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Rebelion in women

Last updated on 31.05.2020

Both McCafferty’s play and Carter’s novel

Both McCafferty’s play and Carter’s novel present the reader with different types of female rebellion. Owen McCafferty’s adaptation of Sophocles’s play Antigone introduces the reader to a strong-willed female protagonist, who rebels against authority because of her moral and religious principles. Sophocles composed the play in around 442 BCE “, creating a protagonist in Antigone’s bravery which defied the gender roles of her time, and ends in her punishment of death. Creon’s inability to listen or understand Antigone’s rebellion, convicts Antigone’s excessive personality and her defiance of state law.

Its modern version, however, written in the 21st century implies the continuous significance and fascination the audience has with a female who disobeys society’s rules for a greater moral principle. McCafferty’s play arguably celebrates female rebellion, yet, it is clear that Antigone’s way of confronting authority and Creon’s response is destined for a tragic outcome. Furthermore, this kind of conflict between religion and the enforced state law comes into collision in this play and is just as relevant to a modern audience as they were to an ancient one. In Wise Children, Carter presents the reader with various female rebellions. Each character’ is authentic and so are their tragedies. She shapes them to be representative of all ages, ethnicities and social classes to appeal to her diverse audience.

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Carter’s protagonist Dora

Rather like McCafferty’s play, the issues of status, gender and age are all relevant to the way the narrative unravels in the novel and the play. Carter’s protagonist Dora, is not a young rebellious character, she is an older irreverent witty woman with plenty of wisdom. Carter purposely takes this marginal voice like Dora’s, and gives her a narrative viewpoint and ownership of the story. Compared to McCafferty’s tragedy, Wise Children is written as an intimate narrative using Dora’s conversational voice which, although it is monological, allows for various perspectives, styles and insights to coincide.


Antigone also presents a female character that is unusual when considering the context of the play – she is an outspoken woman, that goes against state law in the society where huge gender inequalities are present. Alike the setting of Wise Children, London, which is distinct and representative of the narrative, Antigone is explored through the tragic setting of the ancient Greek city of Thebes, when Creon, the new king of the day, attempts to stamp his authority on the city. Both writers present the reader-audience with strong female characters who celebrate their femininity and who subvert conventions.

Feminist Perspective of the Novel

They do not conform to the expectations society imposes on their age, nor do they fear resisting authority. It is clear that Carter’s modern novel is inspired by her feminist perspective where creating empowered females in a Carnivalesque setting celebrates their rebellion. In contrast, the play Antigone provides the audience with the opportunity to empathize with Antigone, but it is not so clear whether the approach is applauded. Antigone’s rebellion is rooted in her religious beliefs and love for her family. She sees laws made by the king as inferior to the laws of God. In her agon with Creon, she argues “it is the justice of the gods below that establish such laws amongst men” which shows her higher reverence for God’s law rather than for Creon’s.

Historically, Ancient Greeks worshipped many gods and goddesses such as Zeus, the King of Gods, and Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, who were considered to be extremely powerful with control over mortal lives. For Greeks a ritual of burial held great spiritual significance, they believed that if someone was not given a proper burial, that person would not be accepted into the Underworld. Moreover, it was an important concept in society back then that the government was to have no control in religious matters. In Antigone’s view, Creon is disregarding the laws of heaven through his decree.

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Further in the play…

Further in the play when they are both engaged in a heated argument Antigone prioritizes religion once again as she states that Creon’s law is “not established – it is the gods…” who are ultimately in charge. A direct conflict between religious law and state law lays in the depiction of Antigone’s rebellion against Creon. The wider significance of this raises questions for McCafferty’s Northern-Irish audience about the inequality between two opposing ideologies and belief systems. Jane Coyle, a critic, in her review for the Irish Times notes how playsets “firmly in the context of modern-day warfare and civil unrest, a transition not wasted on a first night audience in Belfast”.

What you should pay attention to?

It’s crucial to consider that Antigone has been continuously appearing in Northern-Ireland stages throughout the last decade. In the play, McCafferty uses stage directions to represent her stoicism towards the state and those in power as “He (Creon) screams in her face with frustration; She doesn’t flinch”. When Creon once again repeats to her “I am king” she replies with “don’t waste your breath Creon” and by deliberately not addressing him as the King she undermines and sabotages his authority. In Wise Children, one of the most significant female rebellions occurs in the first chapter through Tiffany, twins’ beloved goddaughter.


