Study Guide

The Flies Philosophical Viewpoints: Existentialism

By Jean-Paul Sartre

Philosophical Viewpoints: Existentialism

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.

Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: Existentialism

  1. In the final scene of The Flies, the Tutor, at Orestes's command, flings open the doors of the temple to the angry mob outside. The crowd rushes in and then "stops, bewildered, on the threshold." Why do they stop? Why don't they tear Orestes to pieces?
  2. What is the connection between freedom and solitude in The Flies? Why is Orestes necessarily alone as the result of his freedom?
  3. Sartre argues that we re-create ourselves in every moment through choice and action. Yet he also argues that the self is a totality, not a series of fragmented actions. Using what you've learned from The Flies, how can these two statements be reconciled?

Chew on This

The Flies demonstrates that Sartre's existentialism is incompatible with any political ideology.