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No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

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No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre, is an almost humorous one-act play that covers the experiences of three people who are sent to hell. Sartre was famously known for authoring existentialist philosophy, and was an important contributor to French philosophy in the twentieth century. The existential dogma that Sartre was most attributed with is the belief that all humans define their own meaning of life. No Exit examines this belief by following Garcin, Inez, and Estelle, the three souls in hell, as they seem to prove the bizarre theory even Hell seems to abide by. Coupling rapid-fire dialogue and intricate truths of human behavior, Sartre is able to illustrate this theory through Garcin, when he succinctly describes this idea, at the end of the novel, as "hell is other people."

Garcin presents the idea with such candor it almost seems whimsical, but Sartre is perfectly justified by spelling out the play's theme in this way. There are two distinct methods by which Sartre brings develops the theme. First, the three humans depicted all act absurd; more specifically, act contrary to Sartrean positivism, expecting their comrades to be nothing more than the lowest denizen of society. On the flip side, often referred to as giving the benefit of the doubt, none of the characters are able to trust their associates or their own self.

This illustration recreates itself repeatedly, mainly through three events. At the beginning of their stay in hell, none of them can say why they are in hell, purposefully repressing this information from the others. This is a display of prominent mistrust of their self, because under these circumstances (hellish) the lie would hurt no one but their own conscience. Inez realizes this, and demands that they stop lying to themselves, which is essentially what is happening. The second element of the theme becomes present when first aware of Estelle's inability to imagine herself without a mirror. This is a direct reference to Sartre's own philosophy that sight is the only tool that "destroys subjectivity." Inez describes this in a rather creepy manner: "Suppose the mirror started telling lies? Or suppose I covered my eyes--as he is doing-- and refused to look at you, all that loveliness of yours would be wasted on the desert air." (13) In a nutshell, this is the essence of the aforementioned Sartrean sight contention. The final example is most peculiar, but so subtle, the first read of the play would probably not catch it. But near the beginning, The Valet is introducing Garcin into the room, and he is taking stock of his surroundings. Noticing the strange ornament on the mantelpiece, he casually remarks, "And suppose I took that contraption on the mantelpiece and dropped it on the lamp-- wouldn't it go out?", referring to the eternal light he will have to endure. Equally casual, the Valet responds, "You can't move it. It's too heavy,"



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