Unit 11

   English 201: 
  Masterpieces of Western Literature
.Unit 11 Reading Course Reading Entry Page
Introduction Background .Explication Questions Review


Reductionism: both Sophocles & Euripide  warn their fellow Greek citizens about the dangers of reductionism.  Antigone & Medea are self-righteous about their total commitment to one aspect or context of life experience, that of the family.  Except for Mormons, Westerners now have a looser sense of how the family continues in the next world than do people in most of the rest of the world.  In Japan, e.g., every family has a butsudan (a Buddha altar) where commemorative plaques of dead ancestors are enshrined.  Food (usually uncooked rice), water & incense are offered to ancestors daily to keep them alive & happy in the next world.  The family continues to hold together even after death.  In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia I used to go by a fairly large shop that offered papier-mâché constructions of cars, houses, people, & other objects.  It was some time before I understood that these were burned at Chinese temples to thereby send servants & new cars or other nice things to one's ancestors in the next world.  The next time you are in an oriental grocery, look for so-called "hell bank notes."  You may think these are some kind of Monopoly money.  They are currency for use in the next world.  For a dollar or so you can send a deceased ancestor millions!  Think of how thankful they will be.

The point is that Antigone has some similar belief that she can help her brother in the next world.  Medea evidently does not think such things, but, like Antigone, she does believe that family relations are all important. So what happens when the police knock on your door to arrest your brother or some other relative?  Antigone & Medea will tell them to get lost & would be eager to be martyred for harboring a fugitive.  The law is all very fine & I uphold it . . . as long as it doesn't affect my family.  Everyone has a family & if this attitude prevails, law means nothing.  Justice reverts to family vendettas.

The outlook from the men's side is hardly better.  Creon seems to have no sense of how the law affects members of his family.  Jason seems to be a solicitous father, but his interest is for his children's professional & financial opportunities. Both characters seem to be charicatures of professional men.

We might also think of all 4 characters (Creon, Antigone, Jason, & Medea) as near relatives of Narcissus.  The difference is that our dramatic characters are mature enough to be committed to some social facet.  Unfortunately they are not mature enough to recognize that adults have many alternating identities & involvements.

Click on the next section: Background above.