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Further Links to No Exit

Return to Sartre--No Exit
Sartre--A Biography
Sartre--No Exit Summary

A Dissection of Sartre


Sartre chose those sins or life styles that were unacceptable in society at that time. If he were to rewrite No Exit today, the sins may have been different to be considered severe or unacceptable to society nowadays. Garcin, Inez, and Estelle are three very different characters in personality, views, values, and social classes. These differences are established not only in the creation of hell, but to emphasize that there are no class divisions in the afterlife.

Sartre's hell twists everyday life into unnerving and unending activities. It consists of little things, such as ugly furniture, no mirrors, a paper-knife that is technically useless because there are no books in the room, a bell that may or may not work when pressed, bad service, no breaks from the day, and an atmosphere that is hot and stuffy. Hell is made up of trifles and things such as pet peeves that are intensified to a point of constant irritation.

Sartre also creates hell for the reader by using choppy, broken thoughts--or a stream-of-consciousness technique. The difference between each character allows the reader to identify with one of the characters. This factor creates hell for the reader as well, because while the reader is relating to one character, the quirks of the other two characters drive the reader crazy along with the character.

The battles between the characters begin with unfair quarrels of two against one and continue into a fair fight for themselves as individuals. Garcin uses a simile to describe these unappealing circumstances: "We're chasing after each other, round and round in a vicious circle, like the horses on a roundabout" (30). However, by the end of the play, all three of them struggle together as one.

The circle that Garcin describes is also used as an image of infinity. "Forever" is a rash realization that comes about each character in their own time. The paper-knife is Estelle's realization of forever when she attempts to murder Inez with it. Inez laughs at her and says, "Dead! Dead! Dead! Knives, poison, ropes--all useless. It has happened already, do you understand? Once and for all. So here we are, forever" (46). They all join in on the laughter, though a crazy, hysterical laughter more than a humorous laughter. Garcin gives "forever" one last emphasis: "Well. well. let's get on with it..." (46). The ellipsis at the closing of the play is used to show the continuation of the play beyond its formal end.

Sartre is a talented writer that draws the reader into No Exit and creates hell not just for his characters but for the reader as well. He does this by writing of everyday nuisances that the reader can relate to, unlike the experiences of Dante in his hell. It's much more difficult to personally relate to Dante and his visions of rivers of blood, burning flesh, and snakes overtaking thieves.

The basics of existentialism...

1. a "man of good faith" understands human condition and accepts the responsibility of freedom

2. consciousness, and thus humans, are essentially free, and any attempt to believe otherwise is a form of self-deception, or "bad faith"

3. the freedom of human consciousness is experienced by humans as a burden ("Man is condemned to be free")

4. man is nothing else but what he makes of himself

5. man wills how to act or how not to act

6. man is responsible for the consequences of his actions

7. an important value of existential thinking is that one must be honest with oneself

8. man creates his own meaning or purpose in life

Voyage into the dark realms of literature...

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