Seminar Response — Matt Elard0
Section I — The Basics
No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre
Sartre’s No Exit is tense right from the beginning. Garcin’s uneasiness is almost instantly apparent, as he paces the room rambling about “instruments of torture” (2). But overall, the mood is fairly lighthearted for a play about Hell, as the Valet is surprisingly cordial for one of Hell’s guardians: “Sorry, sir. No offense meant.” (2), he responds to one of Garcin’s many complaints. By the end of the play, however, the mood becomes wicked, as the damned souls resort to torturing each other for all of eternity. “I can’t endure it any longer” (23), laments Garcin, before calling Estelle “…soft and slimy…Like an octopus. Like a quagmire” (23). Eventually, the mood becomes completely hopeless, as the characters realize they are doomed to torture each other indefinitely: “Well, well, let’s get on with it….” (26).
- Valet — Demon / Guardian of Hell
- Garcin — Damned soul / torturer to Estelle and Inez
- Estelle — Damned soul / torturer to Garcin and Inez
- Inez — Damned soul / torturer to Garcin and Estelle
- People’s inherent selfishness
- Looking to others for validation
The root of every character’s torture in No Exit is exemplified by the open door through which none of the characters dare to pass. This situation highlights the sinister paradox in which the characters are trapped: They all rely upon each other for validation (and thus salvation), yet their conflicting needs prohibit them from attaining peace.
For instance, in order to save himself from eternal strife, Garcin must convince Inez that he is not a coward — as Garcin tells Inez himself, “If you’ll have faith in me I’m saved” (23). But Inez “can’t get on without making people suffer” (14), making her validation impossible for Garcin to obtain. Estelle, meanwhile, is dependent on Garcin’s approval for happiness: As Inez says, “she wants a man’s arm round her waist, a man’s smell, a man’s eyes glowing with desire. And that’s all she wants” (22). But Garcin has no interest in Estelle, even going as far as to say “So, Inez, we’re alone. [Estelle]— she doesn’t count” (24). Finally, Inez is dependent upon Estelle for happiness, complaining to Garcin: “And what about her, about Estelle? You’ve stolen her from me” (12). Yet Estelle wants nothing to do with Inez, telling Garcin that “[Inez] doesn’t count, she’s a woman” (19). So, Garcin needs Inez, but can only have Estelle. Estelle needs Garcin, but can only have Inez. And Inez needs Estelle, but can only have Garcin. It is in this way that the characters are doomed for eternity — there is no happiness for them alone, beyond the door. But while there is the potential of salvation for them together, inside the doors, this happiness is ultimately unattainable. If the characters could learn to let go — to find validation and salvation beyond the door — then they may well have escaped their Hell. But they couldn’t, so Garcin closed the door.
Through this paradox, Sartre conveys the inherent absurdity of seeking meaning or validation from others. Sartre therefore uses his characters to represent what he viewed as an absurd society that sought meaning not from within but from others.
“Hell is — other people!”(25).
Section 2: Garcin Analysis
Conflict: Garcin needs to feel as if he is “manly” — he craves control and admiration from his peers — particularly Inez.
- Detail: “Yes. And that way we — we’ll work out our salvation. Looking into ourselves, never raising our heads. Agreed?” (10)
- Detail: [To Inez]: “If you’ll have faith in me I’m saved.” (24)
- Resolution: Garcin is never able to secure Inez’s approval, nor is he able to to completely control his fate. However, by the play’s end, he does seem to gain some peace by embracing his situation. He recognizes the futility of his situation, and creates a facade of control by deciding for himself to embrace this futility: “ Well, well, let’s get on with it. . . .” (26).
Complexity: Garcin is complex in that he seems to be the character with the firmest grip on his situation yet is also the one whose quest for control is least fulfilled.
- Detail: “ No, I shall never be your torturer. I wish neither of you any harm, and I’ve no concern with you. None at all. So the solution’s easy enough; each of us stays put in his or her corner and takes no notice of the others. You here, you here, and I there. Like soldiers at our posts. Also, we mustn’t speak. Not one word” (10).
