The major moral conflict in Antigone by Sophocles is the conflict over which value is most fundamental. The play presents the moral conflict over whether the god's law or the city's law is more powerful. This seems to be the most prominent theme. The conflict arises mainly between the tragic heroes Antigone and her uncle-in-law Creon, King of Thebes. The city of Thebes had been through a war in which Antigone and her sister Ismene have lost both of their brothers to it, Eteocles and Polyneices. Eteocles's fighting for Thebes was buried and honored as a hero. Polyneices was left unburied and dishonored because he is considered an enemy of the city. Creon edicts that whoever broke the law by burying Polyneices will be considered a criminal.
The conflict between Antigone and Creon arises when she decides she must honor her brother's death and gives him burial. "I myself will bury him," she expressed to Ismene. (line 72) Once Antigone has buried her brother, she is brought before King Creon to explain her actions. Sophocles presents the two sides of the conflict, moral law versus city law; Antigone expresses the side of moral law and Creon expresses his side with the laws of the city. Antigone begins by telling her sister Ismene it was her duty as a sister that she should bury her dead brother. It is a duty she owes to her family. She also expresses that the king will not "keep me from my own." In other words, duty to the family is above her duty to the city. Antigone also tells Ismene that she is willing to become a criminal and die for her beliefs. She believes her death will not be in vain, and it is honoring her family; and the gods, in turn, will recognize that as true honor. She continues by saying that she would rather please her dead brother than the city, so she disobeys the law. (line 89)
When a messenger comes to Creon, bringing the news that Antigone has buried her brother, he begins his arguments why Antigone has broken the law. He begins by stating that a man shows what he is made of by his "skill in rule and law." In other words, the law is everything and as a ruler, he must do everything for his country. He considers Polyneices an enemy of the city and a threat to the security of the city as well. Thus Polyneices will be called a traitor in life and in death and dishonored. The scene when Antigone and Creon face each other is the opportunity for both to defend themselves. Creon questions Antigone. She bases her responses on that the city laws proclaiming her as illegal are not the laws of Zeus or laws proclaimed by gods, but rather, laws made by a man that one day will also die. She will honor her brother's death because this is what the gods have proclaimed for all mankind. (lines 460-463)
In the dialogue between Creon and Antigone she also defends herself when he questions her as to why an enemy should be honored. She responds by saying she loved her brothers and her family, and they are not her enemies. Creon also asked Antigone why she was the only one defying him. She answers him by saying that there are many others who do not speak out because they fear him. (lines 508-509) Antigone offers one last argument in stating that she loves her family and will welcome death because she will join her dear family. If she has broken any of the god's laws, she will know when she dies. She believes that good-will will have come from her death. (lines 878-882)
Part of the conflict is also presented by Haimon. Haimon is Creon's son and Antigone's future husband. Haimon comes to offer his father and advice. He tells his father the people of the city are calling him unjust for killing Antigone. Haimon advises his father that a good ruler is one that is open-minded and not ashamed of learning something new. The city wants Creon to let the girl live. (lines 692-695) Haimon also tells his father if he goes through with his determination of killing Antigone, he will be dishonoring the gods.