Study Guide

The Flies Transformation

By Jean-Paul Sartre


I can't think how you bear it – this emptiness, the shimmering air, that fierce sun overhead. What's deadlier than the sun? (1.1.2)

Look at the different mentions of sun in The Flies and the various ways the sun is interpreted. This description here forms a bookend with the final speech of the play, when Orestes walks happily out into the sunshine. How do the various interpretations of the sun change throughout the play?

I was born here – and yet I have to ask my way, like any stranger. Knock at that door. (1.1.5)

Sartre makes it very clear that Orestes hasn't returned to Argos specifically looking for vengeance. Rather, he's looking for a personal connection with the home and the people to which he belongs.

There's someone here. [He goes up to the idiot boy.] Excuse me, sir…
Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!
We're out of luck. The only one who doesn't run away is a half-wit. (1.1.10-18)

What purpose does this minor character serve in this opening scene of The Flies?

Never in my life have I seen such a beard – or rather, only one: the bronze beard on the chin of Zeus Ahenobarbos at Palermo. (1.1.24)

Look at how Sartre clues us in to Zeus's real identity from the start. We're meant to suspect that both Orestes and the Tutor have an inkling that they are talking to a god, and not a mere mortal. Though both Zeus and Orestes play around with fake identities, no one is really fooled.

A good hanging now and then – that entertains folks in the provinces and robs death of its glamour… (1.1.38)

How are the deaths in The Flies portrayed – as glamorous and poetic, or harsh and realistic?

Why are you looking at me like that?
You are very beautiful. Not at all like the people in these parts. (1.1.16-7)

Appearances are important in The Flies – they reflect the internal state of a character. Trace the way Electra's appearance changes throughout the course of the play.

If the doom I brought ton my life has taught me anything, it is that I have nothing left to fear… (1.1.188)

Is Clytemnestra bluffing here? Can she honestly claim she fears nothing at this point?

[Staring at the stone] So that is the Right Thing. […] That's what's wanted, eh? [He stares at the stone in silence for some moments.] The Right Thing. Their Right Thing. [Another silence.] Electra!
[Slowly, in a tone he has not used till now:] There is another way.
From now on I'll take no one's orders, neither man's nor god's. (2.1.157-161)

This is the moment of Orestes's epiphany. He realizes that the sign from the gods is just that – a sign, neither a command nor confining order. He realizes that he can choose how to interpret this sign for himself.

What a change has come over everything, and oh, how far away you seem! Until now I felt something warm and living around me, like a friendly presence. That something has just died. What emptiness! What endless emptiness, as far as the eye can reach! (2.1.163)

Orestes has discovered a key tenet of Sartre's existentialism: freedom is not meant to be fun. Yet he embraces the anguish that comes with his discovery. This is what makes him the hero – the positive example – of the play.