World Literature Essay

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Name: Lea Heusinger-Jonda
Candidate Number: 003854-008
Literature in Translation Essay
English A1 Literature Standard Level

No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

How does Sartre establish a concept of Hell?

Far from the traditional perception of life after death, Jean-Paul Sartre’s conceptual Hell is based on the Existentialist theory revolving around how one is possessed and controlled by the ‘other’, as the ‘other’ defines one’s actions and exterior being. Jean-Paul Sartre, a French philosopher, novelist and playwright, was a leading Existentialist who dealt with the nature of human life and the structures of consciousness in his philosophies. His play ‘No Exit’ clearly illustrates the conflict of otherness and the underlying argument established throughout the play is that “Hell is other people”. Using only three characters and a single room, Sartre evokes a new concept of Hell, and concludes that Hell is not a physical place, but that it is in fact all around us; a man made concept driven by our choices and actions. This concept is further underlined through Sartre’s use of visual set construction, the characters’ dependency on one another, their internal conflict and the idea of competitive subjectivity.

Sartre uses various aspects of visual set construction to create a version of Hell that greatly differs from the traditional perception of it, to enhance his theory that Hell exists all around us. According to Christian beliefs, Hell is a place for sinners who have been judged and condemned by God. Sartre, who considers faith in God to limit freedom, is opposed to the concept that God has the ability to decide one’s fate. Through Garcin’s realization that Earth is “down there”, suggesting that Hell is above Earth, Sartre reverses the belief that Hell is below, as stated in the Bible: “…thou shalt be brought down to Hell”. Sartre thereby inverts one of the most essential beliefs about Hell to establish the difference between his concept of Hell and that of traditional Christian beliefs. Sartre reverses the placement of Hell to suggest that his concept of Hell is psychological instead of physical. When Garcin first enters Hell, he exclaims: “Can’t one turn off the light?” The Hell that Sartre has created is constantly illuminated, which means that the characters are always exposed to each other’s gaze and judgment. The characters are thus constantly confronted with their wrongdoings and are stripped of their ability to define themselves. Sartre thereby expresses his view, that the ‘other’ “freezes” ones freedom by simply looking at them. The distinctly human atmosphere of Sartre’s Hell, created by the use of Second Empire furniture and the absence of “torture-chambers and brimstone”, not only provides a stark contrast to the idea of Hell being a “lake of fire” as described in the Bible, but also leaves the characters no where to hide, again leading to constant exposure. This distinctly human atmosphere and the use of set construction to highlight the characters’ exposure, help define the concept that Hell is determined by the gaze of the ‘other’.

The internal conflict within Garcin and Estelle further determines Sartre’s concept of Hell. Garcin claims to live the life of a hero, and believes that his actions in life were courageous. When Garcin first enters Hell, he claims: “…I’m facing the situation.” He wants to seem courageous, but is in fact only pretending to face Hell. Contrary to his beliefs, the other characters are able to see him for what he really is: a coward. Inez, who is Sartre’s voice in the play, makes Garcin realize that his actions define him as a different person than he thinks he is. Sartre further emphasizes this fact by expressing the Existentialist idea: “You are- your life, and nothing else.” When Garcin becomes aware of the freedom and responsibility that comes with this, he flees into “bad faith” by beginning to rely on others to define him. Thus Garcin believes that it is Inez whom he...
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