“L’enfer, the three who accepts what she has

“L’enfer, C’est Les Autres”

 

A
central theme in Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist Brechtian one-act play, Huis Clos (No Exit), is the theme of ‘Hell
is other people’. The play explores a very different perception of hell, having
3 people (Garcin, Inez and Estelle) be trapped in a room together for all eternity,
as they serve as the torture devices for each other. Sartre aims to convey the existentialist
idea that “Existence precedes essence”1.
Ironically, the play is more a reflection of how we live our lives, despite all
the characters being dead. The play was first performed in 1940 in Nazi
Occupied Paris, and it is a very well disguised commentary on the Occupation,
among other themes. It is also a work that touches upon the existentialist idea
that humans cannot do anything for themselves, and only make their decisions
based on what will make them look best in the eyes of others.  This commentary will focus on the final part
of the play, after the door has swung open; yet nobody has made any attempt to
leave.

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The
entire play has relatively very few stage directions, and is almost entirely
just an exchange of dialogue between characters. There is no narration, and
this is all done to convey how alone the characters are in each other’s
company. The rarity of stage directions and scene breaks show the lack of
interruptions between the characters conversations, and highlight how it is
doomed to go on forever like this.

 

Inez
looks at Estelle’s need for love from Garcin with absolute disdain, she cannot
bear it:”Le beau couple!” Inez shouts
at Estelle as she is on the sofa with Garcin. Her mocking tone shows how she
cannot stand Estelle and Garcin’s apparently blossoming relationship, as she
wants Estelle for herself. Inez is the only haracter of the three who accepts
what she has done in the past, and lives in the present; unlike Garcin and
Estelle, who are always listening to what their old friends are saying about
them, showing how much they care about the perception of others. Despite Inez
at first being the one to confront her situation, watching Estelle pore over
Garcin is her torture device. “Il a les
mains moites; il transpire. Il laissera une marque blueue sur ta robe.” Inez
further tries to unsettle Estelle, as she knows that she prides herself upon
being immaculate at all times.

 

Estelle
turns to Garcin for some relief from her eternal hell that is Inez: “Serre-moi plus fort contre toi Garcin, elle
en crèvera.” Estelle cannot bear to have Inez constantly looking at her,
acting as her mirror, judging her for eternity. In life, Estelle needed to have
a mirror with her at all times to make sure that she looked perfect, and in
this hell she has to rely on other people to do that for her. She clings to
Garcin even tighter in an attempt to finish Inez off, as she is Estelle’s
torturer, constantly reminding her of all of her imperfections due to her
jealousy.

 

Inez
fully accepts that she is the torturer of the other two characters, as they are
each other’s and hers. “C’est bon l’amour,
hein Garcin? C’est tiède et profond come le sommeil, mais je t’empêcherai de dormir.”
Sleep is a recurring idea in the play, as Garcin discovers at the very
start that sleep is impossible. It is not stated whether it is impossible to
sleep because they are dead and are doomed to exist for eternity, or whether it
is impossible to sleep because of the others around them not letting them get
to sleep. Inez refusing to ever let Garcin and Estelle sleep is a reflection of
how she will never let them love: as she states love is equally as profound a
solace as sleep is. If she cannot have Estelle, why should she let Estelle have
Garcin? Because Inez is deprived of the relief of love, she decides that
Estelle must be as well. Her menacing tone shows that she will always be there,
always watching and judging. The idea that love may offer some relief just as
much as sleep is crushed by Inez, her tone showing that this hell is just as
unforgiving as their initial perception of hell with torture devices. She
states that she will not let them love or sleep, showing that her new purpose
in this afterlife is to make it hell for the others as they both make it for
her, almost similar to the way a torturer’s sole purpose in hell is to bring
misery to others.

 

Inez
reminds Estelle and Garcin that even in the afterlife, she is always there, always
watching and judging them both. “Je vous
vois, je vous vois”. Estelle and Garcin both rely heavily on the
perceptions of others, Estelle herself not believing that she existed until
Inez told her so. So to have Inez constantly reminding them both that she sees
them, and will always see them, is hell for Garcin and Estelle as they will
never be free from the judging eyes of others.

 

Garcin is reminded by Inez of
people’s perception of him – he wants people to believe that he is a brave hero,
but he is simply a coward who ran away from war and everybody knows him for it:
“Lâche! Lâche! Lâche! Lâche! Ev vain tu
me fuis, je ne te lâcherai pas.” Sartre’s word play here shows that despite
Garcin being a coward (Lâche), she will never let him go of that
image (lâcherai) as he desperately
tries to do at the start of the play. His own cowardice is the only thing that
will never desert him, as even his own friends do after his death. In hell,
Garcin is doomed to be reminded of how he lived – as a coward who could never
face true danger, always relying on the opinions of others for validation. This
is why Garcin cannot bring himself to leave the room when the door flies open,
unable to bring himself. Garcin and Estelle largely reflect Sartre’s belief of
Existence precedes Essence, as Sartre believes that humans are unable to act on
their own decisions and motives and see themselves as they truly are; instead their
entire lives are controlled by what other people think of them.

