This paper analyzes Luis Rafael Sánchez’s novel adaptation of the Antigone, in which he focuses on the heroine’s characteristic obstinacy. I show that by underscoring the inflexible nature of her determination he unsettles traditional themes of oppression and resistance typically associated with modern adaptations of Sophocles’ tragedy. I also argue that Sánchez’s play, which continually juxtaposes disputes for and against compliance, exposes the realities of Puerto Rico as an unincorporated US territory, for which some demand independence and others integration. The paper’s argument goes against readings of the play which see La Pasión según Antígona Pérez as straightforward Puerto Rican affirmation (Barradas 1981), or even as a Christianized tale of suffering and martyrdom (Morfi 1971, Ben-Ur 1975). It also responds to critics who praise Antígona’s blind determination as a positive expression of heroism (Albert Robatto 1985) or feminist empowerment (Waldman 1988).
Unlike other Latin American and European adaptations of Antigone, in which writers transform Sophocles’ tragedy around significant national and political events in the history of their respective countries, Sánchez chooses instead to present a generalized account of twentieth century Latin American political experience. Set in the imaginary republic of Molina, his play documents the struggle between a vain and ambitious dictator, el Generalísimo Creón Molina, and a young political activist and student, Antígona Pérez, who is imprisoned after stealing and burying the bodies of two failed assassins. Yet it is Antígona’s defiance, and not the deceased’s rights for a proper burial (as in Sophocles and other versions), that serves as the critical focus of Sánchez’s play, which dramatizes the confrontations that Antígona faces in her prison cell. By staging confrontations in which characters continuously attempt to convince her to reveal the location of the brothers’ burial place by means of interrogation, torture, and even rape, Sánchez wages psychological warfare against Sophocles’ heroine in order to expose whether there is a breaking point to her “passion” and civil disobedience. Though each confrontation ultimately brings more suffering and exposes more betrayal, it also presents the heroine with increasingly persuasive arguments against her efforts. As the play culminates with Creón’s order of execution and the sound of gunfire, it is not entirely apparent that Antígona’s death is meaningful at all.
For Latin American playwrights Antigone’s story offers an easy vehicle by which to relate the story of twentieth century state oppression and especially dictatorship: for example, Gambaro’s Antígona Furiosa and Watanabe’s Antígona document the horrors of state-sponsored violence in the “dirty wars” of their native Argentina and Peru, respectively. Sánchez on the other hand utilizes the tale in order to highlight Puerto Rico’s ambiguous postcolonial reality, to illustrate that there are no clear answers regarding the island’s future given its tenuous relationship to the United States. In a play reportedly inspired by the life of an activist imprisoned in the US as a result of her efforts on behalf of Puerto Rican independence, Sánchez offers a disturbing look at stubborn efforts and their failure.