probably never will be. It can also be said that “feminism” is any belief or idea that is meant to improve the well-being and social standing of females: for ex…

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…e does not, and this is seen clearly in the play. We are driven to sympathize with Antigone, and we see that she finds a way to be powerful that does not fit in with the classical male-driven power structure. She is also powerful in the structure of the play: she is its most well developed character and the play takes its title from her name. Finally, Sophocles shows us that feminism works, at least in Antigone’s case: she gets what she wants. Unfortunately, this happens to be death, but her attempts at power still get her what she desires.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat, Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993.

Sophocles. Antigone. The Theban Plays. Ed. and trans. E. F. Watling. London: Penguin Group, 1947: 126-162.

Watling, E. F. “Introduction.” The Theban Plays. London: Penguin Group, 1947: 7-22.

Religious Symbolism in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

Religious Symbolism in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

In his novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck portrays the movement of a family of migrant workers, the Joads, from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. Steinbeck’s novel, though it is surprisingly lacking in surface-level symbolism, was “conceived [on] simultaneous levels of existence, ranging from socio-economic determinism to transcendent spirituality” (DeMott, xiii). One of the many levels on which this novel can be read is as a parallel to the stories of Christ and the Exodus (Louis Owens, John Steinbeck’s Re-Vision of America, quoted in DeMott, xiii). Steinbeck intertwines allegories based on these two stories throughout his novel. Through these intertwined religious textures, and the destitution and depression that constitutes the greater part of the novel, Steinbeck conveys the message of the impending “death of religion” while at the same time establishing his novel as a sort of new gospel for the people.

On the surface, one can read Steinbeck’s novel in one of two ways: by reading the longer, even-numbered chapters, one gains a close understanding of the life of this particular family. But by reading the shorter, odd-numbered, “intercalary” chapters, which could almost constitute a short novel in and of themselves, one begins to comprehend the “epic sweep” of the exodus of multitudes of workers to California, the apparent promised land. Steinbeck intended to separate these two stories in the reader’s mind, as we see in his journal kept while writing the book, published later as Working Days:

I find that I am not very satisfied with the numbering of these chapters. It may be that they simply will be numbered with large nume…

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…apes highlight the differences between the times in which the two stories were written, and the flaws of the culture in which Steinbeck wrote. The approach of looking at this epic as it relates to the Christian tradition sheds some new light on it, and in addition shows that Steinbeck truly meant this work to be remembered for all time.

Works Cited

DeMott, Robert. “Introduction”. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin, 1992: vii-xliv.

Levant, Howard. “The Fully Matured Art: The Grapes of Wrath”. The Novels of John Steinbeck: A Critical Survey. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1983.

New Revised Standard Version Bible. New York: American Bible Society, 1989.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Steinbeck, John. Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath. Ed. Robert DeMott. New York: Viking, 1989.

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