Yasmina’s Necklace: Echoes of Antigone

Antigone 2
"Oedipus and Antigone Leave Thebes," Joseph Anton Koch, 1797.

Rohina Malik’s Yasmina’s Necklace details the journey of one young Iraqi woman as she opens herself up to the possibilities of happiness and purpose in her new Chicago home. Throughout the play we learn of Yasmina’s trials and experiences both in her homeland and on her path to Chicago.

One of Yasmina’s tasks mirrors that of Antigone, a tale made famous by Sophocles around 442 B.C.E. We go back to school for a bit of Greek mythology and see how Antigone and Yasmina’s Necklace are linked in their portrayal of strong, defiant woman who work to serve others and a greater purpose despite the consequences they face.

Learn about Yasmina’s personal story in Yasmina’s Necklace, playing in the Owen Theatre October 20 – November 19. To buy tickets, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Necklace.

Rohina Malik’s Yasmina’s Necklace

Everywhere she goes, Yasmina tries to make the world a better place for those who live in it, from Iraqi innocents to refugee populations in America. One of Yasmina’s attempts to help those who cannot help themselves is to give proper burial of the bodies of those who perished. In giving them a rightful, respectful burial, Yasmina hopes to pay tribute to both their life and their loved ones who could not be there.

However, Yasmina’s actions are condemned by the Iraqi government. In a country so divided and at war with itself, Yasmina’s attempt to bury the bodies of victims is seen as taking a political stance against her own country. She is persecuted and punished as she continues to defy orders, believing her life’s purpose is to help these people and give solace to their families. Yasmina wants to ease the pain of war by honoring Iraqi traditions, and she loves her country very much, taking it with her in form of the necklace she wears daily. Though she understands the consequences of her actions, and how they will be perceived by the government, she perseveres in her mission.

Sophocles’ Antigone

"Antigone donnant la sépulture a Polynice" Sébastien Norblin.
“Antigone donnant la sépulture a Polynice” Sébastien Norblin.

For those who might need a refresher in Greek mythology, Antigone is a daughter of Oedipus (yes, that Oedipus—her peculiar parentage might make her more of his half-sister). After Oedipus’ banishment and death, her brothers Polynices and Eteocles end up fighting over their kingdom of Thebes in the Seven Against Thebes. Both die in the battle, and their uncle Creon takes up the Thebian crown. Creon gives Eteocles a proper burial and royal treatment, as he was defending Thebes from attack, but prohibits anyone from giving Polynices the traditional burial and mourning rituals, on threat of death by stoning. Choosing to honor the gods and her duty as a sister and daughter over Creon’s decree, Antigone defies this order, buries her brother and is caught. Brought before her uncle Creon for judgement, she is sentenced to be locked alive in a tomb. She decides to hang herself, an act sadly discovered just too late after Creon has a change of heart and promises to pardon his niece.

Antigone and Yasmina: Sisters in Arms

Both Yasmina’s Necklace and Antigone have central defiant young women who attempt to honor their family and country by paying their respects to the casualties of war. Yasmina repeats the mantra that “your country is your mother” and she pays homage to both her mother and her country in her mission to give the dead the proper final rites. She sees it as a way to honor her mother’s memory as well as help the families of those lost to the violence in her country. She doesn’t necessarily intend for the act to be a political statement, but it is read as one by the government just the same. Thankfully Yasmina is able to get away from the threats she endures, but not without a great deal of pain and suffering.

As a princess of Thebes, Antigone’s family is very much her country. Her brothers were both princes, and her quest to properly bury her brother Polynices simply attempts to honor them both equally as rulers of Thebes, as Eteocles is given a hero’s burial. But equally Polynices’ funeral pays tribute to her family and lineage (and indeed Antigone translates into “worthy of one’s parents” or “in place of one’s parents”)—without her parents there to honor Polynices, Antigone takes it upon herself to see that he is given the proper funeral rites. Creon, her uncle as well as her ruler, reads this as an act of open aggression against his authority, and punishes her. All too late he realizes his mistake, and Antigone actually becomes much more dangerous to Creon in death than she ever was alive.

The tragedy inherent in both stories is the schism between what Antigone would call “Divine Law”—the religious, moral or ethical guidelines by which one should live their life—and “Human Law,” decrees from fallible leaders like Creon or any politician. While the law has one thing to say about an issue, common humanity or values shared between opposing sides, can strain the law’s authority. Both Antigone and Yasmina rebel against their respective governments, but in a way that appeals to a common moral code they believe we all possess.

Learn about Yasmina’s personal story in Yasmina’s Necklace, playing in the Owen Theatre October 20 – November 19. To buy tickets, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Necklace.