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No Exit


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AT: In Camera; Vicious Circle A: Jean-Paul Sartre Pf: 1944, Paris Pb: 1944 Tr: 1946 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: Room in hell, 1940s C: 2m, 2fA servant ushers three people into the faded plush of what appears to be a hotel room. All three have recently died: Joseph Garcin, a South American pacifist journalist, who has been executed; Inès (or Inez) Serrano, a lesbian post-office assistant who has been gassed; and Estelle Rigault, who has died of pneumonia. Inès realizes that they have been locked together in this room with no exit and constant lighting, so that they will torture each other, a kind of self-service hell. They are tormented by glimpses of life on earth, and despite the pain of recalling the past, each confesses to his or her guilt: Garcin recalls how he made his loving wife serve him and his mistress coffee in bed. Inès seduced her cousin's wife; distraught, he was run over by a tram, and the wife gassed Inès and herself. Estelle had a daughter by her younger lover, and drove him to suicide when she murdered the infant. Estelle attempts to seduce Garcin, while Inès sneers at her pathetic passion. Garcin, who deserted the army, is haunted by his fear of being thought a coward, and pleads with Estelle to believe in his heroism. Her willingness to do so leaves him dissatisfied, because he knows that she is only trying to please him. In his desperation, Garcin suprisingly manages to open the door. Estelle urges him to throw Inès out, but he has to persuade Inès of his heroism, and claims that he died before he could accomplish his deeds. Inès remains unimpressed, and, when Estelle begins to make love to Garcin, Inès jeers: ‘lovely scene: coward Garcin holding baby-killer Estelle in his manly arms!’ Garcin, casting Estelle aside, now recognizes the true nature of hell: ‘Hell is – other people!’ Frustrated, Estelle tries to stab Inès with a paper knife, but fails, since she is dead already. They all laugh hysterically, and prepare to spend eternity torturing one another.

AT: In Camera; Vicious Circle A: Jean-Paul Sartre Pf: 1944, Paris Pb: 1944 Tr: 1946 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: Room in hell, 1940s C: 2m, 2f

No Exit is Sartre's best-known play and one of the most-performed modern French plays. The philosophical dimension of the work now seems less important than it once did. The famous phrase: ‘Hell is – other people’ is at best unverifiable, at worst patently untrue. Moreover, post-Vietnam, Garcin's desertion of the army does not necessarily seem the shameful act that it must have been to an audience in occupied Paris. Nevertheless, the play survives well because of its nightmarishly claustrophobic setting and its relentless exploration of memory, jealousy, and desire. There is ‘no exit’ for these people, because, even when the door is open, they cannot contemplate the responsibility of being free. It is small wonder that Harold Pinter acknowledged his debt to this play.

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Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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