Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the most engaged philosophers of the 20th century and his philosophic opinions are expressed through his work. By the traditional philosophy, a man is defined in advance and before his existence is his essence, or better yet his meaning. Existentialism takes a different point of view and believes that a man should first exist and be over of his existence and then, based on his acts, he should figure himself out and go to his essence.
Sartre’s taking part in the II. World War had a deep impact on him which can be seen in his work “No Exit”. The plot is settled in a room in hell where three people, who can’t stand each other, are and they mutually torture one another. There is no other physical torture. The play was often compared to the life in Paris during the German occupation.
Some basic rules of existentialism can be seen in the work, such as humans being a sum of their acts and responsible for who they are and what they do which is followed by feelings of insecurity, anxiety, defeat, weakness, restlessness and the feeling of absurdity.
“No Exit” is a play in one act that follows the lives of three characters closed in a room in hell. They soon realize that nothing is a coincidence and that they were placed there to torture each other. In the beginning, they refuse to admit to their sins that got them to hell but in the end, they give up thinking it will save them. They realize that they are in an absurd situation with no way out because they used to have a choice but now they had to take responsibility for their acts.
Some, like Garcin, can’t face the responsibility so they put it on someone else who will decide for them. Because of that he lets Inès judge and define him. Estelle, who couldn’t live without other people’s opinion so she couldn’t live without a mirror, behaved in a similar way. She believed that if she doesn’t see her reflection in the mirror that she doesn’t exist and can’t know how others perceive her. She allows Inès to pretend to be her mirror but it ends with Inès defining her and she accepts her remarks. Inès believes that it’s her job to judge people and she can’t stand other people’s looks because she thought they were taking her part away. She accused Garcin of stealing her face because it makes her lose the sense of power she had over others.
Inès is the only one willing to accept responsibility for her actions, reconcile with her past and accepting only what happens in the present, even though she is in hell. That’s the difference between her and Garcin and Estelle that can’t cope with the current situation and they keep going back to the past to observe their close ones from hell. If we take into account the philosophy of existentialism, by which we should be aware of our existence and actions for which we should take responsibility in order to create our own essence, then Inès is the only character that’s being successful at it.
Sartre presents hell as a room that’s always hot in which the prisoners torture each other by making each other face their worst fears and any physical torture is out of the question. Garcin comes to the conclusion that hell is actually other people.
In the first scene of this play we meet Garcin who enters Hell. Hell is described as a room with one bronze figure above the fireplace. Garcin doesn’t like the room at first sight and he says he’ll need time to get used to the furniture. He asks if all the other rooms are like that and that he isn’t used to live surrounded by furniture he disliked, the same as he lived amongst fake social positions. He admits he wasn’t expecting such a room and asks the room attendant if he knows anything about this place. He responds that not everything we hear can be trusted because people who were there can’t know nothing about it.
He was surprised at not seeing any torturing device, mirrors, windows or anything that can be broken. In the end, he asks why they took away his toothbrush any they say it’s because he won’t have to wash his teeth there. Also, there was no bed because people never slept there. Garcin admits that it’s understandable. There’s no point in looking yourself in the mirror or washing your teeth here. The room attendant tells him that he hadn’t abandoned his human dignity yet and that he hadn’t made peace with the situation yet and Garcin gets offended by his insinuations. He warns the room keeper he won’t tolerate his behavior and comes to the conclusion that he should accept the situation before any more surprises come along.
He was a bit disturbed by the fact that the room attendant had no eyelids and looked at him without blinking. A similar situation waits for him because he is never going to bed which meant he will have to put up with himself in a place with no night and where the lights can’t be turned off. Garcin asked the room attendant to tell him what’s outside this place and where he goes when he has a day off. He says that the whole place was made out of room, hallways, and stairways and that he sometimes goes to his uncle who has a room on the third floor.
Garcin can’t believe that he will have to live with eyes always opened and the room attendant is amused by him saying “he’ll live”. Garcin wants to use the bronze figure to break the light but the room attendant warns him that the figure is too heavy to be moved and Garcin sees that for himself. The room attendant is getting ready to leave and Garcin asks him will he come back every time he rings the bell. He said he should be here but that Garcin shouldn’t rely too much on the bell because sometimes it doesn’t work. Garcin tries out the bell and the room attendant warns him that he shouldn’t count on it.
He’s getting ready to leave again and Garcin goes to the fireplace and picks up a paper-knife. He asks the attendant about it and he says it’s quite obviously a paper knife. He allows the attendant to leave and he stays all alone. He walks around the room, tries to pick up the bronze statue, rings the bell and realizes it’s not working. He tries to open the door, call the attendant but he fails at everything. Just when he gives up the attendant enters with Inès.
The attendant asks Garcin if he called for him and he says he didn’t. Then he talks to the quiet Inès. The attendant explains it’s her room and that people usually have a lot of questions but that he won’t insist on it if she doesn’t want to talk and that she can ask Garcin about everything.
