08 January 2010

Book Review: The Flies

Title:  The Flies
Author: Jean-Paul Sartre
Published:  1943  Pages: 76
Genre:  Play

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Plot Synopsis
Orestes returns to Argos, the land of his birth, under the persona of Philebus. Taken from his home by his tutor, Orestes did not witness the sinking into despair of his home after his father Agamemnon was murdered by Aegisthus in concert with Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, Orestes' mother.  Originally just passing through, Orestes changes his mind because of a meeting with his sister Electra who has longed for the day her brother would return and kill the usurper and his "whore".  A lovely Greek tragedy follows...

My Thoughts
Right from the beginning, I was hooked.  I love the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the entire muddled mess that is Greekdom. Even looking at the cast of characters which includes Zeus, the Furies, and the above mentioned family, just got my juices flowing (in an entirely non-sexual way, I assure you).  When Telemachus is mentioned - by none other than Zeus, mind you - I almost went faint.  This is a lovely addition to an already dramatic storyline.

Outside of said passion, the play also touched on some very serious and intriguing subjects.  When Agamemnon was killed by Aegisthus, in his bath, the citizens of Argos did nothing, despite their foreknowledge.  This guilt now weighs on them to a highly disturbing effect.  People are dirty, plagued by flies, do not leave their homes, and participate in this morose ritual every year - on the anniversary of Agamemnon's death.  For 24 hours, the citizens of Argos are plagued by their guilt, tortured by the dead who leave their tomb to emotionally barage the living who have wronged them.  This ritual is perpetuated by Aegisthus and  Clytemnestra and so is the air of constant repentance and guilt which disastrously permeates the entire community of Argos.

I feel I can not say much  more without spoiling the play for the rest of you.  Suffice it to say, thematically, I felt the discussion of freedom versus religion fascinating.  No easy answers are given but the paradox of freedom being almost more burdensome than even the most dastardly of gods really got me thinking.  And to top it all off, the strange similarity between Orestes final act and the final act of religious "saviors" confounds the whole issue.

I highly recommend reading this play which is a mere 76  pages in length.

Memorable Scene:  Electra attempts to defy her mother and Aegisthus, and in fact her entire world, during the opening of the tomb.  She is magnificent as she dances, daring the dead to stop her, in an attempt to show her people that the ritual is a lie.  Then Zeus has to butt in....

Memorable Quote:  Only yesterday I walked teh earth haphazard; thousands of roads I tramped that brought me nowhere, for they were other men's roads.  Yes, I tried them all; the haulers' tracks along the riverside, the mule-paths in the mountains, and the broad, flagged highways of the charioteers.  But none of these was mine.  Today I have one path only, and heaven knows where it leads.  But it is my path.

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  1. I've never actually picked up a Sartre play, but I've read a lot of the Greek plays.

    I'll have to look at this one. It sounds very interesting. Thanks for the review!

  2. Michelle - I have the book No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre and all four plays are excellent. I would recommend picking it up.

  3. I'm glad to hear no sexual juices were flowing after reading this! ; )

  4. Jenners - That would be disturbing, wouldn't it? :)

  5. What, am I the only one who gets off on Greek mythology? ;)

  6. J.T. - Absolutely not! It's just this particular story...the dirt and the flies...no snazzy Greek gods can overcome the yucky of that. :)


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