Satre: No Exit (Summary)

After a long while away from reading, I just finished Jean Paul Satre' play 'No Exit'. The play is famous for the iconic and often quoted lines "hell is other people". The setting of this short play is a closed room that depicts three people who have just been condemned to hell after their death.

The play starts with a valet guiding a man to a brightly lit room that is afterwards locked from outside. The room has no mirrors or windows. The room is always lit with no switch to turn off the bulb. Two more women are led to the room by the valet. We are told that the dwellers of this room can no longer sleep or even close their eyelids. A bell is provided (to call the valet) but it does not ring. All the three people ask the valet about the official torturer or torture devices. The valet reassures them that whatever they have heard down on earth about this place (hell) is all wrong. After the valet leaves and the three have been locked, an informal conversation is stuck between them. Each feigning ignorance on why they have been damned to hell and provides false stories as to why they are here. Estelle (one of the women locked here along with Garcin and Ines) mocks the rest to tell the real reason on why they are here and stop fooling around. All the three open up, but find out that they can not make the other person not judge then. Even a small sigh, innocent face expression or even silence conveys something about their actions or the lack of it. Soon it becomes a noisy circus with seduction and indifference and jealousy among them. They soon realize that they have been placed together to make the other two miserable. They are the official torturer of each other. Garcin at this moment cries out "Hell is - other people". Estelle fed up with this acrimony, picks up a paper knife and stabs Ines only to realize that they are already dead. The play ends with laughter with they realizing that they are in it all together and forever!

Satre does convey his existential themes in this play. Each character though 'free' is still shackled by their thoughts on what and how other people are going to judge their actions. They are too caught up in it. This constant need for having to please others (or seeks approval from others) inhibits his or her own actions and choice. Instead of being free to make a choice and act on it as a free man, a person is bound by others making a choice for him or he deciding by playing to the gallery and making choice which gets the loudest applause. Thus in essence the freedom is lost. A free person makes a choice totally based on merit but instead this constant urge to be accepted (to fit in) and struggle to blend in is what ultimately will lead to despair with free will and inherent human independent nature conflicts with the ideas (or expectation) of society, family or peers. This constant struggle, anxiety and despair is our Hell on earth!

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