“The Flies”, analysis of the drama by Sartre

The play “The Flies” was created by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1943. Its genre is philosophical drama. The antique mythos of Orestes killing his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, which is used as the base of the play, is a beloved story for many literature tragedies. The story that is as old as time, is filled with new philosophical meaning in the play by Sartre. French existentialist uses ancient heroic image of Orestes to analyze modern problems of existence.

“The Flies” is a drama in three acts. The composition of the play is simple and logical. In the first act, all main characters (Orestes, Jupiter, Electra and Clytemnestra) appear on stage, the background is laid out, which is an explanation of what was happening in Argos (fifteen years of universal penance, laid upon the citizens for the crimes of the king and queen). The problem begins to take shape (possibility for Orestes to avenge the death of his father – Agamemnon). The second act is filled with action. Aegisthus, according to the chosen political course, intimidates people with the dead, rising from hell. Electra tries to tell people of Argos that is possible to live in peace and joy. Jupiter helps Aegisthus to cast the crowd into terror. Electra is exiled from the city and is sentenced to death. Orestes reveals himself to his sister and makes up his mind to murder. Events of the second act gather as a ball of snow and end with deaths of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. After the just vengeance all that is left for the heroes left alive is to reflect on their past and future, on desired and actual, on surrounding world and their own lives.

The first act of “The Flies” can be compared with a slow, realistic narration of the past and the future. The second act resembles rather thriller, than ancient Greek tragedy or modern drama. The third act tells about nothing and moves nowhere. It is a chain of philosophical arguments about the problem of human freedom. Orestes, the main character of “The Flies”, is free. He arrives to Argos as a man without the past, with a soul that resembles “the magnificent void”. During this part of his life he is free from memories, feelings, people. The prince only knows what he was taught by the Teacher: knows the world, cities, countries, culture and art. However, as a person he is nothing. He has neither attachments, nor wishes. Only after obtaining conscious desire for vengeance, Orestes realizes new perception of freedom. It lies in the freedom of choosing his path, in refusing to obey the will of the gods, who once created people free but then decided to take that knowledge back. While committing the crime, Orestes feels no remorse, because he feels he is doing the right thing. After deciding to kill his mother, he decides to always carry this burden. He is, in a way, even glad, for he now has something of his own – his story, his crime, his burden. Unlike Orestes, Electra, like all people of Argos, is devoid of true understanding of freedom. She can only dream of it, but living with it is beyond her. Electra dreams of killing her family as little girls dream of new dolls. She is happy in her fantasies, but she despises them brought to life.

The final argument between Jupiter and Orestes, God and Man, build the main existential thesis of the work: people are afraid of freedom because it shows them the sense of their existence. Freedom, according to Jupiter, reveals the Man the senselessness of his life, in many ways lonely and ugly. Orestes, on the other hand, feels the duty to reveal his newly obtained knowledge to the people. He frees people of Argos by taking their repentance upon himself, but he does not aim to be the ultimate absolver. It is enough for him to free people – the rest is up to them. He is unable to help even his sister Electra, for her suffering is of her own will. The torment she is feels after the death of her mother can only be overcome independently by realizing that real life only begins “beyond despair”.

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