Hell is Other People – Review of No Exit Written by Sartre
In No Exit, three people come to a drawing-room in Second Empire style. Garcin is a deserter who treated his wife abominably, but when the three miscreants first met, he told them he was killed because he ran a pacifist newspaper. Inez is a cruel woman who indirectly leads the death of her cousin and Florence. Estelle is Roger’s mistress. She killed her baby and Roger commits a suicide. However, she fools the others at the beginning by telling them she sacrifices her youth to a man nearly three times her age.
In the room, while talking with each other, Estelle gets attracted by Garcin and Inez tries to enchanted Estelle, but Garcin has no interest on Estelle.
They are led to stay in the room by the room-valet, and there is no mirror in the room. Although there are no instruments of torture, no racks, no red-hot pincers or other paraphernalia, all of them know that it’s exactly the hell, as Garcin says at the last scene: ‘Hell is – other people.’
At first, the door is locked so that no one can get out of the room. They entangled and attacked each other, and Garcin shouts that any kind of torture is better than the agony of mind, the creeping pain that gnaws and fumbles and caresses one and never hurts quite enough. Finally, Garcin opens the door and they all have the chance to leave, but he chooses to stay and continue the awful live in the hell.
Sartre proposed his idea: existence precedes essence, and men have the freedom to choose. The ideas are revealed in No Exit.
The three ‘absentees’ stay in the same room, they are watched by the others, they have no essence. When they choose to do things really evil, they actually choose to go to the hell; in the absurd world, they choose not to leave, so they have to ‘get on with it’.
In the room, there is no mirror. All of them tried to find a mirror, but they failed. The mirror is used to look into and recognize oneself. By looking at a mirror, people may construct their own existence. Without a mirror, they cannot look at themselves, they cannot get the ideal self in consciousness. When Estelle is making-up, she needs to consult Inez, although she doesn’t really trust her. She asks: ‘But how can I rely upon your taste? Is it the same as my taste?’ In fact, their tastes cannot be the same, thus relying on others’ estimation is denying one’s existence. However, in the hell, they have no choice.
Garcin betrayed his wife and he was killed in the war, so after death he comes to the hell. In the hell, he tries his best to set his life in order, and he hopes that he will not be recorded as a coward, but Inez told him: ‘One always dies too soon-or too late. And yet one’s whole life is completely at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are-your life, and nothing else.’ When a man is alive, he has the freedom to do anything, and he always has chances to do what he wants. The probability of changing always exists, and it only needs a new choice. However, once a man’s life comes to an end, his essence is fixed and his whole life is judged. Although Garcin says, ‘A man is what he wills himself to be’, the only thing that can how the stuff one’s made off is what one does not what one dreams. There will be no chance to change anything after a man is dead. This is what he chooses.
In the room, the relationship of the three people is mutual. People come to the absurd world and although they don’t know each other when they are alive, they have to stay here. Inez wants to enchant Estelle but Estelle is attracted by Garcin, while Garcin hopes that Inez can admit his courage. They have formed a relationship of chasing and repelling each other. The three painful souls need each other but, in the meanwhile, damage each other, chasing each other and never getting each other. No one can rest, and no one can leave the hell. When any of the two people want to form a huddle, the other one will spoil them. The three people are symbiotic and mutually exclusive. Therefore, everybody is trapped in bottomless hell.
The play ended with Garcin’s word: ‘Well, well, let’s get on with it.’ The ‘absentees’ complain that there are no windows, the doors are locked out, the lights are on all day without rest, they are watched by the others every hour and moment, and they hope that they can throw away the humiliating label. Although they know the importance of leaving the room and fight for freedom, when there’s chance to leave, they still choose to continue the life in hell, until the part of living human is exhausted. They have struggled, but when the opportunity comes, they didn’t leave, they coexist with the abominations in cowardice and indifference instead.
As Inez says, ‘It’s what one does, and nothing else, that shows the stuff one’s made of’. When facing to the dilemma, try to act practically and find the existence of oneself. He exists only to the extent that he realizes himself, therefore he is nothing more than the sum of his actions, nothing more than his life.
Jean-Paul Sartre, “No Exit” in No Exit and Three Other Plays. Vintage, 1989
Jean-Paul Sartre, “Being and Nothingness” in Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino. Modern Library, 2004.