The Flies

by: Jean-Paul Sartre

Act I (cont.)

Summary Act I (cont.)

The people of Argos display a particular philosophy concerning the relation of responsibility to guilt. They freely admit their sins and beg others to judge them. They refuse, however, to be judged based on sins that they do not acknowledge. When Electra suggests that Clytemnestra's remorse is itself false, Clytemnestra replies that anyone may insult her and spit at her for her complicity in Agamemnon's murder, but she says no one has the right to insult her remorse. This rule, that people may only be judged on actions for which they accept responsibility, helps to maintain order in the city. Everyone confesses to specific sins, and they expect others to judge them based on these sins, thus defining their life for them. In this way the Argives maintain the illusion of themselves as completely unfree: they are slaves to the judgment of others and to particular events in the past for which they must repent. Sins for which they are not repenting serve no purpose in this climate of moral condemnation since they do not help the Argives establish the image of themselves as bound by particular events of the past.

The keepers of order in Argos attempt to impose their control over Orestes. Clytemnestra, not knowing his true identity, suggests that she is about his mother's age and, having attempted to establish a motherly relation to him, asks him to leave Argos. Jupiter attempts a similar trick. He informs Orestes that he is old enough to be his father and that Orestes should therefore value his company. Both Clytemnestra and Jupiter attempt to enslave Orestes within a moral order where one must obey one's parents or, figuratively, where one must remain a slave to one's past. To find his freedom Orestes must oppose these symbolic figures of order, symbolically rejecting his parents.