Electra

by

Sophocles

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Electra: Lines 871-1057 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Suddenly, Chrysothemis rushes in with what she calls “quite undignified haste,” excited to share happy news with Electra. Chrysothemis claims that Orestes has come back. There are fresh offerings on Agamemnon’s grave, she says, of milk, flowers, and “a lock of hair, newly cut off.” It must be Orestes, Chrysothemis maintains, but Electra thinks that her sister is being foolish. Electra tells her sister that Orestes is dead, and it is more likely that the libations were put there in memory of Orestes.
Chrysothemis’s claim that she ran with “quite undignified haste” is another reflection of their sexist society. To run or hurry in any way is considered unbecoming a proper lady, and when Chrysothemis runs in her excitement, she is acutely aware of this. This passage also alludes to Aeschylus’s The Libation Bearers and the locks of hair that identify the siblings.  
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Electra, however, has her own plan to improve their situation. She says that she and Chrysothemis must kill Aegisthus if they are ever to be happy again. With Aegisthus alive, they will be forced to grow old without ever falling in love or getting married, because Aegisthus would never take the risk of letting one of them have a son who might grow up to avenge Agamemnon’s death. But if they kill Aegisthus, they will win their freedom and be admired among the people, as they will have restored Agamemnon’s house.
Aegisthus’s control of Chrysothemis and Electra reflects both the presence of revenge (it is so common that Aegisthus just assumes Electra and Chrysothemis’s sons would seek revenge) and the prevailing gender roles of Greek society. As a man, Aegisthus completely controls Electra and Chrysothemis, and he even decides if they marry and have children. As women, Electra and Chrysothemis are given very little agency over their lives, and Electra is determined to regain some of this control, even if she must kill Aegisthus herself to get it. In this way, Sophocles shows that far from being weak, women can actually be very strong—in part because of their subjugated place in society.
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Chrysothemis tells Electra that because she’s a woman, she’ll never have enough strength to win this fight. She warns Electra to stop talking such nonsense, because if they are heard, it will only make matters worse. Electra isn’t surprised by her sister’s reaction and she quickly vows to kill Aegisthus alone, though she asks Chrysothemis if she really believes that Electra is wrong about all this. In reply, Chrysothemis says: “You can be right and do a lot of harm.” . 
Electra completely upends popular gender stereotypes. Like Chrysothemis, society expects Electra to be weak and ineffectual, but she continually behaves in ways that run counter to these expectations. In this way, Sophocles implies that women are not weak after all and, like men, they are very capable of revenge and murder. Chrysothemis’s statement that one can be both “right” and do “harm” also seems to reflect one of Sophocles’s central arguments. Even if all this death and killing is just, he implies, it is still very harmful and therefore unwise. 
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