Study Guide

The Flies Identity

By Jean-Paul Sartre


I was born here. (1.1.3)

Notice that this is one of the first things Orestes says in The Flies. His attempt to make a connection with his homeland and his people is his primary concern in the play's first act.

Oh, that's nothing. Just a parlor trick. I'm a fly-charmer in my leisure hours. (1.1.87)

Here Zeus hits the nail on the head. In this play, he is little more than a fly-charmer. This image of the god is a far cry from the powerful and dominant master he tries to project.

This is my palace. My father's birthplace. […] I, too, was born there. […] And yet I have no memories, none whatever. I am looking at a huge, gloomy building, solemn and pretentious in the worst provincial taste. I am looking at it, but I see it for the first time. (1.1.93)

Why does this lack of childhood memories bother Orestes so much? Why, according to him, does his time with the Tutor "not count?"

Palaces – that's so. Palaces, statues, pillars – stones, stones, stones! Why, with all these stones in my head, am I not heavier? (1.1.95)

Orestes is already drawing a distinction between elements of the natural world – like stones – and people, consciousness, being-for-itself. He needs to choose a fundamental project and define himself. The academic knowledge he's received from the Tutor – knowledge of things in the natural world – isn't going to help him feel any "heavier," or define his identity.

You are a princess, Electra, and the townspeople expect to see you, as in former years.
A princess – yes, the princess of a day. Once a year, when this day comes round, you remember who I am; because, of course, the people want an edifying glimpse of our family life. A strange princess, indeed, who herds pigs and washes up. Tell me, will Aegisthus put his arm around my neck as he did last time? Will he smile tenderly upon me, while he mumbles horrible threats in my ear? (1.1.134-5)

Consider this passage in the light of Aegisthus and Zeus's later conversation, when they discuss the rift between their selves and the images they have created and forced upon the public.

Fifteen years ago men said I was the loveliest woman in Greece. Look at me now and judge my sufferings. (1.1.204)

The people of Argos don't just wear their crimes on their sleeves – they wear them on their faces. Appearances are a manifestation of the internal.

As for you, my child, too faithful copy of myself, 'tis true I have no love for you. But I had rather cut off my right hand than do you harm. (1.1.210)

What seems like motherly affection towards Electra is something else altogether. Because Clytemnestra recognizes herself in her daughter, she can't bring herself to hurt her.

From tomorrow I'll start wondering how they'll be next year. Every year they're getting nastier and nastier – (2.1.11)

It's clear that the townspeople are getting nowhere with their repentance. All their remorse serves no purpose, as they make no progress past their guilt.

[She dances.]
Look how she's dancing, light as a flame. Look how her dress is rippling. […]
And see her look of ecstasy – oh no, that's not the face of a wicked woman. (2.1.84-5)

In trying to turn the citizens of Argos away of their shame of humanity, Electra has tried to help them see a more positive side to their human sexuality.