The Importance of Secondary Characters
In the plays The Burial at Thebes and A Streetcar Named Desire, gender inequalities are the main cause of conflict. In these plays the principal characters are women who struggle forcefully in a world where men enforce a lifestyle in which women are seen as inferior. In contrast, the sisters that seem to not have much importance are fundamental because their inaction define the course of the play. Throughout Sophocles’ The Burial at Thebes and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, the characters of Ismene and Stella represent the submissive woman in the society. This submissive personality serves as obstacle because it blocks a sister’s efforts to stand up for her beliefs against male power. Ismene’s and Stella’s choice to not support their sisters and their ideals causes the failure of Antigone and Blanche to overcome the male power.
In the version of Antigone The Burial at Thebes, Healey rewrites Sophocles’ Greek tragedy. Throughout the play we don’t see Ismene appear much; however, her character is critical because she portrays the average woman. Ismene reflects the expectations for a woman of the time, and states the importance in following such submissive role. This is evident in Ismene’s response to Antigone: “Women defying Creon? / It’s not a woman’s place. / We’re weak where they are strong.” (Heaney 10). This line expresses Ismene’s support for the idea that women have to accept their role in the society without defying the law. While Antigone is committed to breaking Creon's unjust laws, Ismene attempts to dissuade Antigone, reminding her of what the expectations are for a woman: “We must do as we’re told. / I’ll be ruled by Creon’s word.” (Heaney 10). Her speech illustrates the contrast between the two sisters because Ismene is depicted as reasonable and as someone who understands her place, while Antigone is the opposite.
Although Ismene sees herself as powerless to do something against male dominance, explaining “Dishonour them I do not” / But nor am I strong enough / To defy the laws of the land” (Heaney 10), she seems to value family ties and the laws of the gods. We see this at the beginning when Ismene is not willing to stand up for her beliefs of doing the right thing and bury her brother. However, the courage to stand beside her sister does eventually come when she asks Creon to be executed alongside Antigone: “I helped her, yes, if I’m allowed to say so / And now I stand with her to take what comes” (Heaney 10). Eventually, Antigone killed herself as last attempt of defiance; nevertheless, one wonders what would have happened if Antigone had received support from Ismene? My guess is that Antigone wouldn't have killed herself; instead, Ismene’s support would have encouraged Antigone to keep fighting for her beliefs and overcome male power. On the other hand, it is possible that if Antigone had listened to Ismene, this wouldn't be a tragedy at all. Ismene's argument at the beginning of the play is that their family has suffered enough due to Oedipus’ mistakes.
In the play A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams similarly presents women’s struggle against male authority. Although Stella can be seen as the worst of the sisters for choosing a man over her sister, she is a fundamental character. Like Ismene, Stella represents the submissive woman. Before Blanche arrived, Stella had to cook and clean for Stanley while he would go to play poker or bowling with his friends. Unlike her sister, Stella depends solely on her husband; therefore, she has to stick to her role as a submissive housewife “I said I’m not in anything that I have desire to get out of… He promised that he was going to quit having those poker parties, but you know how long such a promise is going to keep… People have to tolerate each other’s habits…” (Williams 74). What is more, Stella indicates that Stanley’s abuse is a normal occurrence in her life: “I know