Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, The Flies is a tragedy in which Sartre melts philosophy, politics, and literature together. Sartre uses his literary talents and places countless themes and literary devices in The Flies in order to make statements about human beings as well as the political turmoil of 1946; freedom is a constant and obvious theme throughout the play, and Sartre even goes so far as to use inanimate objects, such as stones, to insert deeper meaning into the play. Sartre inserts bits of his life into the tragedy as well. It is no coincidence that Sartre wrote The Flies while under Nazi occupation in France.
Sartre’s portrayal of Argos in the play is strikingly similar to the state of affairs in France during the mid-1940s. Aegistheus as a tyrannical usurper of the throne is a clear representation of the Nazis that invaded and occupied France. Clytemnestra symbolizes the submissive Vichy government. Sartre had to tiptoe around the subject of the occupation, yet inserted enough similarities for it to be relevant for the people watching the play at that time. In essence, The Flies was a call to arms for the people living in France during the German occupation. While Sartre was so seemingly focused on writing a liberal piece of literature that would stir the French people into action, he also managed to insert countless existential theories and philosophies into the action.
The concept of freedom is a staple of existentialism, and as such, is present constantly throughout the play. However, freedom does not simply exist; Freedom must be seized and obeyed simultaneously, as Orestes explains in the end of the play: “Neither slave nor master. I am my freedom” (Sartre 493). In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary defines existentialism as something that “requires people to take responsibility for their own actions and shape their own destinies” (OED “existentialism”). An excerpt of Jean-Paul Sartre’s biography in Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, states that “man is condemned to freedom, a freedom from all authority, which he may seek to evade, distort, and deny but which he will have to face if he is to become a moral being” (Frenz 1). Essentially, Orestes must take responsibility for having murdered Aegistheus, and yet shaped his own destiny by making the choice to kill Aegistheus. Electra, on the other hand, tries to deny her own freedom by the end of the play. Orestes is, therefore, the definition of freedom by the end of the play and is, therefore, a moral being.
Freedom comes with a price, however, and the audience and readers alike quickly discover this problem. Electra embodies the problem with freedom; she struggles hopelessly with the concept of accepting and dealing with the consequences of actions. Electra no longer has the gods to blame her troubles on, she goes into a state of despair, lapses out of her mindset of freedom, and falls into the repentance that ultimately takes her freedom away forever. Lucien Goldmann and...