Tiffany works as a host of the TV show where she is just an attraction for the eyes – she shows her breasts and wears revealing clothes, with Tristram Hazard, her appalling lover that betrays her. However, the description of her entrance to the last show is drastically different, as Carter says “She didn’t have her make up on, she hadn’t done her hair and she wore a pair of grey satin French knickers”.Driven mad with grief at being impregnated and then serially cheated on by Tristram she puts on a protest in public. In the midst of it Tiffany transforms her appearance from a conventional sexualized female look into a complete opposite, described by Carter “she’s turned the heels right over on the way and now she kicked them off”.This is a symbolic act purposely created by Carter to show Tiffany’s rejection of her ‘Show Girl’ stereotype.

Tiffany’s radical behavior

She distresses the audience with her radical behavior. This scene is a parallel between the Shakespearean play Hamlet as Tiffany appears mad and delusional like the character Ophelia who goes insane after being rejected by Hamlet. One critic argues that part of what attracts Carter to Shakespeare is his playing out of the magnetic relationship of attraction and repulsion that exists between energy and order. Tiffany’s action, which outrages the audience, is her personal catharsis as she expresses her suppressed feelings and emotions “Nothing was mine, not ever!” and her rebellion is a point of celebration even though it is laced with tragedy. Tiffany’s lost interest in beauty and image symbolizes a transformation of her character – from “the sweetest girl in London, but naive” to “somebody else who was in perfect control”.

Carter’s approach

Carter’s post-modern feminist approach is reflected throughout her novel in her unwillingness to create victimized female characters, thus why she disconnects from Ophelia’s story who dies and ‘resurrects’ Tiffany in the final chapter of the novel. Carter celebrates Tiffany’s transformation by making a spectacle out of her return. This Carnivalesque moment is characterized by “Such a knocking that the birthday candles dipped and swayed and dropped wax…” and the narrator, Dora, declares “Something unscripted is about to happen”. Here the distinction between the Hazards who are considered, as Carter puts it, “a national treasure” , and the Chances, who live on “the wrong side of the track… the bastard side of Old Father Thames” is presented . Hazards represent the section of society which lives a ‘scripted’ life, they are overly concerned about public image. The supposed to be perfect event is disrupted as Carter makes Peregrine bring Tiffany in a truck to the birthday celebration. Peregrine is the spirit of the carnival that runs in the novel, he makes magical appearances and Carter associates his presence with resolution.

The spirit that this novel can convey

This topsy turvy reversal of status reflects the Carnivalesque spirit of the novel. Carter interrogates magical realism in this part of the novel and Perry’s entrance is described as “In on the wind that came with Perry blew dozens and dozens of butterflies…” eulogizing Tiffany’s boisterous come back which disrupts the bogus atmosphere. This unconventional surprise arrival is how Carter’s novel celebrates rebellion of her female characters. In contrast, the play Antigone, unlike the novel, ends in a tragic suicide. However, similarly to Carter’s style, McCafferty interrogates higher powers to serve justice and bring resolution. The protagonist’s sacrifice of her life and freedom is symbolized and made look meaningful as great consequences are imposed on Creon – he is cursed. Once Antigone is led away to her punishment immediately a prophet Tiresias appears to tell Creon that “the gods no longer hear our prayers” and that plaque is coming to the city. Furthermore, Creon is punished with the death of his son, and Tiresias states to him “this is a result of you having sent below one which belongs above” , explicitly referring to Creon’s hubris which ultimately causes his downfall. Antigone is not directly responsible for what is coming for Thebes and Creon, however this shows that Gods are on her side, although nobody else is. Author praises this female rebellion by presenting it as a pure wish of Gods. In the play, whoever crosses Antigone automatically crosses the line with the Deity.

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Creon’s frustration and anger

McCafferty uses profanities in his modern adaptation of Antigone, which brings it closer on a linguistic level to Carter’s daring language in Wise Children, however he does it mostly to highlight Creon’s frustration and anger. Creon says “I am the king – fucking mad man” when Haemon is attempting to change his mind about Antigone. In contrast, Antigone, although she is in a disadvantaged position of a criminal, does not resort to anger and this accentuates her inner confidence in what she believes is right. Her actions, in line with her speech, possess significant danger for Creon as he calls her attempt of burial “A threat to my authority ” . In the play, Antigone is the only character who openly and utterly resists the established authority because it acts against her principals.

The rivalry between the two important characters of the novel

Antigone doesn’t fear Creon. As he states “those who cross me will suffer” she retaliates, “what pain do you think you could make me suffer that I haven’t already”, representing her boldness and profound endurance. Although he is a brutal ruler, she is not intimidated by him. Antigone considers any suffering inflicted on her as a way of helping her die and reunite with her family. She rebels against the living who are not respectful towards the dead. Antigone’s sister Ismene is a complete opposite to her, she represents a more typical Ancient Greek female. Ismene is fearful of challenging Creon and this prevents her from sharing her sister tragic fate. As a woman, she is paralyzed by her social role and status. At the beginning of the play when she vainly attempts to change Antigone’s mind, Ismene reminds her “we obey their judgment no matter how painful that may be-we do this both as citizens and women” which outlines female position in society. And although Ismene becomes the last survivor of Oedipus’ legacy, as tragedy culminates her character vanishes at the end, and it is Antigone’s action that possesses value for the society, although it results in death. Angela Carter’s last novel is a hefty contribution to the feminist debate of her time, she herself claimed (a bit from York notes that Idk how to interrogate).

