Perhaps best embodied in the characters of Electra and Chrysothemis respectively,
the opposing value systems of justice and expedience come into frequent conflict
throughout the play. Electra adheres strongly to the principle of justice, willing to
suffer and mourn continually in its name and in its pursuit. Chrysothemis, on the
other hand, while indeed she recognizes that Electra is morally right in her position
nonetheless bends towards expedience; "benefit," for her, is a key word: she
performs those actions from which she will derive greatest benefit, regardless of
whether or not they are necessarily "just."
The value systems collide also in Electra's debate with Clytemnestra about the
nature of Clytemnestra's murder of Agamemnon. According to Electra, the murder
was motivated by expedience; Clytemnestra had to remove Agamemnon so that
she could be with Aegisthus, the object of her lust. According to Clytemnestra,
however, the murder was just; she was exacting revenge from Agamemnon for his
sacrifice of their daughter. The characters even deliberate whether the sacrifice
itself was motivated by expedience or by justice, as a requirement of the gods. The
collision of the ideas of justice and expedience functions again and again
throughout the play to call into questions the motivations behind key characters,
complicating a clear comprehension of their morality and of traditional conceptions
of heroes and villains.
Electra's hatred for her mother and her all-consuming desire for revenge bring
about powerful changes in her psyche that point clearly to the profound effect
revenge can have on its perpetrator. At the outset of the play, Electra adheres
strongly to the principles of justice. As the play progresses, however, and the
moment of revenge approaches, Electra grows increasingly irrational,
demonstrating a questionable grasp on the very principle of justice by which she
claims to be motivated. Her enthusiasm in listening to the cries of her dying mother,
her refusal to allow Aegisthus to speak before his death, and her desire to desecrate
his body by throwing the corpse to scavengers all suggests the maddening potential
of the pursuit of revenge. Indeed, many scholars are divided over whether Electra's
victory over her mother represents the triumph of justice or the downfall of Electra.
Again and again throughout the play, characters make reverent reference to the abstract concept of honor and guard wildly against dishonor. In his prayer to the household gods at the start of the play, Orestes begs not to be exiled from honor
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