No Exit And Its Existentialist Themes

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No Exit and its Existentialist Themes

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss Jean Paul Sartre's philosophy and it's integration into his play "No Exit". Embedded within the character interactions are many Sartrean philosophical themes. Personal attributes serve to demonstrate some of the more dominant ideas in Sartre's writings. Each of the three characters in the play show identifiable characteristics of sexual perversion, bad faith, and interactions of consciousness.

This play takes an interesting setting, that of the afterlife. The plot centers around three main characters, Joseph Garcin, Estelle Rigault and Inez Serrano. Hell, as portrayed in this work, is no more than a room with three couches and Second Empire decorum. There are no mirrors, no windows, no books, generally no form of amusement. Some very human privileges that we take for granted have also been taken away: sleep, tears, and even momentary reprieves of blinking. Each of the three characters is introduced into the room by a surprisingly polite Valet. Initial confrontations are "uncomfortable", each person knowing that he/she is deceased, but they are not impolite. However, as the true reasons why each person has been sentenced to Hell are revealed, the true nature of the place takes shape.

Rather than try to explain the chronological progression of the play, I would rather take each character and their opinions individually in an attempt to highlight what I believe are the important parts.

The first person to appear in the play is Mr.Garcin. At first glance, he is a very polite, gentlemanly, and moral individual. However, the further into the play that we read, we find that he is none of these things. Instead, he represents some of the worst ails that afflict humankind (according to Sartre). He was graced with a wife that loved him unconditionally, and he loathed for no other reason. In fact, one the first memories that he has of her is how "she got on his nerves". There is one story that is obviously intended to shock the reader, and provide a good interpretation of Garcin's true character. He states:

"Well here's something you can get your teeth into. I brought a half-caste girl to stay in our house. My wife slept upstairs; she must have heard - everything. She was an early riser and, as I and the girl stayed in bed late, she served us our morning coffee." (No Exit, pg. 25)

This fact is the one that he believes condemned him to his fate in Hell. Chronologically, this is our first example of sexual perversion. Garcin was a complete womanizer, he dominated his wife in any way possible, and used other women for nothing other than sex. Sartre would say that he destroyed any gains from sexual desire by actually fulfilling those needs. The play serves to enforce that idea. Not only does Garcin know that it was this behavior that brought him to Hell, but he sees his wife in a "saintly" light. His words insinuate that Garcin did not have a sexual relationship with his wife, and yet she still craved him. I believe that this is meant to enforce the desire theory. Garcin hated his wife for wanting him so much, she had achieved the ultimate end of sexuality, a state that he spent his time continually destroying. Therefore, it was not so much hatred, but it's remarkably similar cousin: jealousy.

However, what proves even more interesting is the case of his desertion from the military. He was formerly a "pacifist reporter". This supposed pacifism was the cause of his death. A time of war eventually erupted around him, and he was demanded to fight. It was his desertion for which he was summarily killed by firing squad.

Yet, that brief story is not quite correct. Anyone who chose pacifism, (and in this case a quick train to Mexico), would certainly not be punished. This is presented as Sartre's classic case of bad faith. Further into the story, as Garcin watches his colleagues on Earth, he discovers they are viewing him as a coward. He is quickly engulfed in rage, disgusted that his peers could brand him a coward supposedly knowing his character. All of this is understandable, except that Garcin himself questions his true motives in running from service. One of his "roomates", Inez asks of him:

"That's the question. Was that your real motive? No doubt you argued it out with yourself, you weighed the pros and cons, you found good reasons for what you did. But fear and hatred and all the dirty little instincts one keeps dark - they're motives too. So carry on, Mr. Garcin, and try to be honest with yourself - for once." (No Exit pgs. 38,39)

I could not imagine a better description of bad faith short of Sartre's original work. Garcin had convinced himself that he was truly a great man, showing his disgust with violence by choosing not to participate in the war, or, was he truly just hiding the true motive for his desertion; fear? Sartre presents to us the situation of the waiter, one who is a waiter by trade but chooses to believe that "he is not truly a waiter." He acts as a waiter, he dresses as a waiter, is he not a waiter? The same logic applies to our subject Mr. Garcin. By his actions he is a coward, running from service while questioning his own motivation to do so. At a later stage in the play, Garcin manages to open the door to the corridor in an attempt to leave. Yet, he cannot leave. The very fact that Inez has identified that bad faith makes him stay. Estelle, grappling for his attention, tries to push Inez into the hallway and close the door. But Garcin will not allow it.

Garcin: It is because of her [Inez] that I'm staying.

..Yes. You [Inez] anyhow, know what it means to be a coward. And you know what wickedness is, and shame, and fear. There were days when you peered into yourself, into the secret places of your heart, and what you saw there made you faint with horror. And then, next day, you didn't know what to make of it, you couldn't interpret the horror you had glimpsed the day before. Yes, you know what evil costs. And when you say I'm a coward, you know from experience what that means. (No Exit, pg. 43)

At the same time, Sartre is briefly introducing the idea of "pools of nothingness". Garcin stands at the door, ready to leave his two cellmates forever. But he cannot leave. Inez's lack of respect for him, her poor interpretation of his character leaves too bad a taste in his mouth. There is a pool of nothingness where he needs her respect. Leaving the room represents the impossibility of filling that void. As the door pops open from Garcins efforts, the three remain motionless:

Inez: So what? Which shall it be? Which of the three of us will leave? The barrier's down, why are we waiting? But what a situation! It's a scream! We're-inseparables! (No Exit, pg. 43)

While Garcin questions his character or lack thereof, the lovely character of Estelle is a wonderful example of objectivity. Without fail, she spends more time worrying about her make-up and appearance than the true nature or reason for her insertion into Hell. In fact, her only true need is that she be needed or ogled by a man. None of her supposed "values" are that at all. As her story goes: she lost her parents young, raised her brother, and married a rich man whom she did not love. Eventually, she took on a lover, Roger, who wanted her to have a child. As stated in the play:

Garcin: And you didn't want one [a baby]?

Estelle: I certainly didn't. But the baby came, worse luck. I went to Switzerland for five months. No one knew anything. It was a girl. Roger was with me when she was born. It pleased him to no end, having a daughter. It didn't please me!

..There was a balcony overlooking the lake. I brought a big stone. He could see what I was up to and he kept on shouting: "Estelle, for God's sake, don't!" I hated him then. He saw it all. He was leaning over the balcony and he saw the rings spreading on the water-"(No Exit, pg. 28)

Following this sequence, her lover returns to Paris and quickly commits suicide. Her retort to this is questioning, she cannot understand why he would do this when her husband didn't suspect a thing.

Upon materializing their love with a child, Estelle had no more use for Roger. While we would think that such an event would infuse love and passion into a relationship, she loathed the fact that he was so infatuated with her. I view this to be an interpretation of not only Sartre's views on blind objectivity and social stature, but also of sexual perversion. Estelle needs someone to desire her, she has an insatiable appetite for being coveted. One might think that this could be satisfied by the everyday attention a child might get. However, Sartre is very careful to bui

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