842: No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

by Gerard


842.914: Sartre, Jean-Paul. “No Exit”. In No Exit and Three Other Plays. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. New York: Vintage, 1972. 46 pp. ISBN 0-394-70016-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 840: Literatures of French and Romance languages
  • 842: French drama
  • 842.9: 20th Century to the present
  • 842.91: 1900 to 1999
  • 842.914: 1945 to 1999

Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” is an interesting look at human interactions when nothing else can distract them. The play involves three people, valeted into a room in Hell one at a time, and then coming to grips with what exactly Hell means. Sartre’s famous quote—“Hell is other people”—is the culmination of their interactions. There’s Garcin, the serial philanderer who deserted the army and was executed by firing squad, Inez, the postal clerk whose affair with a woman led that woman to kill her husband, and Estelle, the aristocrat whose affair bore a child that she subsequently killed. Each firmly belongs where they are, but they squabble with other over petty things. The room they are in has no mirror, so each person must trust the other’s perception of how they look.

Sartre sets up the frenzied dialogue as a human analogue to the three-body problem in mechanical physics. If there were just two, they could co-habitate amiably or destroy each other fully. The addition of a third, however, creates chaotic opinions and reactions whenever a new story is told or character is revealed. They are cruel, loving, tender, and distrusting all at the same time. I would actually like to see a production of this play, and watch how each actor relays the facial expressions lined out in the script. When it came out, the New Republic wrote that “It should be seen whether you like it or not.” I agree with them. If you get a chance, see it. If only for a little while, it may change the way you interact and perceive others around you.