When the attendant leaves Inès accuses Garcin of being a torturer and he smiles saying she confused him with the staff and that it was the attendant’s fault for not introducing them. He presented himself as Joseph Garcin, a journalist. She tells him she’s not married and that she thought he was a torturer because he has a scared look on his face and all torturers had it. She was sure of it because she saw herself many times in the mirror. She wants to know if he ever leaves the room to go for a walk and he tells her that the doors are locked and she can’t go out.
He suggested that the two of them be nice to each other because they are in the same situation in which they should tolerate each other to make it easier. He bored her. He wanted to be alone sometimes in order to think everything over. She tells him he’s not being nice and that he should stop making faces because he was making her scared. She tells him there is no point in fear anymore because all hope was gone. Garcin tells her that their sufferings hadn’t even begun.
An attendant brings Estelle and she immediately thinks Garcin is someone else. She doesn’t like the sofas in the room and Inès, who liked Estelle, offers to exchange the sofas with her. Estelle wanted Garcin’s and he lets her have it. She presents herself as Estelle Rigault and Inès thinks she is very beautiful and feels sorry for not having welcome flowers.
Estelle tells Inès and Garcin that she just died and that no one is crying for her even though her ceremony isn’t over yet. She died of pneumonia without suffering much. Inès was suffocated by gas in her sleep and Garcin got shot. Estelle is sensitive to the word “dead” so she asked them to use the word “absent”. When Garcin starts taking his coat off because it was very hot in the room she asked him not to do it and he obeys. She says she doesn’t stand men in short sleeves and Inès says she isn’t interested in men.
All three of them see what happens to their close ones then. Garcin says his wife doesn’t know he’s dead even though it was a month ago and that she annoyed him. The three of them asked why they were in the same room. Estelle expected she’ll be with her relatives and friends. They thought they might have met somewhere or had mutual friends. Inès didn’t agree and thought they were placed there on purpose. They should have admitted why they are there.
Estelle says she doesn’t know and that there was a mistake but Inès doesn’t believe her. Estelle claims she has nothing to hide and explains her life. She was very young when her parents died and she had to take care of her brother so she married an older rich man. While she was married she met a man for whom she believed was meant for her but when he asked her to runaway with him she declined his offer. After that, she got pneumonia and died.
Others agree she didn’t commit a sin and then Garcin tells a bit about his life. He was a newspaper editor when the war started. She didn’t go into combat because he was defending his principles and he got shot because of that. Inès thinks they’re in Hell for a reason and that there was no mistake because they were all criminals and murderers. Since there was no physical torture they were placed in there to torture each other. Garcin didn’t believe it because he had no intention to hurt anyone. He suggested that from now on they should ignore and stop talking to each other.
They all agree and soon after Inès starts to sing. Estelle looks for a mirror to apply her makeup and says she doesn’t know if she existed without seeing herself in a mirror. Inès tells her that she is always aware of herself in her thoughts. Estelle can’t make peace with not seeing herself in a mirror never again. Through her life, she was surrounded by mirrors and while she talked to someone she would always look at herself in a mirror. Inès offers to be her mirror.
Inès flatters her and Estelle enjoys it but she wants to be noticed by Garcin. He doesn’t respond to her courting and asks them to stop talking then blames Inès for starting everything. Garcin was sure they should ignore each other but Inès says it impossible to ignore someone close to you and says Garcin is trying to take Estelle away from her and that she won’t please him by being quiet. In the end, Garcin suggests for them to admit their sins and avoid further disasters. He admits to having treated his wife badly, cheated on her and coming home drunk but that he regrets nothing. His wife put up with everything and one time when he came home with another woman she made coffee for them.
Inès admits she seduced her cousin’s wife while she lived with them. The cousin got hit by a bus and her lover couldn’t live with herself so she let gas running that killed both of them. Estelle stays in denial for a while longer but they admit that she cheated on her husband and got pregnant. She ran away to Switzerland so that no one knows about the child and she was filled with hate for her lover who actually wanted the child unlike her. She killed the child in front of her lover and then he committed suicide.
Inès realizes that her punishment is being attracted to Estelle and that all of them were in a trap. Estelle wanted to seduce Garcin and Inès tries to convince her she will be better off with her. Estelle declines her offer saying she doesn’t count as a woman. Inès doesn’t give up on her courting and Estelle spits in her face. The whole time Garcin declines Estelle’s courting but then he gives up and they start kissing in front of Inès who looks at them with repulsion. She is determined to have her revenge.
Garcin says that he got killed for running away when the war started. He wanted to go to Mexico and start a newspaper there but he got caught at the border. He asked Estelle if he was a coward because of that and she responds that he has to decide for himself and he’s unable to do it. He was worried that everyone will think off him as a coward so he needed Estelle to affirm he wasn’t. Garcin thought that just one person’s opinion will save him and she agrees with him. Inès laughs at the situation because she knew that Estelle agreed with him just because she wanted to have a man close. Garcin makes Estelle tell him the truth and she admits that she agreed with him because she had no idea what was he talking about.
