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Animal Imagery

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Time and Time again in The Flies, men are described as animals. Not pleasant, fuzzy, comforting animals either – we're talking rats, flies, decaying flesh of dead creatures. All in all, not a pretty sight. Here are a few examples:

Squeals of terror everywhere, people who panic the moment they set on eyes on you, and scurry to cover, like black beetles, down the glaring streets
. (1.1.2)

See that old creature over there, creeping away like a beetle on her little black feet, hugging the walls. Well, she's a good specimen of the squat black vermin that teem in every cranny of this town. Now watch me catch our specimen, it's well worth inspection. Here it is. A loathsome object, you'll agree
. (1.1.46)

Most prominent in these descriptions is the mention of "carrion," or "the decaying flesh of dead animals." The first reference to carrion comes courtesy of Zeus, as he describes the arrival of the flies in Argos fifteen years before: "Fifteen years ago, a mighty stench of carrion drew them to this city" (1.1.27). It's odd that he chooses this particular word – carrion – since the only dead body in question is that of Agamemnon's. Later, we get this passage:

[Falling on his knees] I stink! Oh, how I stink! I am a mass of rottenness. See how the flies are teeming round me, like carrion crows […]. I reek to heaven
. (2.1.28)

And finally, remember that the furies call Orestes and Electra "lovely human carrion" at the start of Act III (3.1.2).

It's clear that, in more ways than one, humans in Argos have been reduced to the state of animals. Go back to "Character Analysis" and review our discussion of Sartre's different types of being. Remember that you've got being-for-itself (the active, conscious existence of humans) and being-in-itself (the passive, unconscious existence of everything else in the world, including objects and animals). It very well could be that, because the people in Argos have failed to embrace their freedom – the very thing that makes them human – they have been reduced to the status of mere animals. What do you think?

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