Electra

by: Sophocles

Motifs

Main ideas Motifs

Entrapment

Entrapment reveals itself in the ways in which the various characters try to affect each other. Orestes is instructed by Apollo to "snare" his father's killers as if in a trap similar to the one in which his killers have caught the palace and its inhabitants. Electra refers to her mother in the Second Episode, for instance, as a "cage locked around her life." Electra feels trapped not only by her mother, but also by her desire for revenge; in her initial exchange with the chorus, she claims that she "sees the trap closing" as her desire for revenge intensifies almost beyond the point of control. Finally, as he recognizes Clytemnestra's corpse, Aegisthus acknowledges that he has been "caught" and that vengeance is upon him.

Breeding

On many occurrences throughout the play, the idea of "breeding" surfaces in reference to a variety of things. The chorus relates that Clytemnestra and Aegisthus have "bred a thing shaped like a monster" and that with her constant mourning Electra "breeds enemies;" also prevalent is the idea of "breeding violence out of violence." In each of these cases, what is "bred" is not natural, pointing to the disturbance of the natural process and order wrought by Clytemnestra's and Aegisthus's actions; all that the characters can breed, until natural order has been restored with Orestes's return, are such unnatural things as monsters, enemies, and violence.

Freedom

The concept of freedom ultimately serves both to contrast with the idea of entrapment and to emphasize the psychology of different characters in the play. For Chrysothemis, the epitome of one ruled by expedience, "freedom" is gained by obeying one's masters and hence retaining the benefit of creature comforts those masters can bestow. Clytemnestra's moment of freedom comes with the news of Orestes' death; she is, consequently, free from the fear of revenge and her life's disruption. For Electra, freedom consists of the release from her suffering, realized only with Orestes's return and the exaction of revenge; Orestes has the power both to release her from her "cage" of suffering and dishonor and to steal from Clytemnestra her sense of freedom with his snare-like trap of revenge.