In No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre

In No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre, the three main characters, Garcin, Inez and Estelle, must face the harsh reality that is presented to them unexpectedly. The play takes place in hell, where all the characters have been sent after their individual deaths and must now learn to cope with each other for eternity. After a while, they realize that they have nothing in common from their respective pasts, but they are certainly put together for one reason, to pay for their sins. Their common sense tells them that they are there to suffer, and that the best way to let time pass-by peacefully is by ignoring each other. However, their confinement forces them to interact with each other, beginning their eternal punishment. Throughout the play they will acknowledge that punishment in hell is not physical but as well mental, as it is obvious to them that the only torture they are receiving comes from each other’s cruelty. This paper will analyze how man’s cruelty to his fellow man can be more of a torture than any other.

Inez and Garcin find out in a very satirical way about their respective roles in the chamber. First, Garcin believes that Valet is the torturer. Then, Inez thinks likewise about Garcin until Garcin disproves this and tells her that he is not the torturer by merely a fellow companion. “Inez: You? Why, the torturer, of course. Garcin: Well, that’s a good one! Too comic for words. I the torturer! So you came in, had a look at me, and thought I was one of the staff. Of course, it’s that silly fellow’s fault; he should have introduced us. A torturer indeed! I’m Joseph Garcin, journalist and man of letters by profession. And as we’re both in the same boat, so to speak, might I ask you, Mrs. – ?” (8) Their mutual introduction was very deceiving, they made out themselves as being very nice and respectable people who apparently had no reason to be in this situation. The fact that Garcin’s introduction included his profession denotes how he expects himself to be respected and he was careful in portraying a good image of himself.

Inez and Garcin questioning about each other’s past seem too tense. Garcin is merely referring to superficial facts about Estelle’s past and suddenly daydreams. Garcin then comments about how he was thinking about his past life and suddenly argues with Inez. “Garcin: I was setting my life in order. You may laugh, but you’d do better to follow my example. Inez: No need. My life’s in perfect order. It tidied itself up nicely of its own accord. So I needn’t bother about it now. Garcin: Really? You imagine it’s so simple as that.” (12,13) Inez insists about how her life was left perfectly in order and gives the impression that she left without regrets or remorse. Garcin’s comment certainly sets a tense environment as Inez stops talking, evoking to the possibility of feelings being hurt by Garcin. Garcin, with this argument, also reflects upon his situation and concludes that he too has many unsolved issues. This initial argument begins to set the tone of the novel and unleashes the antagonistic relationship that the characters will have amongst themselves.

After Garcin agrees that he will be silent to be with himself, Estelle and Inez start to talk to each other and they have an argument that describes how they find out that by talking, they will hurt each other. Therefore, they agree that they will try not to talk. Cruelty manifests itself initially on how first Garcin prefers not to talk, thus avoiding contact, and then how Inez and Estelle are afraid to venture into a relationship when it is known that relationships between people are the ones that liberate one’s soul. “Estelle: But we’re going to-to hurt each other. You said it yourself. Inez: Do I look as if I wanted to hurt you? Estelle: One never can tell. Inez: Much more likely you’ll hurt me. Still, what does it matter? If I’ve got to suffer, it may as well be at your hands, your pretty hands.” (19,20) Although they acknowledge the fact that they may get hurt, they agree that they will try not to hurt each other. Nonetheless, they know that suffering will take place because, after all, they are in hell. Thus, they start a relationship to try and build trust and minimize suffering and punishment.

The relationship started by Estelle and Garcin reflects how much incongruence is present as they are using each other to fulfil their needs, Estelle the wanting of a man and Garcin the need to be brave and not be a coward. “Garcin: What do you want of me? Estelle: You can help me anyhow. Garcin: If you want help, apply to her. Estelle: I implore you, Garcin – you gave me your promise, didn’t you? Help me quick. I don’t want to be left alone.” (31) Mutually, they want to benefit from isolating Inez and acting as a team. “Estelle: My poor darling! Look at me. Please look. Touch me. Touch me. There! Keep your hand there. No, don’t move. Why trouble what those men are thinking? They’ll die off one by one. Forget them. There’s only me, now. Garcin: But they won’t forget me, not they! They’ll die, but others will come after them to carry on the legend. I’ve left my fate in their hands.” (39) Instead of establishing a human relationship where two human beings let go their emotions and love others and themselves in a giving relationship, Estelle and Garcin start a relationship where they use each other to feel good about themselves. This can be considered cruel because each other are there for having been selfish on Earth. Therefore, they expect the other to truly care and comprehend them. Their own selfish reasons force them to ignore what each other truly wants. This type of relationships seem cruel to the extent that human beings are to be loved by one another and not used in relationships for personal satisfaction.

By the end of the play, things were getting ugly between the characters. Garcin is presented much more vulnerable and a lot more concerned about his image during his life. Inez does not make it easy for him as she deliberately shuts down every thing Garcin says. “Garcin: Listen! Each man has an aim in life, a leading motive; that’s so, isn’t it? Well, I didn’t give a damn for wealth, or for love. I aimed at being a real man. A tough, as they say. I staked everything on the same horse… Can one possibly be a coward when one’s deliberately courted danger at every turn? And can one judge a life by a single action? Inez: Why not? For thirty years you dreamt you were a hero, and condoned a thousand petty lapses – because a hero, of course, can do no wrong. An easy method, obviously. Then a day came when you were up against it, the red light of real danger – and you took the train to Mexico.” (43) Inez is not showing respect for his feelings, she is stating the facts as she perceives them causing damage to Garcin and even more alienation from the group. The purpose of the room is beginning to show meaning.

In conclusion, the characters’ innate cruelty towards each other was sufficient to guarantee Inez, Garcin, and Estelle’s well-deserved eternal punishment. The theme analyzed contributes to our understating of modern literature because it is harsh and real. It is life as we know it and as we need to defend ourselves from it. One of the main elements of modern literature that is present in the play is that of insecurity and isolation. Everybody feels isolated at some point in their lives, its part of developing your personality. Being exposed to adverse situations creates who you will become in the future. Unfortunately for these characters, their fate consisted in going to hell. The genius of Sartre consisted in realizing this and depicting it in a way many readers would not have thought of. Here lies the importance of the play to the modern day reader. The reader must realize how powerful words can be and how much they can hurt a person. Therefore, it is crucial to acknowledge this importance while there is still time to do something about it on Earth instead of suffering from your faults eternally in hell. The reality is that words can truly hurt a person and cause enormous amounts of sorrow. Physical wounds heal with time, but it is the emotional wounds that scar forever.