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.
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
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.