Estelle is shocked at Inez's notion that the three of them have been placed together to torture each other. Garcin suggests that they all confess to what they did so they can figure out what is going on. Estelle claims that a mistake has been made. She married a man she did not love but refused to cheat on him. The other two agree that she did not sin. Garcin says that he died standing up for his principles: he claims that he ran a pacifist newspaper and refused to fight when war broke out. But Inez declares that they should all stop lying to each other, explaining that they are all damned souls who deserve to be in hell.
Inez then realizes what is going on. There is no "official" physical torture in hell: they will just torture each other simply by being together. Garcin says that he will not torture anybody and asks everyone to stop talking and just ignore each other. But Inez refuses and begins to sing. Estelle can't keep from talking and asks Inez for a mirror, saying that if she can't see herself she begins to wonder if she really exists. They can't find a mirror, but Inez says that it doesn't matter, claiming that she is always conscious of herself in her mind. She then proposes that she act as Estelle's mirror and the vain Estelle agrees.
The two women begin bickering because Estelle rejects Inez's advances and tries to flirt with Garcin. He asks them to keep quiet but Inez exclaims that it would be impossible for her to ignore his existence. She can't stand his looking at her, saying that he has stolen her face. She declares that she will look back at him, preferring to choose her own personal hell. They decide to tell each other everything, hoping that it will make things easier. Garcin admits that he treated his wife horribly, constantly cheating on her and sometimes bringing women back to their house. Inez confesses to having seduced her cousin's wife while living with them. She explains that she enjoys making vulnerable people suffer. Her guilty lover killed them both by leaving the gas on while she slept.
After refusing to acknowledge that she did anything wrong, Estelle finally confesses to having cheated on her husband and getting pregnant. She ran off to Switzerland to have the baby and the drowned it right before her lover's eyes. Her lover then shot himself in the face. Garcin suggests that they are all linked together inextricably but Inez refuses to be bound by her past, saying that she still has a choice. She recognizes the fact that Estelle's attractiveness will torture her for eternity and that they are all in a well-laid trap. Nevertheless, she refuses the sympathy of others and insists that she will face hell on her own terms.
Sartre emphasizes the theme of self-deception throughout this section. Even though they are already dead, both Garcin and Estelle will not admit to themselves why they are in hell. They have nothing to lose by admitting the truth, but they are so in the habit of being dishonest with themselves they cannot articulate even the most obvious truth. Only Inez refuses to lie, calling herself a "damned bitch" and demanding that the other two stop "play-acting" and throwing "dust in each other's eyes." Sartre use of the word "play-acting" also recalls the artificial setting of the play itself: no matter what the characters do, they are still actors and actresses who are "lying" to each other. There is "no exit" from self-deception.
The relationship between existence and essence is also a major theme in this section. Estelle thinks that she does not really exist unless she can see herself. She does not trust her own judgment, instead relying on an external object to both create her essence and verify her existence. This is another example of bad faith: Estelle is unable to define her essence. Sartre believed that human consciousness was free to choose its own character or essence but must also assume responsibility for this freedom. Estelle is unable to do this, asking Inez to be her mirror so she can create Estelle's essence for her. Inez revels in her power, even telling Estelle she has a pimple when she really doesn't. As for Inez, she refuses to let other people define her essence. She claims that she is always "painfully conscious" of herself. Sartre believed that suffering was an essential step in affirming one's existence, writing, "Life begins on the other side of despair."
This section also establishes Sartre's underlying argument of the play: "Hell is other people." Inez can't be an objective mirror while looking at Estelle; since they do not have the same "taste" Estelle surrenders her individuality to Inez's gaze. Likewise, Inez can't stand Garcin looking at her because she thinks that he is automatically judging her. Since she thinks that is her own role, she accuses him of "stealing" her face. Garcin's mere existence thus reduces Inez's feelings of autonomy. He suggests that they all accept being bound together, but Inez still insists that she has the freedom to make her own decisions. For example, both Garcin and Estelle refuse to let go of their pasts, each "looking" at their friends and loved ones back on earth. Even though they realize that time is passing more quickly on earth than in their room, they both continue to see themselves in terms of their past. Inez however, sees her past as meaningless and inaccessible, choosing to exist in the present instead. She insists to the others that "nothing" is left of them on earth and that "all you own is here." Rather than justify her existence in terms of the person she used to be, Inez asserts her freedom to choose her essence in the present, even though she is in hell.
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