Skip over navigation

The Flies

Jean-Paul Sartre

Act I (cont.)

Act I

Act I (cont.), page 2

page 1 of 3

Electra enters. Without seeing Orestes, she walks up to the statue of Jupiter and dumps garbage on it. She ridicules the statue, saying that Jupiter must like garbage very much, and that he must hate her because she is young unlike the old women who brought him libations. She then launches into a fantastical speech depicting Orestes arriving and splitting the statue in two with his sword. Then, she says, everyone will see that Jupiter is only made of wood and should be used to kindle a fire.

Suddenly Electra notices Orestes. He introduces himself as Philebus from Corinth. She tells him that she is a princess, but that she is treated like a servant and has to wash the king and queen's underwear and to take out the garbage. She complains that she has to see her mother every day. Orestes asks if she's ever considered running away, and she says the she hasn't, but that she is waiting for someone. Electra goes on to question Orestes about Corinth. She asks whether people in Corinth really go out and enjoy themselves and whether they really live without remorse. Orestes answers that they feel very little remorse and enjoy themselves without guilt. Electra says that in Argos everyone is driven by fear except her, for she is driven by hatred. Electra asks whether a man from Corinth would avenge his father's murder and his sister's enslavement.

Before Orestes can answer, Clytemnestra appears to tell Electra that Aegistheus demands her presence at the ceremony. Electra refuses to go and mocks her mother for treating her like a servant simply because she won't feel guilt for a crime that she didn't commit. Clytemnestra turns to Orestes and begins confessing her sins to him, but Electra cuts her short, mocking the Argive custom of confessing one's sins to everyone. The two women fight, but the queen cuts the conversation short. Electra explains to Orestes that the ceremony that day is an annual event when a large rock blocking the entrance to a cave is rolled away and the dead come out for one day to torment the living and punish them for their sins. The entire city becomes enveloped in fear as people set their tables for the dead and hide in corners so as not to get in the way of the ghosts. The next day the dead return to the cave and it is closed until the next year.

Clytemnestra informs Electra that if she does not come, she will be taken by force. Electra yields, but asks Orestes to attend the ceremony before leaving. Clytemnestra turns to him and asks him to leave Argos. She senses that he is a threat to the order of the city and to the repentance of its people. Jupiter reappears and tells Orestes that he can procure some horses for him. Orestes, however, replies that he has decided to stay longer. Undaunted, Jupiter quickly takes Orestes under his wing, imposing himself on the Orestes as a guide to the city.


This section introduces Electra and her personality, establishing a contrast with both Clytemnestra and Orestes. It is immediately apparent that Electra is still a child. Her youth is mentioned several times, first by her and then by Clytemnestra. Her actions are also still childish. In front of the statue of Jupiter, Electra acts out how Orestes will carve the statue in two. Her play- acting clearly goes beyond the normal movements that actors are expected to perform. We are made to recognize that her dream of an Orestes who will come to end Jupiter's reign is a childhood fantasy. Electra is not entirely serious about her dreams of murder; she merely entertains them in order to give herself direction. When Electra says that she is more a servant than a princess, Clytemnestra rebukes her for play-acting. This play-acting is a fundamental aspect of Electra's personality, demonstrating her lack of true commitment.

The symbol of the eye is introduced here. Eyes dominate Electra's discourse and recur in the dialogues of both Clytemnestra and Orestes. Electra mentions Jupiter's eyes twice in one speech. Orestes mentions Clytemnestra's dead eyes. Clytemnestra says that Electra's eyes are flashing and then refers to them as smoldering. Eyes, traditionally, are symbolic of vision, both literally and metaphorically. One who has eyes can see the future; one without vision is blinded to it. The eyes of the Argives, like Clytemnestra's and Jupiter's eyes, are "dead." None of them can see the future and as a result none of them can act freely. They look only towards the past. The Argives spend their lives in remorse for a past crime, and they are unable to look forward and act for their future.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!