No Exit - Hell

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No Exit - Hell


Hell. The four lettered word that trembles in the throats of men and children alike; The
images of suffering, flame pits and blood, the smell of burning flesh, the shrieking of
those who have fallen from grace. For centuries man has sought out ways to cleanse his
soul, to repent for his sins and possibly secure his passage into paradise, all evoked by
the fear of eternal damnation and pain. The early 20th century philosopher and
existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre saw life as an endless realm of suffering and a
complete void of nothingness. His pessimistic ideals of life followed through to his
beliefs on death, as death for him was a final nothingness. If death was a final
nothingness, Sartre's view of hell was really a final statement on life. Jean-Paul
Sartre's depiction of hell in the play No Exit reflects his belief on humanity and
society.


No Exit's hell is embodied in a single room, decorated in Second Empire style furnishings.
The surroundings seem more comforting than the traditional conception of hell, as the
ones illustrated in Dante's inferno or even the bible. However, from an existentialist's
point of view, the setting in itself is rather hellish, as its lavishness is
overwhelmingly superficial and superficiality is rejected in existentialist belief. As
existentialists believe that human life is lived in suffering, sin, guilt and anxiety,
anything superficial is a foolish and naive way of denying despair. In a sense, Sartre's
hell exists for him not in the supernatural world, but in reality. Therefore his hell is
just a contained example of real life.


In order to be rejected from heaven and sent to hell, one must sin. Common in all
religions, sin exists almost as a written law. For Christians it exists in the Ten
Commandments, the seven deadly sins. For Buddhists, it is the crimes against karma.
Sartre, however, does not address what prerequisites his hell contains. By conventional
standards, its seems that his characters rightfully deserve to be placed in hell. While
Estelle's hands were tarnished with the murder of her own baby, both Garcin and Inez are
indirectly responsible for the death of those close to them. For Sartre, all three
characters are pathetic examples of humankind. Believing that human beings can never hope
to understand why they are here, Sartre, like many existentialists, believes that each
individual must choose a goal and follow it with passionate conviction, aware of the
certainty of death and the ultimate meaninglessness of one's life. Nonetheless, Estelle,
Garcin and Inez all exist with no real purpose and therefore are damned to suffer not only
in their life, but their afterlife. Garcin may have been the closest to following a goal,
but his act of fleeing from revolution and his cowardly death shows that he has no real
passion. Estelle is the most superficial of the group, the one with least conviction.
She simply uses people to her pleasure and herself as the object of their desire. Inez
sees herself as a "damned bitch" and believes that she is in fact damned and belongs in
hell. She goes on to explain how she has caused the death of her lover's husband, and her
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