The Flies is an exploration of Jean-Paul Sartre's ideas on radical personal freedom and radical personal responsibility. Sartre argues that every man is free in every sense. No one has authority over us until we choose to give him or her that authority. Even seemingly inescapable situations – like being alive – is a choice that we must consciously make. The Flies presents freedom as both a burden and a gift. Freedom provokes fear and anguish, and yet, it is decidedly what makes us human.
Aegisthus and Zeus restrict the freedom of the Argives by making them ashamed of their own humanity.
Because existentialists believe in radical personal freedom, everything is a matter of choice. We choose our values, we choose our identities, and we even choose to be alive. In creating and continually re-creating the self, man must choose a set of values through action. It's important to note that action, not thoughts, beliefs, or aspirations, constitutes this choice. By choosing a certain value (honesty, freedom, remorse, etc.), we create it. For Sartre, to avoid choice is to flee from personal freedom, and to engage in bad faith or self-deception.
Committing to murder Aegisthus and Clytemnestra is the first real choice Orestes makes in his life; it is the only decision manifested in action.
The Flies is an existential work of fiction that explores Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophical ideas. Sartre's existentialism maintains that existence precedes essence. Man, Sartre says, is nothing inherently. Rather, man continually defines and creates the self through action and choice. Because man has neither pre-existing essence nor pre-determined ideals, man is radically free, and radically responsible for his choices. The result of this freedom is solitude, anguish, fear, and a deep sense of liberation. For Sartre, the proper response is to embrace this freedom, and everything that comes with it, rather than run from it.
The Flies demonstrates that Sartre's existentialism is incompatible with any political ideology.
The Flies is an allegory of the German occupation of Paris during World War II. Systems of authority such as the Nazis (but also religion and other political or ideological organizations) are criticized and ridiculed in the play. By imposing their ideology on others, Sartre argues, these institutions attempt to strip individuals of their freedom – the very thing that makes us human. The Flies condones both resistance and rebellion on the grounds that human freedom can't be taken away; rather, we can only be deceived into thinking we are not free. No one has power over you, argues Sartre, until you willingly give it to them.
Orestes's decision to leave Argos at the end of the play is a retreat into bad faith.
The Flies tells the story of a town in Ancient Greece consumed by remorse over a crime committed fifteen years earlier. The guilt is imposed by the kingdom's rulers – King Aegisthus and Zeus – who use remorse as a tool to repress their subjects. While the populace is busy repenting and regretting, they are distracted from living. Most importantly, they are distracted from their personal freedom. They forget that it is up to them to choose a value system and decide what is right and wrong. Instead of choosing for themselves, they allow an external force to impose a system of morality on them. They end up repenting for a "crime" that they never chose to interpret as a crime.
At the end of The Flies, Orestes has successfully freed the Argives.
The Argives are no better off at the end of The Flies than they were at the beginning.
Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialism proposes that the self is created and re-created in every moment of life through choice manifested in action. The Flies explores this idea through dramatic fiction. The ancient myth of Orestes and Electra becomes a story about choosing and creating identities. The story's protagonist becomes its existential hero when he recognizes that he has personal freedom, and chooses a value system of his own. The negative examples are those who refuse to choose at all, or those who choose and then regret their decisions on account of someone else's judgment.
For Sartre, not choosing a value system at all (represented by the action of the Tutor) is worse than choosing a problematic one (represented by Aegisthus).
The Flies explores the fundamental difference between man and everything else in the universe. According to Jean-Paul Sartre and his existentialism, man exists in a way entirely different from other forms. Man exists as being-for-itself (a conscious and active form of being). Creatures, objects, plants, nature, and anything else exist as being-in-itself (a passive, unconscious mode of being). Because of this difference, man exists outside of and separate from all of nature. Man chooses how to interpret nature and what value it will hold for him; but man is not a part of nature.
Biological instincts conflict with human freedom in Sartre's The Flies.
The Flies revolves around the central transformation of its main character, Orestes. While Orestes begins the play free of responsibility, commitment, and any sense of self, he soon encounters his personal freedom, accepts it, and commits himself to a value system of his choice. His transformation is an ideological one, yet manifests itself in many different ways (speech, action, even physical appearance).
The key to Orestes's transformation is the realization that memories of the past do not define the self of the present.