A chorus of Mycenean women arrive in front of the palace gateway, crying out to Electra with pity. The women ask Electra why she is still weeping over Agamemnon’s death. Electra knows the women have come to comfort her, but she refuses to stop mourning and cannot be consoled. She begs the women to leave her alone with her grief.
This moment paints Electra’s grief as impossible to resolve; she can’t be made to feel better through any amount of sympathy. Electra’s deep connection to her father means that she will always mourn him, and her grief continues despite others’ belief that she should move on. In this way, Sophocles implies that real grief cannot be confined to socially accepted periods of mourning.
The chorus asks Electra how her all of her mourning can bring Agamemnon back. They claim that her grief doesn’t make her feel any better, and they wonder why she insists such useless misery. Electra, however, says that only a “fool” would forget a deceased parent, and so she will continue to mourn like the nightingale. Still, the chorus points out, Electra isn’t the only one left to mourn Agamemnon. Electra’s sister, Chrysothemis, and her brother, Orestes, must mourn too.
Again, Electra’s grief does not end simply because others think it should, nor is it affected by how others mourn. Electra’s grief is completely subjective, which is why she can’t possibly be expected to conform to social norms of acceptable grieving. Additionally, Electra’s comment that only a “fool” neglects to mourn a parent is interesting, considering she is later complicit in the murder of her mother. As Electra’s grief consumes her, she begins to lose sight of her morals, which underscores Sophocles’s argument that grief is so powerful that it can drive one to do things they would usually consider unethical.
Electra explains that her life is miserable. She is not married and has no children, and she badly misses her brother Orestes, whom she is always waiting for. Orestes sends occasional messages and says he wants to come home, but he has not yet returned. The chorus encourages Electra to remain hopeful, because Zeus is watching over everything. They tell Electra to be angry with him instead, and let her fury at her family members go.
After the murder of Agamemnon, Electra gave Orestes, then an infant, to the old slave in Phocis, a city in central Greece. Here, her misery over his long absence again points to the profound effects of revenge. Because revenge is so ingrained in ancient Greek society, Aegisthus and Clytemnestra were worried that Orestes would grow up to avenge his father’s death. Electra feared they would kill Orestes to spare their own lives, so she smuggled him out of Argos to Phocis, even though she misses him terribly.
Electra, however, says that her life has lost all meaning; she is treated like a worthless stranger in her own father’s house. The chorus cries for Agamemnon and his untimely death. Electra agrees, say that that day was the worst of her life. What did Agamemnon experience, she wonders, when he discovered that he was about to be murdered. Those same murderers, Electra thinks, have harmed her as well. She prays to Zeus to punish the people who have caused all this misery.
Electra later claims that Aegisthus will not allow her to marry, in case she bears a son who might grow up to avenge Agamemnon, and this is likely part of what she’s referring to when she discusses life having passed her by. Electra has spent most of her childbearing years a prisoner in Aegisthus’s house, but as a woman, Electra is expected to marry and have children. Since she hasn’t, she feels like her life is empty and meaningless. This passage also illustrates the power of men over women in ancient Greek society, as Aegisthus assumes such control over Electra and treats her terribly even in her own home.
The chorus, however, tells Electra that she has caused much of her own misery, because she keeps fixating on past hurts that can’t be changed. They also warn her not to fight against forces so much stronger than herself. Electra maintains that she doesn’t have a choice; she won’t be able to stop feeling sad until she has fought against those who wronged her, and what’s more, they genuinely deserve to be punished.
The chorus’s words indicate that Electra in a powerless state because she is a woman, but she refuses to conform to society’s expectations. She is expected to be weak, and the chorus warns her against fighting those who are strong. Electra, however, is strong, and through her actions, Sophocles upends the popular gender stereotype of woman as weaker than men.
The chorus tells Electra again that she’ll only get herself into trouble, but she disagrees. She says that the only way to avoid dishonoring her father is to confront “evil” directly and continuing mourning just as forcefully as she’s been doing. She won’t let Agamemnon’s killers get away without “pay[ing] with blood for blood,” adding that she’s bound by her conscience to bring them justice.
This passage reflects the association between revenge and justice in Greek society. In Electra’s opinion, justice for Agamemnon can only be obtained by killing Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, as they must “pay with blood for blood.” Electra implies that not killing her mother would be the unjust course of action, but Sophocles also subtly points out how shortsighted this view really is. Not only is Electra talking about the murder of her own mother when she’s already acknowledged that children should honor their parents, but she also makes herself the next target of revenge by continuing the vicious cycle of killing.