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The Importance of the Tutor in The Flies
In Jean -Paul Sarte's play, "The Flies", the main character Orestes manages to lift a curse that has plagued the dwellers of Argos for decades. Both the current king of Argos and Zeus himself are perpetuating this curse for as long as possible for the curse keeps the people subservient and in a state of mourning and terror of their own actions; two things that both the king and Zeus favor in their rule over people. Orestes was actually a resident of Argos and is the first child of the Queen Mother and the dead king. He returns to Argos with a traveling companion, the Tutor, who used to be the child's teacher in the ways of the world. Now the man is Orestes' slave and close advisor. Orestes' stance towards the Tutor and their past relationship essentially effects his ability to break the curse in Argos.
In a completely literary sense he was both a counselor for Orestes and a sort of Narrator to fill in holes in dialogue and the story line. Orestes' background was the foundation for his decision-making in this play and Sartre had to find a way to let the audience know what this background was, not only for a linear and complete plot, but also as a testament to the thoughts themselves. The Tutor completed his role in both senses, tying the plot together at the beginning and the very end, and also moving the story along with gifts of advice and observations to Orestes. He almost in a sense doesn't belong in the play. He is a complete contrast to all of the other characters other than maybe Orestes himself. And yet he seems to be a part of Orestes, like his conscious, his voice of reason in this whole tribulation. As a character, the Tutor is much more complicated than one might assume upon first glance.
The Tutor as a person was fairly simple in his wisdom and ideas. He had no delusions, no emotional or religious ties, and no 'truth' other than simple and deductive logic. As for personality traits, he was a skeptic, an atheist, and help a kind of detachment from the world and it's people. He is an admitted skeptic of the world, telling Orestes that he had "been trained in skeptic irony" (61).
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"But what purpose would it serve? These folk are no concern of mine. I have not seen one of their children come into the world, nor been present at their daughters' weddings; I don't share their remorse, I don't even know a single one of them by name." (61)
This sort of emotional detachment was impressed upon Orestes as a child by the Tutor. It keeps him from getting emotion and making rash decisions. He keeps calm and makes cool, rational decisions based of logic. It even allows him to keep from getting swept up in a moment of passion or emotional reflection. For instance, when Orestes and the Tutor are standing outside of the palace and Orestes is dwelling on what might have been if he had grown up in Argos. Yet before he gets too emotional, he literally and mentally takes a step back and looks at the situation with that emotional detachment.
Being a travelling man of worldly knowledge, the Tutor brought up Orestes without religious nor physical ties to any one place. The world was their home and logic their sword. A self-admitted atheist, the Tutor is shocked when Orestes asks if Zeus' character is a man: "There is nothing else but men- what more would you have?" (57). This is also the foundation for Orestes' disbelief in fate, one of the major perceptions that wins Orestes' the battle with Zeus. This 'skeptics education' also taught Orestes a few lessons that won him the battle with Zeus.
These ideas effect Orestes decisions throughout the play. First, there was the diversity of men's opinions. Each man has is own opinion about each thing, and thus they are all wrong and yet all right. There is rarely a true right answer and this allows Orestes to keep an open mind when dealing with people and with seeing an argument from all sides. Orestes after having committed the murders filled the people of Argos with fear, yet he loved them, they were his people and so states: "As for your sins and your remorse... I take them all upon me" (123). He understands why the people have reacted the way that they have and forgives them for it and takes away their anger, their regret.
The second lesson was that of a distrust of passion. Orestes did nothing out of sheer passion. He did not attempt anything foolish that might have gotten himself or his sister killed, he methodically makes out a plan and executes it without passion, without repentance, almost without a soul. He did what he knew he had to do. He still felt sad for doing it, but it was necessary in his eyes. He was then "beyond anguish, beyond remorse. Free. And at one with" (111) himself over the whole ordeal. His outlook is also partly due to the fact that he maintained his ironic detachment, the third lesson.
This ironic detachment helped him be skeptical about everything in the world around him, even more ethereal things like the God Zeus. This is also the way in which he gains his freedom. Zeus owned nature: the sky, the earth, the clouds. However when looking into the sky, Orestes did not see Zeus in all his glory, he saw a sky that
"grew bland as a pardoner's face... Nature sprang back, [his] youth went to the wind, and [he] knew [himself] alone, utterly alone in the midst of this well-meaning little universe" (118)
His being able to separate the act and existence of nature from that which created it gave him his complete and utter freedom. This final conclusion was brought about be his teachings from the Tutor.
Logic and education were predominant in both the Tutor's personality and his teaching of Orestes. He set Orestes to reading all the books they could get their hands on, educated him in philosophy and even composed a special archaeology course as they traveled all over Greece. Their relationship was that of Tutor and pupil, teacher and student. Then as Orestes grew in both stature and intelligence, became that of equals. And finally after the Tutor informed Orestes of his origins, that of slave and master. And not the tradition roles at that. The Tutor took many more liberties than an actual slave would. It's more as if the Tutor is almost comical in his assuming role as Orestes' slave. Yet Orestes does have the final decision in their current actions and destinations. It's more of a 'trusted servant' role that Orestes takes the Tutor as.
And this ultimate stance towards the Tutor was a major factor in deciding Orestes' fate. He is both grateful towards the Tutor for giving him the "Fruits of [his] knowledge with the finest flowers of [his] experience" (59). And yet in that teaching, there is the idea to not take only one man's opinion to heart, to find all sides of the story before making a decision, especially an important one. This is a huge deal for when the Tutor wants to leave Argos, Orestes decides to stay and investigate what is behind the curse and the flies that plague the city. He thought the Tutor wise, but not infinitely wise so that he should accept all he said. In fact, Orestes does not believe in the infinite wisdom of anybody, including the king of the Gods, Zeus. This falls right into lines with the Tutor's teachings, enhancing the fact that Orestes' upbringing was the main factor in him finding his ultimate and final freedom from the Gods. This fact leads to a conclusion that Orestes, in a sense, was born and raised to fight the Gods.
All of his dominant traits that are seen in the play stem from one teaching or another from the Tutor. The Tutor gave him the tools he needed to defeat Zeus and the curse in the manner in which he did. Orestes was prepared to do what he needed to to both defeat the curse and still stay free of Zeus and the flies. His actions were never committed in the heat of passion, his heart was never in the wrong place, and he understood both the consequences and nature of his killing the king and queen. He calmly thought each through and acted in a cool, calculated manner when the deed was being done. He was doing all of this both to free his sister and the people of Argos from the curse and to give himself a place in the world, a place to call home. And he was fully aware of the ramifications of the murders. He felt no regret, he didn't allow the flies or the furies to harm him. He knew that he was going to lose his youth as he indeed did and he knew that this act would ultimately lead to his freedom as well as that of the people of Argos.
Sartre created the Tutor character to some extent tie up some loose ends in the story, but more importantly, to give the audience and idea of Orestes' thought-process as the play progressed. He used the Tutor to provide Orestes with the knowledge to do what he did. He did however, leave the will to do such an act in Orestes, and rightly so. Sartre even has the Tutor try to stop Orestes from getting involved, yet in the end, the Tutor's place and Orestes' stance towards him lets him make the right decision.