Study Guide

The Flies Man and the Natural World

By Jean-Paul Sartre

Man and the Natural World

Fifteen years ago, a mighty stench of carrion drew them to this city. (1.1.27)

It's interesting that Zeus uses the word "carrion" to describe the aftermath of Agamemnon's death. Again, the people of Argos – even its rightful king – are reduced to the state of mere animals.

The people of Argos saw their faces dyed red by the sunset, and they saw them leaning over the battlements, gazing for a long while seawards. And the people thought, "There's evil brewing." But they kept silence. (1.1.36)

Where else do we see a red sunset in the course of The Flies? And how does that scene compare to the one Zeus describes here?

For memories are reserved for people who own houses, cattle, fields, and servants. Whereas I–I am free as air, thank God! My mind's my own, gloriously aloof. (1.1.97)

Orestes can do nothing about his past – those are factual events he can't change. What he is free to do is interpret those events in his own mind and give meaning to them.

I was the King's and the Queen's underlinen. And how dirty it is, all covered with spots and stains! Yes, I have to wash everything they wear next to their skin, the shifts they wrap their rotting bodies in, the nightdresses Clytemnestra has on when the King shares her bed. I shut my eyes and scrub with all my might. (1.1.122)

Hamlet, anyone? Compare this to the "rank sweat of an enseamed bed" line from Shakespeare's play. The Flies has a clear connection to Hamlet. The son questions whether or not to murder the man who killed his father and is now sleeping with his mother. Check out the Shmoop Guide on Hamlet for more on Shakespeare's hero's dilemma. Sartre treats this idea differently, however, as his focus is on personal freedom, not on justice or madness or moral obligation.

You're good-looking, too. (1.1.137)

The physical similarities between Electra and her brother are meant to reflect their blood relation. These physical commonalities also render the two women similar in their youth and innocence; both stand apart from the ugly, guilt-ravaged citizens of Argos.

Millions of staring, hopeless eyes are brooding darkly on your faces and your gestures. They can see us, read our hearts, and we are naked in the presence of the dead. Ah, that makes you squirm; it burns and sears you, that stern, calm gaze unchanging as the gaze of eyes remembered. (2.1.52)

This passage refers to Sartre's idea of 'the other" and the way that a gaze reduces a person to a mere object. This is the focus of Sartre's play – No Exit. Check it out on Shmoop.

This is too much – I'll shut that foolish wench's tongue. [Stretches out his right arm.] Poseidon, carabou, carabou, roola. [The big stone which blocked the entrance to the cavern rumbles across the stage and crashes against the temple steps. Electra stops dancing.] (2.1.91)

Notice that Electra stops dancing of her own accord. She interprets the stone as an impassable barrier in her attempt to free the citizens of Argos.

It is not our fault, we are innocent. That woman came and tempted us with her lying tongue. To the river with her! Drown the witch. (2.1.94)

The citizens of Argos retreat into bad faith by refusing to take personal responsibility.

No hatred, but no love either. […] Who am I, and what have I to surrender? I'm a mere shadow of a man; of all of the ghosts haunting this town today, none is ghostlier than I. (2.1.142)

Orestes is less-than-human because, he has yet to exercise his freedom by making a choice.