Short summary - The Flies - Les Mouches - Jean-Paul Sartre

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Flies - Les Mouches
Jean-Paul Sartre

On the main square of Argos, there is a statue of Jupiter covered with flies. Orestes enters, brushing off the big fat flies. Terrible screams come from the palace.
Fifteen years ago, Clytemnestra, the mother of Orestes and Electra, and her lover Aegisthus killed their father Agamemnon. Aegisthus wanted to kill Orestes too, but the boy managed to escape. And now, brought up in distant lands, Orestes enters his hometown with curiosity.
Jupiter enters disguised as a citizen. He explains to Orestes that today is the day of the dead, and the screams mean that the ceremony has begun: the inhabitants of the city, led by the king and queen, repent and pray to their dead to forgive them.
There are rumors in the city that Agamemnon's son Orestes survived. By the way, Jupiter notes that if he had met this Orestes by chance, he would have said to him: “The local inhabitants are great sinners, but they have entered the path of redemption. Leave them alone, young man, leave them alone, respect the torment they have taken upon themselves, go away, good-bye. You are not involved in the crime and cannot share their repentance. Your audacious innocence separates you from them like a deep ditch. "
Jupiter leaves. Orestes is at a loss: he does not know what to answer to a stranger, a city where he could rightfully be a king, a stranger to him, he has no place in it. Orestes decides to leave.
Elektra appears. Orestes speaks to her, and she tells the stranger about her hatred of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Elektra is lonely, she has no friends, no one loves her. But she lives with hope - she is waiting for one person ...
Queen Clytemnestra enters. She asks Electra to put on mourning: the official ceremony of repentance will begin soon. Noticing Orestes, Clytemnestra is surprised: travelers, as a rule, go around the city, "for them our repentance is a plague, they are afraid of infection."
Electra mockingly warns Orestes that publicly repenting is the national sport of the Argives, everyone already knows each other's crimes by heart. And the tsarina's crimes are "official crimes, which, one might say, are the basis of the state system." Every year on the day of the murder of Agamemnon, the people go to the cave, which is said to communicate with hell. The huge stone blocking the entrance to it is rolled aside, and the dead, "as they say, rise from hell and disperse through the city." And residents prepare tables and chairs for them, make beds. However, she, Elektra, is not going to take part in these stupid games. These are not her dead.
Electra leaves. Following her, wishing Orestes to get out of the city as soon as possible, Clytemnestra also leaves. Jupiter appears. Upon learning that Orestes was about to leave, he offers him a pair of horses at a reasonable price. Orestes replies that he changed his mind.
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People crowd in front of a closed cave. Aegisthus and Clytemnestra appear. The stone is rolled away, and Aegisthus, standing in front of the black hole, turns to the dead with a speech of repentance. Elektra suddenly appears in a blasphemous white dress. She calls on residents to stop repenting and start living with simple human joys. And let the dead live in the hearts of those who loved them, but do not drag them with them to the grave. Here the block, which covered the entrance to the cave, rolls down with a crash. The crowd is numb with fear, and then rushes to deal with the troublemaker. Aegisthus stops the angry townspeople, reminding them that the law prohibits punishment on the day of the holiday.
Everyone leaves, only Orestes and Electra are on the stage, Electra is burning with a thirst for revenge. Opening up to his sister, Orestes begins to persuade her to give up revenge and leave with him. However, Electra is adamant. Then, wishing to win the love of his sister and the right to citizenship in Argos, which smelled of carrion through and through, Orestes agrees to "shoulder a grave crime" and rid the inhabitants of the king and queen, who forcibly force people to remember all the time about the atrocities they have committed.
In the throne room of the palace, there is an eerie, bloody statue of Jupiter. Orestes and Elektra are hiding at its foot. Flies swarm around. Enter Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Both are mortally tired of their own invented ceremony. The queen leaves, and Aegisthus turns to the statue of Jupiter with a request to grant him peace.
Orestes jumps out of the darkness with a drawn sword. He offers Aegisthus to defend himself, but he refuses - he wants Orestes to become a murderer. Orestes kills the king, and then rushes into the queen's room. Electra wants to keep him - "she can no longer damage ...". Then Orestes walks on his own.
Electra looks at the corpse of Aegisthus and does not understand: did she really want this? He died, but her hatred died with him. Clytemnestra screams. “Well, my enemies are dead. For many years I rejoiced at this death in advance, now the vice gripped my heart. Have I deceived myself for fifteen years? " Elektra asks. Orestes returns with blood on his hands. Orestes feels free, he has done a good deed and is ready to bear the burden of murder, since this burden is his freedom.
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Swarms of fat flies surround the brother and sister. They are Erinii, the goddess of remorse. Electra takes his brother to the sanctuary of Apollo in order to protect him from people and flies.
Orestes and Electra sleep at the foot of the statue of Apollo. Around them, the Erinians settled down in a round dance. Brother and sister are awakening. Like huge dung flies, the Erinias begin to awaken.
Glancing at his sister, Orestes discovers with horror that overnight she has become remarkably similar to Clytemnestra. And this is not surprising: she, like her mother, witnessed a terrible crime. Rubbing their paws, the Erinyes dance in a frantic dance around Orestes and Electra. Electra regrets what he had done, Orestes persuades his sister not to repent; in order to feel completely free, he takes full responsibility for himself.
Entering Jupiter pacifies Erinius. He is not going to punish Orestes and Electra, he just needs a “drop of remorse”. Jupiter convinces Electra that she did not want to kill, just as a child she played murder all the time, because this game can be played alone. It seems to Electra that she is beginning to understand herself.
Jupiter asks Orestes and Electra to renounce the crime, and then he will put them on the throne of Argos. Orestes replies that he already has the right to this throne. Jupiter notices that now all the inhabitants of Argos are waiting for Orestes near the exit from the sanctuary with pitchforks and clubs, Orestes is alone, like a leper. Jupiter demands from Orestes to confess his guilt, but he refuses. Jupiter himself created man free. And if he did not want this crime, then why did he not stop the punishing hand at the moment of committing the crime? This means, Orestes concludes, that there is neither good nor evil in heaven, "there is no one there who could command me."
Freedom of Orestes means exile. Orestes agrees - everyone must find their own way. Jupiter silently retreats.
Electra leaves Orestes. As soon as she steps on the circle, the Erinians attack her, and she calls out to Jupiter. Elektra repents, and the Erinyes retreat from her.
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Erinyes focused all their attention on Orestes. The doors to the sanctuary swing open, behind them an angry crowd is visible, ready to tear Orestes to shreds. Addressing the townspeople, Orestes proudly declares that he takes responsibility for the murder. He went to him for the sake of the people: he took upon himself the crime of a man who could not cope with his burden and shifted responsibility to all residents of the city. The flies must finally stop oppressing the Argives. Now these are his flies, his dead. Let the townspeople try to start living anew. He leaves them and takes away all the flies with him.
Orestes leaves the circle and leaves. The Erinyes rush after him screaming.