- Detail: “ Talk away, talk away, you swine. I’m not there to defend myself.” (20)
- Explanation: Here we see Garcin trying (and failing) to control two different situations. In the first, Garcin is shown to have the firmest grip on his predicament of all the group, as he even goes as far as to present a solution to the Hell in which he and his roommates find themselves. He tries to exert control over his current fate by instructing his roommates on how to avoid torturing each other. Of course, this effort is fruitless, as he is consistently unable to prevent Estelle and Inez from torturing each other and himself. In the second situation, Garcin’s main issue is not necessarily his coworkers’ opinions of him: It is his inability to defend himself and thus influence their opinion. Once again, Garcin is aware of his situation — he can hear his coworkers talk back on Earth — but he is completely unable to influence them. In the same way he is unable to change Inez’s view of him, Garcin is helpless to influence his coworkers’ thoughts on him.The complex relationship between Garcin’s unusual awareness of his own predicaments and his lack of control exacerbates his personal torture: He has just enough power to know what plagues him, but lacks the ability to do anything about it.
Section 3: Setting
Hell (a large apartment complex)
Details & Support
- “ We’re in hell, my pets; they never make mistakes, and people aren’t damned for nothing.” (9)
- “ I feel so empty, desiccated — really dead at last” (16)
- “ Hell is — other people!” (25)
These quotes exemplify the characters’ predicament: They all reference death, and often discuss various forms of torture. In some cases, the characters even state outright that they are in Hell. However, this Hell is very different from its mainstream image. By making Hell such a mundane, relatable setting, Sartre illustrates that Hell and Earth are not so different after all. As Garcin notes, “Hell is — other people!” (25). Sartre’s argument, therefore, is that Hell is not some mystical place where damned souls are physically tortured for eternity: Hell is looking for external meaning in an indifferent universe. Essentially, we don’t have to die to go to Hell — we may even find it in our own living rooms.
Section 4: Symbols/Motifs
Symbol: Open Door
- Detail: “All right, shut the door”.
- Explanation: The open door reflects how little control the characters have over their fates. They know they are in Hell — that they are destined to personally torture each other for all of eternity — yet cannot bring themselves to leave when given a chance. The closed door is nothing but an artificial boundary : Even without the door, the characters still have no power to leave the room.
1a.) “If you’ll have faith in me I’m saved” (23);
1b.) “can’t get on without making people suffer” (14);
1c.) “she wants a man’s arm round her waist, a man’s smell, a man’s eyes glowing with desire. And that’s all she wants” (22)
1d.) “Alone, none of us can save himself or herself; we’re linked together inextricably.” (16)
- Explanation: Each of these quotes shows how the characters are reliant upon each other for salvation, as they look for meaning from each other. This underscores Sartre’s central message with the text: Looking to others for meaning is futile and leads to nothing but strife.
Section 5: Meaning of the Work
Meaning Statement: There is no meaning to be found from external sources; looking for meaning from anywhere but within is absurd and will ultimately result in personal suffering.
- Detail: “I mean that each of us will act as torturer of the two others” (10)..
Explanation: Here, Inez deciphers the nature of our characters’ Hell: Each person is destined to be tortured by the others for eternity. If each person could learn to ignore the others — to find meaning from within themselves — then they would be immune to the others’ actions and thus would be saved from this Hell.
- Detail: “Alone, none of us can save himself or herself; we’re linked together inextricably.” (16)
Explanation: Again, this quote shows how each character is dependent on the others for salvation. Because they are unable to find meaning from within, they must rely on their peers for peace — and because their needs are conflicting, nobody can find peace.
- Detail: “Hell is — other people!” (25)
Explanation: Here, Garcin finally uncovers the true meaning of “Hell”: Hell is looking for meaning from others. The only way to find salvation is to ignore the influence of others entirely and consult oneself for meaning — a feat none of the characters are able to accomplish.