S'hi's Reviews > Huis clos, suivi de Les mouches

Huis clos, suivi de Les mouches by Jean-Paul Sartre
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U 50x66
's review
Jan 23, 12

really liked it
Read in January, 2012

As a preliminary to reading Sartre's Les Mouches (The Flies), I reaad Sophocles Electra and this was my response:

Although there are four plays in this book I didn’t get much out of the first one as I began it, so jumped across and just decided to read Electra.

I found this very interesting for the use of deception to give oneself an advantage about the situation one is entering before admitting one’s alliance with another. But this is an example given by the gods in some plays, just as it is with humans in others. Here we have Athena reporting to Odysseus – oops, that’s the Ajax story. Let that one go – it is just that I then went on to reading Sartre’s The Flies, and he uses Zeus with Orestes, Electra and Clytemnestra in his play, whereas Sophocles has Orestes, Electra and her sister Chrysothemus, with a reference to a dead sister who is unnamed but sacrificed by their father for a transgression he made against a god. This seems to be partly why the wife Clytemnestra decides to have an affair with another man who kills him and becomes king beside her. But this new king has also sent her young son off to be killed, but those charged with the task could not bring themselves to kill the boy, and thus Orestes is believed to still be alive by the loyal daughter Electra, wishing for vengeance for her fathers’ demise.

In both plays Electra is portrayed as an outcast of sorts in her own home. Because she is so outspoken about the death of her father she has been imprisoned by her mother in the palace (in Sophocles) or treated as a slave doing menial tasks all year (in Sartre) but allowed to be a show princess for the Day of the Dead (which Zeus rules, and thus his presence).

The ancient play uses a chorus to act as the voice of the common people, and as the voice of conscience which backs up Electra. She trusts them, and they expect that she will eventually see through the plan she has to free them all from the tyrant and the false queen.

Sartre on the other hand, has Electra caught in the same chimera as the townfolk, who are all deceived by the King’s annual pageant of drawing forth the ghosts of the dead to shroud them all in shadows. Although Electra knows of this farce, when her brother turns up and carries out the deed which she has long hoped he would do, she goes into shock over his actions and denies her own complicity in it.

Although she takes 15 years in dreaming of the return of her brother Orestes to take revenge, when he arrives he is not the type of character she has envisioned. Instead he appears as a pacifist from his easy upbringing away from the social milieu of his home town. He tells Electra that there is another way to live, not as a promising fantasy, but as a reality he has already experienced. She uses this image to spur herself on, and claim that she will do the deed if he is not strong enough. But when her passion ignites compassion within him and he transforms into the character she expected him to be, she then pulls back again and doubts that it was indeed justice to follow through.

Thus we have quite different issues arising from the same story. And these issues are about the society within which the plays themselves were written and performed. The one is merely the carrying out of ‘destiny’ or what has been prescribed to be the remedy for a particular transgression against a family and its society. The other is the freeing up from prescription for choice to be made based upon one’s own principles and one’s own interpretation of them. And this is determined to be a higher ideal than living by prescription.
but the real question is: who is writing the script. For Orestes makes much of his own freedom, then sways and responds to the terms his sister seems to place upon him. Yes, he can change his mind. But what is the real basis then for his decisions and actions? Is freedom enough of an ideal that it overrides being influenced by others who do not seem to know of let alone believe in such an ideal? It is an interesting twist in this play. But it is a twist which also demonstrates the power within the individual to work through their own stance on issues. And it is the acceptance within oneself of the consequences of one’s own thinking and choices and actions. Rather than awaiting the judgement of any other, the judgment made of oneself is the force by which all forward movement can occur. And then it becomes an invitation to others to also step clear of their own shadows and doubts and find their own freedom also.

Challenging ideas, frames through the use of ancient morality to place it at a remove from ‘current superstitions’ as Sartre would probably have said of modern religion.

“In Camera” goes on with a similar theme of considering one’s own actions and attitudes and judging for oneself to become free from one’s own torment. In this one act play Sartre has three strangers placed together in a room after their deaths. They are given the chance to work out for themselves what the meaning of their placement together is, and how to make best use of each others’ stories and perspectives to free themselves from their own shortcomings. The conclusion seems to be that they are in fact each others’ torturers, and so that is what they do for each other. But it is also suggested that they may in fact be able to work themselves beyond such a limitation if they can figure out a means by which to do so. Perhaps this is not as conclusive as it at first appears.
In a sense the ‘wheel of life’ which the Buddhists see us caught in through progressive reincarnations is here stripped down to an awareness with no spaces, no gaps, not even the ability to blink and be free from it from a moment. Once one has awareness it persists interminably. Is such awareness therefore hell rather than the freedom of choice that one would hope to arise from awareness?
An interesting proposition.

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