The essay is dedicated to the issue of existentialist philosophy developed by the well-known French writer Jean-Paul Sartre. This doctrine appeared during the World War II and explained how humanity should behave during hard times of war. It offers solutions for brave strong and responsible people, who could overcome the war. This philosophy is described using the example of the play No Exit, which was written in 1944 in Paris before the city deliberation. The paper includes the analysis the history circumstances under which the play was written, the analysis of the play as well as symbolical concepts included in it. The central place of the play is hell. The paper includes the comparison of Sartre’s and Dante’s understanding of the issue. Furthermore, the essay describes some details of Jean-Paul Sartre’s life that could influence the plot and ideas of the play.
Famous French writer, philosopher, laureate of the Nobel Prize Jean-Paul Sartre is often described as one of the founders of the existentialism. Together with another French philosopher and writer Albert Camus he popularized existentialism with the help of numerous novels, plays and essays. Jean-Paul Sartre is first of all known for his novel Nausea. This novel belongs to unique and precious treasures of the French as well as of the world literature. It clues the issues of life of a modern man in the context of the philosophical doctrine of Sartre.
Apart from this outstanding work French author also wrote plays, which were filled with his existentialist ideas and represented a new view on the theatre art and performance. One of them is called No Exit. The play consists only of one act and one scene. Though the work is of little volume it has a high concentration of those Sartre’s life principles that became the cornerstone of the existentialism.
The play was written in France in 1944 at the end of the World War II, before the liberation of Paris and even was staged the same year despite the Nazi occupation. The play has only four characters: Valet, Garcin, Ines and Estelle. Furthermore, Valet appears only three times during the whole play and performs only one dialogue that can be considered as important for the developing of the plot. So, the story revolves around three main characters. As lots of modern plays that time this one pays attention to symbols, decorations and allusions in dialogues and monologues.
No Exit (1944) begins with the appearance of Valet and Garcin. Valet shows a room to his guest. Garcin asks questions about the rules and customs of the place he would live and his reaction seems to be rather strange until a reader understands that a strange apartment is nothing else but hell. The innovative approach of Sartre is revealed in this play because he describes hell in a way that is very different from the traditional one, which was described by Dante in the 14th century. The hell by Dante contains nine circles, where wrongdoers are painfully tortured in accordance with the weight of their guilt. At first sight, hell in Sartre’s description looks like an ordinary hotel or something like that. But challenges prepared by the author for his characters are more sophisticated and cunning than those invented by ancient writer. Sartre does not depict torture chambers or hot pincers, his hell is aimed to break people psychologically not physically. “No mirrors… No windows… And no bed, either. One never sleeps, I take it?” (Sartre, p.3-4). Besides, there is no daylight, only bulbs but they cannot be switched off. Five years later the same “torture methods” were described by George Orwell in his famous novel Ninety Eighty-Four (1949). “In this place, he knew instinctively, the lights would never be turned out. It was the place with no darkness… In the Ministry of Love there were no windows” (Orwell, 1949). Such methods are really effective because psychological damage requires more time for the rehabilitation. Futhermore, Sartre has another trick that can poison human’s being in hell – “…it’s life without a break” (Sartre, p.4). Physicians know that there is no perpetuum mobile as nothing in this world can function forever. The human body as well. It needs time to relax otherwise the life would be unbearable. And it will be unbearable for three main characters of the play: Garcin, Inez and Estelle. All of them have something in common: they killed or caused the death of other people and that is why they are doomed to spend eternity in hell and together in this apartment. Garcin deserted the Army and betrayed his wife. Later she died. Inez was accused in murder and in cheating as well. The last character Estelle is a married beauty, who had an affair with a younger man and sank their child. This caused the suicide of her lover. And all of them need to live somehow in this closed room. They have no one to help them and actually they do not hope that somebody would save them.
Appearance of Inez and Estelle in the room causes the conflict situation. When Garcin was alone there were no conflicts. Despite he does not not feel comfortable at the apartment he feels a balance between his inner and outer world. Two women bring a disorder. Estelle is looking for a manly man and thinks that Garcin can make her being easier and he even promises her to get out from hell. Inez does not believe him; she knows what Garcin’s weakness is and behaves in a rude way. Culmination moment of the play is of course the moment when Garcin breaks the door and heroes of the can choose between freedom and imprisonment. It seems that the story would end happily and all the characters would be free. Yet they stay inside. Garcin understands that he can become a man he wants to be with the help of Inez, who can demonstrate his disadvantages, and not with the faith and trust of Estelle. In the end, Garcin makes a counterintuitive conclusion: “Hell is – other people!”(Sartre, p. 52).
This play reflects existential ideas of the author. Here Sartre especially focuses on the concepts of human freedom and responsibility. In his famous lecture Existentialism is a Humanism the author provides the philosophical definition of what is freedom and how it is related to the responsibility. Sartre states that everybody can choose whatever he or she wants but making the decision for oneself also means that he choice is done for all men. “What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all.” What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all” (Sartre, 1946). Such understanding of freedom requires a wider definition of responsibility, because it concerns all people living in the world. In the play Garcin chooses accepts his individual hell, which is “other people” and decides to stay in the room because he understands the responsibility for his own actions as well as he feels responsible for Inez and Estelle. And this accepting of one’s own fate in the meaning of actions a man can do and is able to conduct consequences of such actions is an example of an existentialist philosophy developed by Jean-Paul Sartre.
This life of the author was no bed of roses. He did not remember his father because that died a year after Jean-Paul was born. He lived in together with his mother and her parents. He was rather ugly because health problems and he was an object for jokes in school. This made Sartre aggressive. But the only thing that satisfied the writer when he was young and when he was adult as well is understanding of his cleverness. This intellectual advantage predetermined the destiny of the philosopher. When he grew older he often neglects washing, brushing his teeth or hair but was really absorbed in what he wrote.
At the beginning of the World War II Jean-Paul Sartre was working for military service at the meteorologist department: he launched weather balloons. Unfortunately, he was caught and imprisoned in 1940. Much of his time in the camp he spent writing Being and Nothingness. He managed to escape in March 1941 and returned to his teaching post in Paris (Kimbrough, 2011, p.100). In this city he wrote the play No Exit, which reflects his personal experience as well deep philosophical ideas.
Undoubtedly, the World War II influenced writer’s view on life and its main laws. Every day Jean-Paul Sartre observed unhappiness, tears, blood and grime of war. He saw damaged and destroyed buildings as well as destroyed destinies. Images of hell described in the play could be an image of those times, could be the reality for the author as he was a prisoner and overcome his own hell during the war. The play does not have happy ending but it has notions of choice, freedom and responsibility. And these concepts were the most important features of people who fought during the war and protected their own homes as well as the whole humanity.
Kimbrough, A. (2011). Dramatic theories of voice in the twentieth century. New York, NY: Cambria Press.
Orwell, J. (n.d.). 1984 (Part 3, Chapter 1). Retrieved from http://www.george-orwell.org/1984/17.html
Sartre, J.-P. (1946). Existentialism is a Humanism. Retrieved from http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm
Sartre, J.-P. (1989). No Exit. Retrieved from http://content.yudu.com/Library/A1o8o1/SartresNOEXIT/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=http://www.yudu.com/item/details/182819/Sartre-s-NO-EXIT