Study Guide

The Flies Power

By Jean-Paul Sartre

Power

ZEUS
They've been getting fatter and fatter. Give them another fifteen years, and they'll be as big as toads. (1.1.27)

If the flies are representative of the guilt and remorse plaguing Argos, then there isn't much hope for a future for these people. All the repentance in the world doesn't seem to be alleviating their guilt – rather it worsens it.

ZEUS
A word, a single word, might have sufficed. But no one said it. […]
ORESTES
And you, too, said nothing? (1.1.38-39)

It sounds as though Orestes realizes at this point that he's dealing with a god. If this is the case, then his question holds far more significance, as he's addressing issues of fate, free will, and divine intervention.

ORESTES
And I thought the gods were just!
ZEUS
Steady, my friend. Don't blame the gods too hastily. Must they always punish? Wouldn't it be better to use such breaches of the law to point a moral? (1.1.42)

The system Zeus condones seems to allow for free will more than that suggested by Orestes. Zeus seems to imply that men can be instructed, and still allowed to act as they choose.

ZEUS
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)

This is an important passage, because it's indicative of the way the gods view men in this play.

OLD WOMAN
Oh, Sir, I do repent, most heartily I repent. If you only knew how I repent, and my daughter too, and my son-in-law offers up a heifer every year, and my little grandson has been brought up in a spirit of repentance. He's a pretty lad, with flaxen hair, and he always behaves as good as gold. Though he's only seven, he never plays or laughs, for thinking of his original sin… (1.1.59)

This passage is a loaded one. "[O]riginal sin" refers not just to the town's shared crime against Agamemnon, but also to the Christian belief of original sin (which goes back to Adam's fall and the first sin shared by all men).

ZEUS
Good you old b****, that's as it should be – and be sure you die in a nice b****y odor of repentance. […] Unless I'm much mistaken, my masters, we have there the real thing, the good old piety of yore, rooted in terror. (1.1.60)

This might be representative of Sartre's view of organized religion in general – institutions which imprisons its members in fear and hides from them their own freedom.

ORESTES
Then these blood-smeared walls […] and all those half-human creatures beating their breasts in darkened rooms, and those shrieks […] – can it be that Zeus and his Olympians delight in these?
ZEUS
Young man, do not sit in judgment on the Gods. They have their secrets – and their sorrows. (1.1.67-8)

Zeus implies but does not explain – why is it that he takes so much joy in seeing the mortals miserable?

[A tomtom sounds, and the priest dances at the entrance of the cavern, slowly at first, then quickening his gyrations until he falls to the ground exhausted.] (2.1.41)

The people of Argos are ashamed of their humanity, and sexuality is a part of humanity. Remember that Zeus associated sex with the old woman's guilt in Act I.

ZEUS
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.] (2.1.91)

Zeus acts more like a child than the King of the gods. There is quite a discrepancy between this character and the image projected before the citizens of Argos.