Word travels rapidly throughout the town that Mayor Orden has been arrested, but still the citizens swarm the village and countryside to collect the packages of dynamite. Meanwhile, Orden and Doctor Winter remain under arrest, confined to the palace. At one point, Doctor Winter comes into the drawing-room and asks to see the mayor, who hears him and steps out of his room—the soldier standing guard does nothing, and the two men speak candidly. Doctor Winter says that the invaders stand no chance of defeating the people, because “in a time of need leaders pop up […] like mushrooms.” In turn, Orden admits he’s afraid to die and has been thinking of ways to escape, though he’s ashamed to have these thoughts. In turn, Winter points out that he hasn’t tried yet to escape and that he won’t—in the end, Winter says, everybody naturally thinks this way.
Mayor Orden and Doctor Winter’s discussion about their own fears and misgivings serves as a perfect counterpoint to Tonder and Prackle’s earlier inability to communicate with one another. Unlike the two lieutenants, who clearly worried about the same things but couldn’t bring themselves to console one another, Orden and Winter openly talk about their grievances and insecurities regarding their role in this war. In turn, they provide a model for what true human connection and empathy look like. Steinbeck implies that, whereas fascism fails to create an environment that supports healthy relationships, democracy naturally inspires compassion.
As the two men contemplate their probable demise, Mayor Orden asks Doctor Winter if he remembers Plato’s Apology, which they learned together in school. He then quotes Socrates’ monologue from Apology, which includes the lines, “Someone will say, ‘And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end?’ To him I may fairly answer, ‘There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether he is doing right or wrong.’” In this way, the two friends proceed, taking turns piecing together Socrates’ monologue, which Orden needs help remembering but delivers quite well nonetheless—after all, he learned these words 46 years ago, when he spoke them at his and Winter’s graduation.
Orden’s choice to recite Socrates’ monologue from Apology is fitting for two reasons. First of all, Socrates is persecuted in Plato’s text for unwaveringly doing what he believes is right. This is in keeping with Orden’s refusal to cooperate with Colonel Lanser, despite the latter’s insistence that cooperation is for the best. Second of all, Socrates speaks these lines before being put to death. It’s obvious that this resonates with Orden because he himself faces a possible execution—therefore, he revels in Socrates’ brave lines, taking solace in the idea that he will die only because he has acted morally.
As Mayor Orden delivers Socrates’ monologue with Doctor Winter’s help, Colonel Lanser enters the room and listens attentively. When Orden and Winter argue whether or not a certain word is supposed to be “death” or “departure,” Lanser interjects, saying, “‘Departure.’ It is ‘immediately after my departure.’” Later, when Lieutenant Prackle rushes in and tries to get the colonel’s attention, Lanser holds out his hand and says, “Shh.” Still, Prackle plows on, saying that he and the other soldiers have found townspeople with dynamite. “Hush,” Lanser says, and goes back to listening to Mayor Orden speak the words of Socrates.
Lanser’s interest in Orden’s recitation of Socrates’ monologue and his willingness to allow the mayor to finish once again shows his sensitive side. Indeed, this is a man trapped between a natural human tendency toward empathy and a strict adherence to fascist policies and inhumane modes of warfare. For perhaps the first time in the entire novella, he allows his empathy and humanity to win out momentarily as he voluntarily places his duty on hold in order to listen to a man he respects deliver a beautiful monologue.
Finally, Mayor Orden can remember no more of the monologue, and Lanser tells Prackle to have Captain Loft guard the men who were found with dynamite. He then turns his attention to Orden, telling the mayor that “these things must stop,” but Orden merely smiles and says that they can’t be stopped. “I arrested you as a hostage for the good behavior of your people. Those are my orders,” Lanser says. “But that won’t stop it,” Orden replies, explaining that the people will get along without him as soon as he becomes a hindrance. Madame then emerges from the bedroom and tells Orden he’s forgotten to wear his “chain of office,” which she puts around his neck.
