Jane Eyre and Antigone: the cost of a moral decision

Haemon and Creon argument

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Haemon and Creon argument

HAEMON: Father, the most enviable of a man’s gifts

Is the ability to reason clearly,

And it’s not for me to say you are wrong,
Even if I were clever enough, or experienced enough,
Which I’m not. But it’s also true to say
That some men think differently about these things,
And as your son, my most useful function,

It seems to me, is to keep you in touch

With what other people are thinking,
What they say, and do, and approve or disapprove of,
And sometimes what they leave unsaid.
The prospect of your disapproval is great
Silence of most men’s tongues, and some things
Are never said, for fear of the consequences.

But I can sometimes hear what people whisper

Behind their hands: and everywhere, I hear sympathy

Expressed for this unfortunate girl,

Condemned, as she is, to a horrifying death

That no woman has ever suffered before,

And unjustly, in most people’s eyes.

In burying her brother, who was killed

In action, she did something most people consider

Decent and honourable — rather than leaving him

Naked on the battlefield, for the dogs to tear at

And kites and scavengers to pick to the bone.

She should be given a medal for it,
Those same people say, and her name inscribed
On the roll of honour. Such things are whispered
In secret, Father, and they have reached my ears.

Sir, your reputation matters to me

As much as your good health and happiness do,

Indeed, your good name matters more.

What can a loving son be more jealous of

Than his father’s reputation, and what could please

A father more than to see his son’s concern

That people will think well of him?

Then let me beg you to have second thoughts,

And not be certain that your own opinion

Is the only right one, and that all men share it.
A man who thinks he has the monopoly

Of wisdom, that only what he says

And what he thinks are of ny relevance,
Reveals his own shallowness of mind
With every word he says. The man of judgement
Knows that it is a sign of strength,
Not weakness, to value other opinions,
And to learn from them: and when he is wrong,
To admit it openly and change his mind.
You see it when a river floods, the trees
That bend, survive, those whose trunks
Are inflexible, are snapped off short
By the weight of the water. And a sailor in a storm
Who refuses to reef his sail, and run
With the wind, is likely to end up capsized.
I beg you Father, think twice about this.
Don’t let your anger influence you. If a man
Of my age may lay some small claim
To common sense, let me say this:

Absolute certainty is fine, if a man

Can be certain that his wisdom is absolute.
But such certainty and such wisdom
Is rare among men: and that being so,
The next best, is to learn to listen,
And to take good advice when it is offered.
CHORUS: There’s a lot of sense, my Lord Creon,
In what this young man has said: as indeed,
There was in everthing that you said too.
The fact is, you are both in the right,
And there’s a good deal to be said for either.

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