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Contents

No Exit

Jean-Paul Sartre

Section 3

Section 2

Analysis

Summary

Just after Inez warns Garcin of all the traps that have been set for him in the room, Estelle tries to seduce him. Garcin resists her, telling her to stay with Inez instead. But Estelle insists that Inez doesn't count since she is a woman. Inez redoubles her efforts to seduce Estelle but she spits in Inez's face.

Garcin finally gives up and goes over to Estelle. Inez protests but Garcin says that she broke their agreement first. Garcin and Estelle begin to kiss but Inez refuses to look away, screaming that she will watch them the whole time they are together. But Garcin wants something more from Estelle. He asks her for her trust before he confesses something. Before she can agree, Garcin admits that he was executed for running away, not for passively resisting as he had claimed. He was arrested at the border for desertion and was promptly shot. Estelle says that she understands why he ran away but that is not what Garcin is looking for. He asks her if he is a coward, but she says that it would be impossible for her to tell. She asks him to decide for himself but he says that he can't.

Inez tells him to stop lying to himself and admit why he ran away. Garcin counters that he has been trying to understand his motives ever since he was caught and has been unable to prove to himself that he is not a coward. He explains that he faced death poorly and has been haunted ever since by the judgments of his friends and co-workers. The only thing Garcin wants is for Estelle to think and say that he is not a coward and she agrees. But Inez starts to cackle, explaining to Garcin that Estelle was just agreeing with him because she wanted to be close to a man. When he confronts Estelle, she admits that she didn't even understand what Garcin was asking her.

Disgusted with both of them, Garcin begins ringing the bell for the Valet and furiously pounding on the door. He exclaims that he would be willing to withstand any kind of physical torture just so long as the door opens. Suddenly, the door opens but Garcin stands still. Inez tells him that he is free to go but he decides to stay in order to convince her that he is not a coward. Garcin knows that she understands what it means to be a coward and can't bear to think of her passing judgment on him if he left. He decides that if Inez has faith in him then he'll be saved. But she refuses, claiming that he made his choice freely and must take responsibility for his actions. She resolves to make him miserable for staying. He tries to make her jealous by kissing Estelle but Inez refuses to give in, continuously calling him a coward. Garcin gives up but Estelle takes a paper-knife and stabs Inez. She had forgotten that they were already dead. Realizing that they are stuck together forever, the curtain falls as they absurdly giggle at their fate.

Commentary

Garcin turns out to have the worst case of "bad faith" of all three characters in this section. He can't decide on his own that he is not coward, but will only believe it if Estelle says so herself. Even though he later says that he made his choice "deliberately" and that a man is what he "wills himself to be," Garcin wearily explains that he can't decide for himself if he is a coward or not. He says that he is unsure of his motives and that he has been unable to be honest with himself about why he ran for the border. He also obsesses about the people who are judging him back on earth. He claims that he has left his "fate in their hands."

This classic example of bad faith stems from Garcin's complete inability to accept responsibility for is actions. Rather than acknowledge his freedom to choose his own personality, Garcin surrenders his free will to other people. He becomes a "being-in-itself," whose essence is determined by the look of the "other." This is why he can't leave when the door opens. He can't imagine existing on his own, knowing that Inez will be judging him and that he won't know what she is saying. Just like Estelle's inability to feel that she exists without seeing herself in a mirror, Garcin is unable to exist without other people defining his essence for him.

Garcin also remains a prisoner of his past. He keeps "listening" to what people are saying about him rather than listening to his own voice in the present. Even when he attempts to convince Inez that he is not a coward in the present, he continually justifies his actions in the past. For instance, he suggests that he died "too soon" and "wasn't allowed time" to act, forgetting that he will be stuck in hell for eternity. Sartre wrote that the responsibility for one's freedom was so overwhelming that we are "condemned to be free," a statement literally played out by Garcin's inability to leave the room. Unable to exist without people judging his past, Garcin condemns himself to remain in the eternal present of the room.

It is fitting that Sartre originally entitled the play The Others. Suffering under the German occupation, Sartre wrote that he began to understand that Evil was just as absolute and independent as Good in society. By simply placing three individuals in the same room, Sartre not only suggests that hell naturally exists on earth but that "hell is other people." As Garcin discovers, there is no need for physical torture: the gaze of the "other" reduces and "devours" his individuality. He is unable to do anything, even kiss Estelle, when Inez is watching. Ignoring his innate freedom and responsibility, Garcin thinks Inez's judgment is the only proof of his existence.

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