 

As
Garcin goes over to the Bronze Statue, he realises that Hell is other people: “Le bronze est là, je le contemple et je comprends que je
suis en enfer. Je vous dis que tout était prévu. Ils avaient prévu que je me
tiendrais devant cette cheminée, pressant la main sur ce bronze, avec tous ces
regards sur moi. Tous ces regards qui me mangent… (Il se retourne brusquement)
Ha! vous n’êtes que deux? Je vous croyais beaucoup plus nombreuses. (Il
rit) Alors, c’est ça l’enfer. Je n’aurais jamais cru… Vous vous
rappelez : le souffre, le bûcher, le gril… Ah! quelle plaisanterie. Pas
besoin de gril: l’enfer, c’est les Autres.” The moment he fully comes to terms
that hell may not necessarily be full of fire and brimstone, but instead other
people tormenting him for eternity, with words like daggers and stares more burning
than red-hot pokers.

 

Garcin declares that he cannot love
Estelle if Inez is watching and judging: “Laisse-moi.
Elle est entre nous. Je ne peux pas t’aimer quand elle me voit.” Garcin
stating that Inez ‘is between them’ shows him admitting defeat once again, as
he is doomed to always do. Instead of ignoring Inez as Estelle wishes he would,
he simply gives in. This is hell for him, never being able to face up to
conflict; but it is also hell for Estelle, as she will never get the loving of
a man. Garcin declaring that he cannot love Estelle while Inez is watching
links back to the overarching theme, the idea that humans cannot make decisions
based on what they want but instead what will make them look best in the eyes
of others.

 

Estelle
takes the useless paper knife and stabs Inez with it multiple times: “Elle prend le coupe-papier sur la table, se précipite sur
Inès et lui porte plusieurs coups.

INÈS se débattant et riant :
Qu’est-ce que tu fais, qu’est-ce que tu fais, tu es folle? Tu sais bien que je
suis morte.” Estelle stabbing Inez with the
paper knife does nothing, as Inez is already dead. This is a powerful image as
it shows that none of the three can be hurt physically – only words and the
opinions of others can damage them. As Estelle states “Inez a sorti ses griffes, je ne veux pas rester suele avec elle”. Inez’s
griffes, or claws, are not her
fingernails but rather her sharp and pointed words. Inez cannot hurt Estelle
with her claws, only her words can truly cause Estelle pain.

 

Inez reminds Estelle and Garcin that despite their
obsession with the past, they cannot go back and change them because they are
now dead and must come to terms with who they really are: “C’est de?ja fait, comprends-tu? Et nous sommes ensembles pour
toujours”. The reminder that they are together forever cements the idea of
eternal torture, and there is nothing they can do to change what has been done.
They are damned, and are doomed to exist forever in this version of hell.

The final words of the play really hammer home the
message of the play as much as the reality of their situation, as Garcin
declares: “Eh bien, continuons”. This
coming shortly after he realises he is doomed to ‘live’ this fate forever
highlights how the existentialist idea of ‘Existence precedes Essence’ is going
to exist forever in humanity, just how Garcin, Estelle and Inez are going to
exist forever in their hell, constantly the source of each other’s misery. Despite
this play being first performed in 1940, Sartre’s philosophies are still relevant
among all humans today, arguably even more so now than almost 80 years ago.

Garcin, Inez and Estelle all terrorise each other
in this small, Second-Empire style room to the point where it becomes equal to
a Dante’s Inferno style Hell with torturer devices used to exact eternal misery
on the damned. As Inez believes Garcin is her ‘Torturer’ when she first walks
in, asking where all the torture devices are, it later becomes apparent that
neither he nor Inez or Estelle need any torture devices to make it hell for one
another. Hell does not need any whips or chains; just 3 people stuck in a room
forever – because Hell is other people. Sartre conveys his idea of “Mauvaise foi” ­-             an idea that humans are not independent beings, and are
unable to make free decisions but instead live their lives making decisions in
order to be perceived a certain way for other people.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Wikipedia.org:
Existence Precedes Essence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existence_precedes_essence

Sparknotes:
No Exit – Analysis – http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/noexit/section4.rhtml

Sartre,
J. Huis Clos suivi de Les mouches. (Paris: Gallimard, 1992)

 

1 Wikipedia.org: Existence Precedes
Essence