What the Law Really Is

The Furies deals with the complexity of the law in the context of wondering if the law is meant to truly be steadfast, or to be flexible. In theory, the law is an equalizer. Every citizen approaches the law on the same level, and the law treats each person the same. It is a black-and-white part of society that is neutral and firm. This is the role that the Furies are trying to fulfill. When they approach Orestes and Apollo, accusing them of the murders, they say that “blood must pay for blood”. This is a familiar concept and purpose of the law- that an “eye for an eye”- but the play shows that this concept is more of an ideal than a practical application of the law. Orestes is an example of how the law is a dynamic work- how it cannot be rigid like the Furies wish it to be. Orestes is charged with the murder of his mother and her lover. It’s complex because his mother killed his father who killed his sister as a sacrifice to the gods in order to be back in their favor. The play doesn’t ask the question if murder is justified, but it does ask if the law is not supposed to account for the circumstances of each situation- and here, each murder presents a new set of ambiguous circumstances. The play answers the question with Orestes being given a trial which ends in a tie, and is acquitted in the murder. The answer itself is still unclear because of the tie, and I see it as a balance between the two answers. The Furies stand for the what the law strives to be in theory, because in the most basic sense, murder is not justified. However, Orestes and Apollo show through their situation that taking that stance is not always easy. The law is imperfect and cannot be truly steadfast and equalizing. I have been thinking about this concept because I know that it is still relevant today. When speaking to a former attorney at work, she told me that it isn’t always as easy as getting the most possible jail time for a crime and that prosecutors have to take into account the circumstances of the situation. I found it incredibly interesting that an idea presented in the play still applies. I think it is a dynamic of the law that people often criticize or just ignore, but it is a part of it that is worth thinking about and understanding.

Feminine Fury: Gender roles

Gender takes on a very important role in The Furies. In one of the two stories prefacing this one, the death of Iphigenia is the first death in the immediate family. Iphigenia is one of Agamemnon’s two daughters and she is the first to suffer death in the family. After her death comes the vengeful death of Agamemnon committed by his wife over her rage that he sacrificed their daughter. Now, does this not seem to be an eye for an eye? A life for a life? Yet, Oreste takes it upon himself to avenge his father’s death by killing his mother. This totals the family deaths out to 3. The saying is not an eye for an eye for an eye. This death of his mother brings a sort of imbalance in the way women’s deaths are treated vs. the way men are. It goes to say that one man’s death equals the death of two women. And if Oreste had killed his father, the ruling may have been more straightforward and to the point. His father was a mighty warrior and his mother was just that; a mother. Athena even takes the side of Oreste and her vote is what saves him from being the 4th death in his family. Because she was born from the head of Zeus and has no mother, she sympathizes with Oreste.

 The furies themselves are also women and seen as old detesting hags. This gives another harsh perspective on older women and categorizes them as grotesque creatures. Their names being “the furies” shows an anger and ill temper in women, as if they are always seemingly furious. Because these furies have never bore children, which is what it seems that every mortal woman’s purpose is, they are now hags. Women who never did their one duty in life and they are now cast out of society and seen as evil, relentless women.

Gender matters very much in this play because there is an obvious power struggle between the killings of daughters, husbands, and mothers. Yet, the mother is the only one who did not kill someone of her same bloodline. The female deaths vs. the male deaths definitely send a message of inferiority and unimportance in women and superiority and power with men.