Here, Orden again reminds Lanser of the primary difference between fascism and democracy: the power of the people. In a democracy, the citizens decide what to do, and any ruler who fails to reflect their wishes is pushed out of the way. It’s fitting that his wife puts his “chain of office” around his neck after he says this, as if what makes him a true leader is his acceptance of his own powerlessness and his commitment to serve the people—not to dominate them.
Colonel Lanser asks what Mayor Orden thinks his people would do if he asked them not to light the dynamite. Either way, Orden says, the citizens will move forward with their plans—the only difference is whether or not the mayor makes them brave and proud by refusing to give into the invaders’ wish that he condemn anybody who lights a fuse. In response, Lanser suggests that if Orden told the townspeople to behave, then the invaders could perhaps tell their government that Orden begged for his life, thus sparing him. Orden points out that this plan is flawed, since the invaders are unable to keep secrets. He then reveals that Lieutenant Tonder’s words about flies conquering flypaper somehow got out, and have been made into a national song of resistance.
The fact that Lieutenant Tonder’s metaphor about the flies conquering the flypaper spread throughout the country to became a song of resistance illustrates how superficial and ineffective the invaders’ control is, even when it comes to commanding their own people. Despite the appearance of hierarchal control and orderliness that the military cultivates, it’s obvious that this fascist regime isn’t even powerful enough to keep itself in check. Moreover, this revelation is a testament to the power and pervasiveness of the underground network of communication that exists among the people of this country, proving that the free flow of information is integral to resistance and democracy alike.
Orden speaks frankly with Lanser, telling him it’s obvious that although the invaders have the upper hand now, freemen are capable of fighting much longer and with more zeal because they actually believe in their cause. Nonetheless, Lanser voices his commitment to following his orders, a statement that prompts Doctor Winter to ask if the colonel will really stick to these plans even though he knows they’re doomed to fail. “I will carry out my orders no matter what they are,” he states. At this point, Madame interrupts, saying, “But they can’t arrest the Mayor.” This comment makes Orden smile. “No,” he repeats, “they can’t arrest the Mayor. The Mayor is an idea conceived by free men. It will escape arrest.” As these words leave his mouth, an explosion erupts in the distance, its echo reverberating throughout the hills.
In this moment, Mayor Orden attributes the strength of democracy to the fact that it is, above all, predicated on freedom of thought and the ideal of equal representation. Since an “idea conceived by free men” can’t be censored, therefore democratic rule will never succumb to fascist oppression. No matter how much a conqueror strives to control the way a democratic society operates, it will forever fail to impose its own order over a free people.
Mayor Orden pauses and smiles. Another explosion sounds, now much closer. Looking at his friend, Orden puts his chain of office in Winter’s hand. “How did it go about the flies?” he asks. “The flies have conquered the flypaper,” Winter responds. Outside, there’s another explosion, this time so close the windows break. Orden calls Annie and asks her to stay with Madame, whom he kisses on the forehead before going to the door, where Prackle stands waiting. He turns to Winter and quotes Socrates once more, saying, “Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius. Will you remember to pay the debt?” Closing his eyes, Winter says, “The debt shall be paid.” Laughing, Orden lays a hand on Prackle’s arm, and Prackle jumps at his touch. “I remembered that one,” Orden says. “I didn’t forget that one.” Nodding, Winter says to his oldest friend, “Yes, you remembered. The debt shall be paid.”
Once more, Prackle reveals his closed-off manner, jumping away from Orden at the first sign of contact. The novella then concludes with Winter saying, “The debt shall be paid,” which he takes from Socrates’ speech in Plato’s The Phaedo. In the text, Socrates and Asclepius have this short exchange just before Socrates is put to death. By ending with Asclepius’ line, “The debt shall be paid,” Steinbeck insinuates that, although Mayor Orden shall die at the hands of the fascist regime, the loss of his life will be avenged by the uncontrollable population of free thinkers and insurrectionaries that he has until now represented.