No Exit (Huis Clos in french) is one of the most beautiful play of Sartre. It is also the most played of Sartre’s Works. Sartre deals with the question of the relationship with others (or intersubjectivity), translating his philosophical essays (Being and Nothingness in particular) on the question.
The action takes place in hell, a hell very similar to the real world. Three characters are found in this microcosm. At first glance, unconnected, it turns out that their stories are intimately linked, some alienating others, leading to the famous conclusion of one of the characters (Garcin): hell is other people.
- Garcin is a journalist. He was shot for his pacifism. He believes himself a hero, the play will reveal him rather perfidious and harmful.
- Inès is a lesbian. She committed suicide by gas.
- Estelle is a mundane, married to a wealthy old man. She was the mistress of a young man and committed an infanticide, before dying of pneumonia. She is also a pathological liar.
The room opens with Garcin and a valet in a Second Empire style lounge. But it is not an ordinary drawing-room: it represents hell just after his death. Garcin quickly discovers that this hell has only the appearance of normal life: it does not have its everyday objects and will not need to sleep. In fact, there is only one possible activity: to live without interruption. We see at the beginning of the play the Sartrean themes: the need of others to define oneself (Garcin depends on the answers of the valet), the criticism of religion (which makes the hell down) in No Exit life is ‘down’.
Then comes Ines, the second character introduced into hell. This is the torture of Garin, his penance; Their relationship is from the outset based on mistrust and distance, each thinking that the other is the cause of his presence in hell. Finally comes Estelle. All three, evoking the circumstances of their death, understand little by little why they have been reunited: the role of each is to be the executioner of the other two. They scaffold unsuccessful plans, such as trying to ignore themselves, but their mere presence is enough to make themselves unbearable. Here again, we find the Sartrean theme of chosification: another, by his look, gives me an outside, imprisons me in an essence (the label of “coward”, “lesbian” or “mundane”) short ‘objective. Estelle even tries to stab Ines, without success: they are eternal, eternally together, for the worse. Hell is the others.
Others can try to objectify me, but can not steal my freedom: No Exit is at the center of Sartrian existentialism. The anguish we feel when confronted with the immense and meaningless universe is something Sartre calls “nausea.” To combat this “nausea”, man can use his freedom – freedom of thought, choice and action. But once the man has chosen, backtracking possible: each choice leaves an imprint. In No Exit, Sartre pushes this idea to its extreme: contemplating his life is a form of torture. For all that, to read No Exit as a pessimistic piece would be a mistake: man must choose, and make choices that he can assume for eternity (which is not unrelated to the theme of the eternal return At Nietzsche). No Exit thus invites more to do something of his life than to undergo it.
Quotes from the play
- Is it possible that we should be cowardly when we have chosen the most dangerous paths? Can one judge a life on one act?
- I have not dreamed of this heroism. I chose him. We’re what we want.
- I wanted to be a man. A hard … Is it possible that we are a coward when we have chosen the most dangerous paths?
- We always die too soon – or too late. And yet life is there, finished; The line is drawn, it is necessary to make the sum. You are nothing but your life.
- None of us can escape alone; We must either get lost together or get together.