Ramble. Focus. Ramble.

No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

Garcin: This bronze. Yes, now’s the moment; I’m looking at this thing on the mantelpiece, and I understand that I’m in hell. I tell you, everything’s been thought-out beforehand. They knew I’d stand at the fireplace stroking this thing of bronze, with all those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales!There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS–OTHER PEOPLE!

This piece of literature has been the most interesting thing I have ever read. The idea is exquisite and I feel mad at myself for not being verbose. I will not be able to define exactly how the play devours you into it; however, I will try. The atheist in Sartre has an interesting viewpoint of hell and that is the subject of the play. It is a one-act play acted throughout in a Second Empire-styled drawing-room.

For the first time, Sartre takes three equally important roles and creates the most interesting scenario ever. And I think, it is the first time in his career that he has given women such important roles. Important does not mean dignified in any way, rather quite the opposite.  Anybody would want to find out how it all works up there. A man and two women are stuck in a room and it’s no ordinary room, it is actually hell. They are obviously there for reasons but two of them act as if they have been brought to hell by mistake. Estelle, the one who is here because she murdered her baby says:

That’s just it. I haven’t a notion, not the foggiest. In fact, I’m wondering if there hasn’t been some ghastly mistake. Don’t smile. Just think of the number of people who-who become absentees every day. There must be thousands and thousands, and probably they’re sorted out by– by understrappers, you know what I mean. Stupid employees who don’t know their job. So they’re bound to make mistakes sometimes… Do stop smiling. Why don’t you speak? If they made a mistake in my case, they may have done the same about you. And you, too. Anyhow, isn’t it better to think we’ve got here by mistake?

The lesbian, Inez, is the only one who knows that it is important to accept whatever reasons have brought them to hell and she is not so discrete about her own. However, the discussion in the beginning is all about the moral reasons for which they have been brought to hell, by mistake that is.

Well, the story goes on an Inez tries to seduce Estelle but Estelle and her vanity desire a man and a man only. So she tries to get Garcin’s attention. Garcin is trying hard to make his way out of here from the very start. He concentrates on earth and he finds how everybody remembers him a coward and he watches them until his memory is erased from their minds. Garcin is a coward who was shot trying to flee his country and he also ill-treated his wife all his life. He does not face the fact to easy and he approaches Estelle in order to ask for her help. He says he wants her trust and only then will he make love to her and she is all ready for that. But Inez points out to both of them; Estelle just wants a man to screw her and she wants it too bad, she doesn’t care if he is a coward. Whereas, Garcin wants someone to believe that he is not a coward; he thinks it will get him out of hell and to him it is the purpose they have been all put together in this room.

When Garcin realizes that Estelle doesn’t care he switches to Inez and he thinks she matters because it’s her who knows for sure that he is a coward. A few more words with Inez and he finds how impossible this task would be and that’s where (the best dialogues of the Play lie) he philosophizes: “A man is what he wills himself to be.” He tells Inez how ardently he wanted to be a soldier and because he willed that, that’s what he is. Inez, of course, refuses to agree and calls it his dream. It continues like this:

GARCIN: I died too soon. I wasn’t allowed time to–to do my deeds.
INEZ: One always dies too soon– or too late. And yet one’s whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are– your life, and nothing else.

Estelle wants a man so bad that she wants Garcin to touch her but Inez is right there, watching. Estelle tries to stab Inez with a paper knife to which Inez laughs and stabs herself even more, saying: “Dead! Dead! Dead! Knives, poison, ropes–useless. It has happened already, do you understand? Once and for all. SO here we are, forever.”

Anyhow, Garcin finally realizes why he is put here with OTHER PEOPLE and how this should go on. He settles with the idea that eternity is going to be right here, in this drawing-room with these women and this in fact, is hell. They all laugh at their misery and the curtains are drawn.


One comment on “No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

  1. Wyrd Smythe
    June 14, 2014

    “Hell is other people,” is one of my more common quotes… and complaints. Of course, heaven is other people, too.

    (I would have hated to have to play the bellhop… having to remember not to blink!)

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This entry was posted on September 4, 2012 by in Book Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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