No Exit - Sartre: "Hell Is Other People"

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Hell is Other People

“Only in the self can the drama of truth occur. A crowd is untruth.” - Kierkegaard

On a literal level, Sartre’s play, “No Exit”, is an account of three individuals

damned to a hell unlike any other. The first and only Act opens upon the arrival of

Garcin. He is escorted by a valet into a room furnished with Second-Empire furniture

where he shall be spending the rest of his eternal existence. The valet, the only other

character besides the occupants of this room, is amused by Garcin’s pre-conceived notion

of hell. Garcin observes there are no mirrors, nor anything breakable in the room. He

then shouts that they should have at least allowed him his “damn toothbrush!” The valet

is further amused by this outburst, pointing out that every single “guest” inquires about

the torture chamber, and then once they’ve gotten over the initial shock, they start asking

for their toothbrushes and what-not. He assures Garcin that he’ll have no need for his

toothbrush here, nor sleep, and advises him to forego his “sense of human dignity”.

While trying to come to terms with his situation, Garcin is disturbed by the valet’s

lidless eyes and parallels his perpetual sight to his own perpetual consciousness. “So

that’s the idea, I am to live without eyelids….No eyelids, no sleep; it follows, doesn’t it?

I shall never sleep again. But then - how shall I endure my own company?” (After

rereading the play for a second time, this seems the most ironic bit because Garcin is

Liedtke 2

unaware at this point that this room IS his torture chamber, and the other occupants are

his torturers, and there will be no escaping them; not even in sleep.)

When left alone, Garcin quickly grows impatient and begins repeatedly ringing

the bell which is supposedly meant to summon the valet. However, it doesn’t seem to be

working so he gives up. The door then opens and the valet is accompanied this time by

a woman named Inez. She observes Garcin and is silent when the valet asks if she has

any questions. When he exits, she immediately demands from Garcin the whereabouts of

someone named Florence, but he has no idea what she’s talking about. Inez assumes

Garcin is her torturer and when he asks why she thinks that, she replies that torturers

often look frightened. He laughs at this, for who have torturers to be frightened of? Inez

replies, “Laugh away, but I know what I’m talking about. I’ve often watched my own

face in the glass.”

Garcin perceives her hostility but attempts to get along with Inez. He says it’s

obvious she doesn’t want him near her and that’s good because he himself would rather

be alone anyways. “To think things through, you know; to set my life in order, and one

does that better by oneself.” He does, however, suggest they try to appease the situation

by being extremely courteous to one another. Inez bluntly states, “ I am not polite.”

(Basically, Inez is a lesbian and hates men, and the very presence of Garcin irritates

her.) She is soon annoyed by his fidgetiness and reproaches him for it; “You talk about

politeness, and yet you don’t even try to control your face. Remember you’re not alone;

you’ve no right to inflict the sight of your fear on me.” She believes there’s no use left in

being afraid because they are dead, and there is nothing to hope for anymore. He

declares, “There may be no more hope - but it’s still before. We haven’t yet begun to

suffer.”

The final “guest” then enters the room; another woman named Estelle. She

immediately tells Garcin, whose face is buried in his hands, not to look up. (He’s a man,

so naturally he looks up.) She realizes she mistook him for someone else; someone she

was expecting to face when she got to hell.Estelle’s first concern is the sofas that are

meant for them to sit on;...
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