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No Exit

Jean-Paul Sartre

Study Questions

Analysis

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Why doesn't Garcin leave when the door opens? Doesn't he want to get away from Inez and be free?

Garcin suffers from "bad faith," meaning that he is unable to define his own individual characteristics, or essence. Rather than decide for himself that he is not a coward, he believes the judgments of his co-workers back on earth. He begs Estelle to say that he is not a coward because he is unable to pass judgment on himself. Sartre believed that human consciousness was absolutely free to choose its own essence, independently of outside traditions, cultures, and laws. This ability to choose meant that human consciousness was a "being-for-itself." Despite this freedom, we are also responsible for our actions. Sartre felt that this overwhelming sense of responsibility was so great and lead to so much anxiety that some people choose to ignore both their freedom and responsibility. Garcin is thus unable to confront the responsibility for his flight to the border and needs the "other" to define his essence for him. He is afraid to be alone and judge himself, resolving instead to "convince" Inez that he is not a coward. Without someone else to define his essence, Garcin is not sure he exists.

To what extent did the German occupation of Paris influence Sartre's writing of the play? Is the room a metaphor for Paris and the Valet a symbol for the Nazis?

Sartre was not only captured by the Germans at the beginning of the war, but he was also a member of the French Resistance during the German occupation of France. In effect, the title No Exit captures the feeling of imprisonment that many Parisians felt during the war. As Sartre later wrote, the occupation convinced him of the existence and independence of absolute evil in the world. He expresses this presence of evil through the look of the "other." For example, the Valet's lack of eyelids means that he is always staring at Garcin, perhaps symbolizing the constant surveillance of suspected resistors by the Gestapo. Moreover, the three prisoners' inability to trust each other also recalls the treachery of French collaborators, who turned in a number of French Resistance members to German authorities. Using Second Empire style furniture, Sartre suggests not only that hell exists on earth but that hell, or evil, is the creation of "other people."

Why does Estelle need to look at herself in a mirror? Why aren't there any mirrors in the room? Does Estelle's use of Inez as a "mirror" constitute "bad faith?"

Estelle claims that if she does not see herself in a mirror, she begins to wonder if she truly exists. In effect, she says that she feels more "alert" seeing herself as "others" see her. Just like Garcin is unable to leave the room and relies on Inez's judgment to create his essence, Estelle is similarly unable to acknowledge her existence with out others assuming the responsibility of her free choice. She compounds her bad faith by asking Inez to be her mirror, knowing that they have different tastes. When Inez pretends that Estelle has a pimple on her face, Estelle believes her, letting Inez physically define her personal characteristics. Inez, however, refuses to let others judge her. She describes herself as a "damned bitch" and claims that she is always "painfully conscious" of herself. She continually rejects the bad faith of the other two, asserting her free choice and screaming at Garcin for trying to define her essence by "stealing" her face because she can't see it anymore.

Why does Estelle try and kill Inez? Is her attempt an example of self-deception or the absurdity of her situation? What is the paper-knife used to stab Inez a symbol of?

Why does time pass more quickly on earth than it does in hell?

What is self-deception, and what role does it play in No Exit? Why won't any of the characters admit to their crimes even in hell? Couldn't Garcin deceive himself into believing that he was brave?

Does Inez suffer from "bad faith" just as Garcin and Estelle do? Does she think she has freedom of choice even in hell? Why or why not?

Why does the Valet have no eyelids? Why does this bother Garcin? What is different from the Valet's gaze to that of Inez?

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