The character of Grandma Chance is the manifestation of redefining of the myth of patriarchy within the society as well as family order in Carter’s contemporary England. “Grandma invented this family. She put it together out of whatever came to hand… she created it by sheer force of personality…” is an empowering image portraying her as a domineering matriarchal figure in charge of the 49 Bard Road. It is also an unconventional portrayal which contrasts with the historical context of 20th century strictly orthodox and traditional Britain, in which families were patriarchal and respected ideas of obedience and conformity.


Grandma’s further diversion from the austere society lays in her vegetarianism, animal rights consideration and suspected lesbianism, all three concepts being unthought of by her contemporaries. Nonetheless, Grandma stays true to her beliefs up until her death, and Carter celebrates her defiance of norms via having Dora declare in the fourth chapter “I sometimes think Grandma was born before her time” “, which implies that although she might have not been understood by her coevals, her values and (something about lesbianism) have become the virtues of the future. The initial description of her in the first chapter of the novel affirms “She’d invented herself, she was a one-off and she kept her mystery intact” which puts her in a perspective of an extra-terrestrial figure who assumes a role of the guardian for the Chance twins. And she remains one throughout the narrative.

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Chapter 3, like the middle of a Shakespeare play, is very atrocious and chaotic, here the reality of Hollywood is explored, composed of gaudy actresses and ever-predatory filming directors, such as Genghis Khan. Dora, as a narrator, expresses her feeling trapped in the sentence “I felt we were marooned in Wonderland and victims of a plot”. However, the resolution for Dora and Nora, in the midst of staged lunacy, comes in the form of Grandma Chance. Grandma’s dramatic entrance culminates as an anticipated resolution and this moment reinforces the power of the communal womanhood where nobody is left helpless, thus Dora narrates that her presence felt as if “there wasn’t any room left in the whole southern California for insecurity”. “Triumph of nature over nurture” is what Dora proclaims in the begging of the novel and ultimately what lays in the heart of Carter’s perception of the reality.

Antigone’s morals

Antigone’s morals remain unbowed even in the face of death. Yet she does lament the reality that her life will tragically end without the opportunity to marry and have her own children and this is reflected in Antigone’s heartbreaking confession to the audience “for this I now walk towards death unmarried and childless – what justice of the gods have I transgressed”, where she is presented as a vulnerable female. However, at her most vulnerable moment, McCafferty exalts Antigone’s revolt and depicts the influence that she possesses through stage directions once again as “ No one moves” after Creon orders to take her away. This has an effect on the audience that now see her on the same level as Creon and even higher.

Although she is ought to suffer the consequences of her actions, McCafferty does not depict her as a victim, instead, she is portrayed as a stoical heroine. Antigone declares her principles clearly in “I had no choice”, as she sees no choice “between honoring the dead or being a coward” and the persistence of her views is a point of admiration and celebration of her rebellion. Carter, similarly, does not portray her female characters as victims. Her narrative determinedly rejects tragedy, and this is reflected as the narrator, Dora, quite violently states “I refuse point blank to play in tragedy”.

Grandma’s profound wisdom

Grandma’s profound wisdom “Hope for the best, expect the worst” provides an underlying theme of survival no matter what throughout the novel, even when the hardest challenges are faced, such as Lady Atalanta Hazard being betrayed by her family and own children. In Wise Children, Carter presents female rebellion via having her characters break established traditional stereotypes within the London society. Carter protests the patriarchal idea that the elderly women are no longer adamant demonstrating how vivaciously seventy-five-year old Dora and Nora dress up for their father’s hundredth birthday party “clothes sixty years too young, stars on their stockings and little wee skirts skimming their buttocks”.

Tales of Dora

Having dressed up and put fully their cosmetics on, Dora narrates that “we couldn’t help it, we had to laugh at the spectacle we’d made of ourselves and, fortified by sisterly affection, strutted our stuff boldly into the ballroom”. Carter celebrates her outcast female characters by infusing them with sarcasm and irony which they often direct towards themselves, and this is especially evident in a humorous remark that Dora makes about how My Lady Margarine, the new wife of Melchior who represents the upper class, might see them as “miniskirted senior citizens on our teetering heels” .They totally refuse to grow old gracefully and this is demonstrated by the way they dress and the way they speak.

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