The furious Garcin starts banging on the door, determined to run away from the two of them. Inès is happy for staying alone with Estelle and Estelle tells her she won’t spend a second with her and begs Garcin not to leave her. The door open and Garcin decides not to leave because he had to convince Inès he wasn’t a coward. Garcin was the kind of person that can’t live with other people’s judgment. He thinks he’ll be saved if Inès believed in him but she doesn’t agree by saying he should take responsibility for his actions.
Estelle told Garcin he could get back at Inès by kissing her and Inès doesn’t give up in calling him a coward. Garcin concludes that all of this was arranged in advance so that Hell wouldn’t have the need for physical torture because people tortured each other. Garcin told Estelle he can’t love her while Inès is here so Estelle grabs the paper knife and tries to kill Inès. She laughs at her absurd action because it was impossible to kill someone who is already dead. Estelle laughs and Garcin joins. The curtain falls.
Place: a room in Hell
Time: during the II. World War
Characters: attendant, Garcin, Ines, Estelle
Garcin – the first one of the characters to come to the room. The plot begins with his arrival. To his surprise, there were no torturing devices in the room. He was a journalist from Rio who ran away in order to avoid going to combat. He wanted to go to Mexico and start his newspaper there but he got caught and shot at the border. In the beginning, he lied about the reason for which he was in hell because his biggest concern was that his friends will think of him as a coward. He wanted Estelle and Inès to make him believe he wasn’t a coward but Estelle tells him that just so she would seduce him and Inès, who hated him, decided to torture him by saying he was a coward forever. He cared about other people’s opinion which is notable when he has the chance to exit the room but doesn’t take it. He stayed because he couldn’t go away knowing that Inès judged him. He wanted to be sure he wasn’t a coward. He was the only one with a reasonable approach to the situation so he suggested they just stopped talking to each other and think quietly about their actions. He is aware of the fact that he treated his wife badly and cheated on her but he felt no guilt because of it. The only thing on his mind was other people’s opinions.
Inès – the second one to come to the room. Hostility reigns between her and Garcin because she thought Garcin had stolen Estelle from her. The hate grows when Estelle and Garcin try to make her jealous on purpose. She worked at the post office and her sin was seducing her cousin’s wife while she lived with him. Her lover couldn’t live with her husband’s death so she let the gas running and she killed both of them. She also showed no remorse and claimed she enjoyed other people’s suffering. When Garcin stays in the room just so he could prove he wasn’t a coward Inès doesn’t agree with him and tells him he should face his actions and take responsibility for them. She wasn’t ready to give him the peace and satisfaction by telling him he’s not a coward. She did it because she was jealous of Estelle wanting Garcin. She was the only one that made peace with her past and decided to live in the present, even though she was sentenced to an eternity in hell which, by the existentialism philosophy, is the place where one should get to know himself.
Estelle – the last one to arrive. She can’t make peace with the situation and keeps on claiming she was there by a mistake. She can’t stand the word “dead” and asks the others to replace that word with the word “absent”. In the end of the play she realized she was in a situation that had to exit. Her sin was cheating on her husband, staying pregnant and killing the baby she didn’t want. In the end she died from pneumonia. Estelle claimed she can’t live without a mirror because she wasn’t aware of her existence without seeing her reflection. Even when she talked to someone she would look at herself in the mirror. Inès, trying to seduce her, pretended to be her mirror and scared her with her offer. She was determined to seduce Garcin who didn’t want to be with her while Inès was present so Estelle, forgetting they were all dead, tried killing her with a paper knife
Room attendant – shows up at the beginning of the play, brings the characters to the room but doesn’t state the reason for their presence there. He could only be called by a bell that often didn’t work.
Jean Paul Sartre Biography
Jean-Paul Sartre was born on June 21st, 1905 in Paris. He had only 15 months when his father died so his grandfather, Charles Schweizer raised him. He introduced him to the classic literature at a young age. Sartre studied at the center of all French intellectuals of that age, in École Normale Supérieureu in Paris. He was interested in philosophy and ideas of Kant, Hegel etc.
In 1929 he met an intellectual Simone de Beauvoir and starts a friendship and an open relationship with her. Sartre wrote about the never-ending confrontation between the spirit wrecking conformism and authentic living.
In 1938 he wrote his most famous novel “Nausea” which served as the manifest of the existentialism philosophy. He believed that our ideas were the results of real-life experiences and that novel and plays which describe such experiences are worth just as much as the philosophic essays used to elaborate philosophic ideas. He died on April 15th, 1980 in Paris.
His most famous works are: “Being and Nothingness”, “Anti-Semite and Jew”, “Situations I”, “Situations II”, “Situations III”, “Situations IV, V, VI”, “The Age of Reason”, “Dirty Hands”, “The Devil and the Good Lord”, “The Respectful Prostitute”.