Existentialism in “No Exit”
In the play No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre, he illustrates basic themes of existentialism through the three main characters Garcin, Inez, and Estelle. Existentialism is the requirement of people to take responsibility for their actions and choices. The three characters are put together in a Second Empire drawing room one at a time, the room being “hell”. Each character hurts each other emotionally and physically throughout the entire play. Garcin is the first to enter and be left in the room to think about the actions that lead him to where he is now. Garcin is an upper-class man who is very troubled due to his lifestyle. Second in the room is Inez, and she is the most destructive out of the three in the room. Her mission to cause the most hostility and cause conflict between the other two people in the room. Finally the third one in the room is Estelle. Estelle is of the upper class and immedietely illustrates her feelings of annoyance toward people of lower class. Garcin has some existential ideas and Inez completely embraces existential thoughts unlike Estelle who does not understand nor accept the reasoning for her being in hell. Eventually they all can agree that they are in hell for a reason and not there on accident.
Garcin is in hell because he cheated on his wife and refused to join the military, but instead tried to run away from the military which lead to his execution. He is perceived through the mind of others as a coward and his death leaves him to look like a coward in the minds of others. This leads Gracin to demand that Inez and Estelle tell him differently. Garcin admits he should be in hell and embraces the fact that he is there and deserves to be there. With this acknowledgement of his wrong doing he is following existential ideas, but he also goes against these ideas. For example, he even says he would do nothing differently to change his situation,” and I tell you I regret nothing.”Garcin makes it clear that he is able to deal with his demise in hell better than the other two characters in the room. He can see and understand that the three of them were not put together just by chance, but they were brought together on purpose to torture each other with each other’s company in a small room with nothing to do but think. He stated that the best way to cope with his current situation was for each person to keep to themselves and leave each other alone. With this idea he hopes that they can peacefully live without torturing each other. Throughout their time together, Garcin looks back into the present, while trying to make peace with himself about the evil things he had done to his loved ones. He goes against existential ideas when he refuses to engage in sexual activity with Estelle without the approval of Estelle. He also shows his existential beliefs when the door is opened, and he refuses to leave because of Inez stating, “you, anyhow, know how to be a coward.” This illustrates how Garcin believes he himself is a coward through the eyes of others.
Inez is the second person to enter the room. Inez understands bad faith. For example, when Garcin says that they are in hell by mistake, she is “amused” by his response, and sarcastically says, “I suppose you’ve got to reassure yourself somehow”. She understands that Garcin’s response is one of fear and that he’s fleeing from his responsibility by choosing self-deception. She believes that each person should be out for themselves,” You’d do better to watch your own interests,” she tells Garcin. She refuses to let either Garcin or Estelle off the hook for their actions. She makes them take responsibility by dragging confessions from them by threatening them with what Garcin calls an “agony of the mind.” Her past occupation was as a postal clerk. Inez is in hell because she seduced her cousin’s wife, making his life miserable, eventually making him step in front of tram killing himself. Inez also caused her own death by putting guilt on her lover, Florence, who killed Inez and herself with gas in the middle of the night. The reason for her death was that her lover, her cousin’s wife, left the stove on while they were sleeping, and the gas killed them both. Once Inez arrived she was at peace with her past decisions and knew why she was where she was. She states,”…I was what some people down there called a damned bitch,” and,” you know, I don’t regret a thing.” Inez continually states she picked her will by the actions she performed during her life, but she also goes against those existentialist ideas. She goes against these ideas when she states they are all there for a reason and not just by “mere chance?…Nothing was left for chance. This room was all set for us.” She dislikes men and makes it very clear by automatically hating Garcin. She is obviously competing with him. Inez shows she is lesbian once she sees Estelle by showing such an interest However, she quickly finds Estelle very attractive and pursues her for the rest of the story even though Estelle shows no interest in her. She attempts to find any way to become closer to Estelle to the point of even scaring her.
Estelle is the last one to enter “hell.” She has the hardest time understanding existentialist ideas and why she is where she is. Once she enters she says, “Oh! Then we’re to stay by ourselves, the three of us, this gentlemen, this lady, and myself.She starts laughing.” This illustrates the only way she can cope with the fact that she’s in hell is by laughing about it. She also states she is laughing about the sofas and how ugly they were. For example, when Garcin brings up the fact that they are all dead she states, “Please, please don’t use that word. It’s so – so crude. In terribly bad taste, really. It doesn’t mean much, anyhow. Somehow, I feel we’ve never been so much alive as now. If we’ve absolutely got to mention this – this state of things, I suggest we call ourselves – wait! – absentees.” Estelle believes her life contains perfect etiquette and formality, but most importantly that its everyone other than her own fault for the mistakes she has made. Estelle is in hell because she committed adultery, in which she birthed and killed her unwanted daughter, thus driving her lover to commit suicide. She almost refuses to believe she is in hell and says, “That’s just it. I haven’t a notion, not the foggiest. In fact, I’m wondering if there has been some ghastly mistake.” Estelle is very self-conscience of her looks and when she finds out there is no mirror she states,” No, I can’t do without a looking-glass for ever and ever. I simply can’t.” And “But I wish hed notice me, too.” The second statement referring to Garcin. Estelle is looking for comfort and pleasure at every chance she gets. Although Estelle gets attention from Inez she isnt looking for her attention, but instead looking for the attention of Garcin.
As can be seen, the play No Exit illustrates many existentialist views through three main characters that are placed together in a room or hell with no way out. They’re all destined to torture each other emotionally and physically. He is able to illustrate basic themes of existentialism, the requirement of people to take responsibility for their actions. Garcin is the first to enter followed by Inez and Estelle. When the others enter, each of them tells their stories on how they have ended up where they are now. Garcin has some existential ideas and Inez completely embraces existential thoughts unlike Estelle who does not understand nor accept the reasoning for her being in hell. Eventually they all can agree that they are in hell for a reason and not there on accident.