Sartre's Use of Hell as a Dramatic Device in the Play Huis Clos

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Sartre’s use of hell as a dramtic device in the play ‘Huis Clos’ is highly effective. It gives him a platform to explore his philosophical themes, in particular the objectifying gaze of the other, self deception, bad faith as well as the issue of human freedom and responsibility. It allows him to shock the audience by challenging their pre-conceived notion of hell. By shying away from the stereotypical view of hell Sartre challenges his audience to become introspective and ask uncomfortable questions of themselves. His use of hell as a dramtic device also gives him the chance to capture the full and total attention of his audience by creating an air of mystery and tension. I will be discussing these points in my essay. Sartre’s depiction of hell is not one which is traditonally held. There is no Satan, there are no damned souls burning in stench filled pits for eternity and there is no physical torture. Sartre’s illustration of hell is far more subtle and understated. He shows us a psychological hell which, in my opinion is far more terrifying than any devil with a pitchfork could ever be. ‘Hell’ in the play ‘Huis Clos’ is essentially a stuffy drawing room, decorated in the Style of the Second Empire. There are no windows, no mirrors and the only entrance is locked. Garcin is first to enter and he too is suprised by this ‘hell’ –‘Where are the instruments of torture?’ he naively asks. Inez is second to arrive and she too is expecting the more traditional hell, assuming that Garcin is the torturer rather than a damned soul ‘You? The torturer of course’. By depicting hell in familiar surroundings, Sartre immediately brings himself into conflict with the audience by challenging their belief of what exactly is hell? Surely hell cannot be a room with three people in it? Surely it must be more severe than this? It goes against everything we are hard wired to believe. From a young age we learn that familiar equals safe and in placing Hell in an unassuming drawing...
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