Belonging to a family instills values and a sense of responsibility in someone as they realize they must care for fellow family members. Relatives are likely to be there for one of them when they are encountering difficulties because it will be reciprocated to them when they encounter their share of hardships. In this sense, familial relationships thrive on care and love, which motivates members to be responsible for each other’s well-being, bringing unity. Sophocles’s Antigone illuminates how family members are irreplaceable because they share love in life and death. The protagonist, Antigone, risks everything for her brother, Polyneices, whom the king despises. She buries him because she believes it is an honorable thing to do because the deceased is her family member. On the other hand, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s Snow in Midsummer shows how lacking family can leave one vulnerable and desperate. Dou E suffers a false accusation ad is sentenced to death because she has no one to call family who can help her. The events go too far before her father redeems her. By exploring the Great Literature and Family within Antigone and Snow in Midsummer, the research will highlight the role of familial relationships in instilling values and a sense of responsibility among relatives. Familial relationships are essential in structuring the life of a person.
Antigone feels entitled to give her brother, Polyneices a decent burial, even when it means going against the king’s word. Antigone tries to instill a sense of responsibility in Ismene by showing Ismene how important burying Polyneices would be. She tells her, “Soon you’ll prove how nobly born you really are. Or did our family breed a coward? Will you join me? Share the burden?” (Sophocles 3). However, Ismene is reluctant and does not see things from Antigone’s perspective, regardless of Antigone’s efforts to instill value in her. Despite the situation, Antigone cannot let her brother’s body become wild animals’ food and tells Ismene, “I’m going to bury my brother—your brother!—with or without your help. I won’t betray him” (Sophocles 3). In this sense, Antigone is ready to face the impending consequences, death by stoning, as long as she honors her brother. She wonders why other family members, including Creon, treat Polyneices with so much distaste. She even refuses to listen to Ismene’s advice against burying Polyneices, arguing that Antigone would die hated like their father. Here, Ismene tries to warn Antigone against tarnishing the family’s name, but Antigone thinks Ismene’s viewpoint is not correct. She views familial ties differently and thinks family is the only thing one can have when they are helpless and vulnerable. Furthermore, she is ready to die for her deed, as she admits to breaking the law. When Creon questions her if she buried Polyneices, Antigone says, “I swear I did. And I don’t deny it—my own death isn’t going to bother me. But I would be devastated to see my mother’s son die and rot unburied” (Sophocles 17). Antigone is worried that leaving Polyneices unburied is against God’s will, but she is more worried about the family ties she shares with Polyneices. Therefore, if Polyneices would not have a caring sister like Antigone, he would never have been buried but disgraced. Creon does not care about family relationships being responsible, and he locks Antigone in a cave. However, Antigone would rather die than let Creon dictate her fate when she is sure she did what was right. Therefore, she commits suicide so she can prove to the king that she will do anything for her family and that she would never allow him to rule her deeds wrong. From Antigone’s perspective, the reader learns that family ties are strong enough to make one responsible, despite the circumstance.
Donkey Zhang, in “Snow in Midsummer,” succeeds in accusing Dou E falsely, and she is executed for a wrong she did not commit because she has no family member to defend her. As she explains to her father what happened to her, Dou E says, “at three, I lost my mother; at seven, I was parted from my father” (Cowhig 16). In this context, Dou E was separated from her family, who would defend her against Donkey’s accusations. Since Donkey is not Dou E’s family member, he wants to marry her forcefully, without caring about the harm he will cause her. Dou E experiences hardships and injustice before the law because nobody can speak on her behalf. However, the situation changes after her father appears and avenges his daughter. Dou E’s father is concerned about the harm she caused her clan for remarrying, but after hearing the truth about what transpired, he says, “tomorrow, I shall right this wrong for you—I shall set right this miscarriage of justice” (Cowhig 19). At this point, the power of familial ties is revealed, as Dou Tianzhang vows to take responsibility for his daughter’s justice. He values family and cannot watch as his daughter’s spirit cries in the underworld daily due to a wrongful conviction. Dou ensures that Dou E is avenged and punishes everyone involved in the case. He says, “Let the Donkey be killed in public, the prefect dismissed from office, then let us offer a great sacrifice so that my daughter’s spirit may go to heaven” (Cowhig 19). Therefore, Dou E suffers significantly due to a lack of relatives, but the story changes when her father is present because she can show him it is his responsibility to avenge her. Thus, family is vital in teaching members to be responsible for each other’s well-being.
Donkey Zhang portrays a different picture of familial relationships and responsibility when he plots to kill Dou E’s mother-in-law and his father’s wife, Mistress Cai. Donkey Zhang and his father, Old Zhang, saved Mistress Cai from Doctor Lu, who was strangling her, and Old Zhang demanded that Mistress Cai marry him or he would strangle her. Therefore, Mistress Cai married Old Zhang, giving Zhang an opportunity to seduce Dou E (Cowhig 17). Despite knowing his father treasures Mistress Cai, he plots to kill Mistress Cai to find a conducive environment to accomplish his selfish desires. In this case, Donkey does not care what his father will feel after losing his wife. Therefore, he does not care about his father’s peace and happiness, and the idea further reveals itself when his father dies instead. The poison Zhang intends to use to kill Mistress Cai kills his father instead. Readers can see that Donkey is not much concerned about his father’s death but wants Dou E to choose how she wants the case to go. She either agrees to be his wife, and Donkey overlooks the case or refuses to marry him, and he sues her for killing old Zhang. He tells her, “Do you want to settle this in private or settle it in public?—if you want it settled in public, I’ll drag you to the court, and you’ll have to confess to the murder of my father! If you want it settled in private, agree to be my wife. Then I’ll let you off” (Cowhig 11). Thus, Donkey does not want to be responsible for his actions even when his father is the victim. He is self-centered and selfish because he only wants things to work in his favor. In this context, some family members do not have our best interests at heart because they do not feel responsible for our well-being.
Family instills values and responsibility in individuals, making them helpful and supportive of each other. Therefore, everyone wants to belong to a family because the family will help them in times of need. Polynices receive a decent burial even when the king is against it because his sister will do anything for her brother. She risks her life and commits suicide to stick to her brother. She does not allow the king to dictate what she is supposed to do for her brother because she thinks her brother is important. On the other hand, if Dou E was not separated from her family, she would not have faced such immense suffering. Her father’s presence changes things because he avenges her daughter after learning about the injustices she faces. However, some family members do not have relatives’ interests at heart due to selfishness. People such as Donkey Zhang want to achieve their desires at their family members’ expense. Generally, family is essential in people’s lives because, most of the time, relatives sacrifice their happiness for others.
Cowhig, Frances Ya-chu. Snow in midsummer. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
Sophocles. “Antigone.” English Literature & Literary Studies | A Room for Reading and Studying English Poetry, Fiction, and Drama.