Saturday, March 27, 2010

No Exit

Jean-Paul Sartre presents hell in his existential play No Exit. There are no pitchforks or demons, only an ugly furnished hotel room with three damned. There is no sleeping in hell, and no blinking. Hell, as Garcin says, is “life without a break” (5). The play starts with the Valet who brings Garcin into his room. Garcin is surprised to learn that hell is nothing by a series of rooms, connected by passages and stairs. Garcin, left alone for only a moment, is then introduced to Inez, who will be his roommate. Later, the Valet brings Estelle, a lovely young girl, into the room. The Valet announces that there will be no one else brought in, and leaves the three alone.

It becomes obvious that they will not get along. Garcin ran a pacifist newspaper and wonders if he was actually a coward, Inez is a lesbian and a self described “damned bitch” (25) and Estelle married a man for his money, and is obsessed with being pretty and attracting men. Inez is attracted to Estelle, who wants nothing to do with her, and Estelle constantly tries to get Garcin’s attention, who attempts to keep to himself. Even when Garcin is willing to give in to her advances, he cannot go through with it because he desires Inez’s approval too much.

Estelle wonders why the three of them have been put in the same room. She believes that there must be a reason, while Garcin states that it is mere chance. Inez presents her disturbing theory; that they will serve as each other’s torturers. Garcin, adamant that he will torture no one, comes up with a way to avoid this: “each of us stays put in his or her corner and takes no notice of the others…Also, we mustn’t speak” (17). Garcin’s plan does not work. Inez begins to sing, and Estelle asks the others if they have a mirror. Inez's mirror has been taken, and there are no mirrors in the room. Inez then offers to be Estelle's mirror. Garcin attempts to ignore the others, laying face down, covering his eyes with his hands. Inez and Estelle begin talking, and continually address Garcin, who is forced to come back into the conversation.

Garcin realizes that not speaking will be impossible, and decides that the best thing to do is have full disclosure among themselves, and asks the others what they have done to be damned. He confesses first: he has cheated on his wife and treated her badly throughout their five-year marriage. Not only this, but he does not regret it, and admits that he enjoyed making her suffer. Similarly, Inez confesses that she slept with her dead cousin’s wife, and made her suffer. She admits: “I can’t get on without making people suffer” (26). With much prodding, the two finally get Estelle to tell what she has done: she had killed her baby because she did not want her husband’s child.

One of the biggest ironies in the play is that the “no exit” implied by the title is not an outside force, but their own minds that entrap them in hell together. Garcin, who becomes so frustrated with Inez and Estelle, attempts to open the door. At first it does not open, but with much pushing, it finally does. Garcin, who declared he would leave them forever, and Estelle, who claims that she will leave if the door opens, both stay. Garcin stays because he needs Inez to convince him that he is not a coward. Estelle stays because she needs Garcin.

At the end of the play, Garcin comes to the realization that “hell is—other people” (45). The three then fully realize the extent of the situation, that they will be there, together, forever. “Estelle [with a peal of laughter]: ‘Forever. My God, how funny. Forever’ ” (46).

No Exit, with a setting of the afterlife, recalls Dante’s Divine Comedy, particularly The Inferno. Sartre’s allusion to this is ironic in that Dante’s works presents salvation through God, whereas in Sartre’s world, there is no salvation or even an explanation as to what has brought the characters to hell, or what their punishments will serve (Godfrey No Exit: Overview). In Gary Godfrey’s article No Exit: Overview, he explains the existential implications in No Exit:

Sartre’s plea is for authenticity, which he sees as an acceptance of our inherent liberty engaged in life so as to affirm that liberty. In order to find the peace which Inez, Estelle, and Garcin so painfully lack, we must act in good faith, or we too could find ourselves locked in an evil world with no exit.

In Godfrey’s article, he brings out that an important existential theme in No Exit is that of free will and how we use it. Existentialists emphasized free will, that humans have no one to answer to except themselves, and are therefore free to do as they wish. Sartre’s play, then, is not a warning of living a sinful life because it may lead to hell, (Sartre was an atheist) but a warning to not live one’s life in such a way that it becomes an entrapment, to live it in a way that we can find “peace.” We therefore, according the Sartre, must live a life of "authenticity."

Sartre also seemed to stress self-reflection and the importance of knowing one's self in his play. Garcin needs Inez to convince him that he is not a coward (which she never gives into) because he cannot convince himself. It is significant that there are no mirrors. The three are unable to reflect on themselves, and therefore need each other to do the reflecting for them (as Inez offers to be Estelle's mirror). This is hell; being forced to rely on others to reflect on ourselves, to live forever in constant judgement of others.

Works cited:

Gilbert, Stuart trans. No Exit and Three Other Plays. Vintage International, 1989.

Godfrey, Gary M. "No Exit: Overview." Reference Guide to World Literature. Ed. Lesley Henderson. 2nd ed. New York: St. James Press, 1995. Literature Resource Center. Web. 27 Mar. 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your blog on "No Exit" and the importance of understanding yourself displayed in the play. I love art that shows the human desire to feel wanted and needed by others. These character seem to show this emotion alot in the play. The idea of cheating on spouses is another important concept associated with modern literature. It wasn't even touched on before the 1900's but in today's novel it is very prevalent.