, Research Paper
I would like to take this opportunity to discuss Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophy and it’s integration into his play “No Exit”. Embedded within the character interactions are many Sartrean philosophical themes. Personal attributes serve to demonstrate some of the more dominant ideas in Sartre’s writings. Each of the three characters in the play show identifiable characteristics of sexual perversion, bad faith, and interactions of consciousness.This play takes an interesting setting, that of the afterlife. The plot centers around three main characters, Joseph Garcin, Estelle Rigault and Inez Serrano. Hell, as portrayed in this work, is no more than a room with three couches and Second Empire decorum. There are no mirrors, no windows, no books, generally no form of amusement. Some very human privileges that we take for granted have also been taken away: sleep, tears, and even momentary reprieves of blinking. Each of the three characters is introduced into the room by a surprisingly polite Valet. Initial confrontations are “uncomfortable”, each person knowing that he/she is deceased, but they are not impolite. However, as the true reasons why each person has been sentenced to Hell are revealed, the true nature of the place takes shape. Rather than try to explain the chronological progression of the play, I would rather take each character and their opinions individually in an attempt to highlight what I believe are the important parts. The first person to appear in the play is Mr.Garcin. At first glance, he is a very polite, gentlemanly, and moral individual. However, the further into the play that we read, we find that he is none of these things. Instead, he represents some of the worst ails that afflict humankind (according to Sartre). He was graced with a wife that loved him unconditionally, and he loathed for no other reason. In fact, one the first memories that he has of her is how “she got on his nerves”. There is one story that is obviously intended to shock the reader, and provide a good interpretation of Garcin’s true character. He states:”Well here’s something you can get your teeth into. I brought a half-caste girl to stay in our house. My wife slept upstairs; she must have heard – everything. She was an early riser and, as I and the girl stayed in bed late, she served us our morning coffee.” (No Exit, pg. 25)This fact is the one that he believes condemned him to his fate in Hell. Chronologically, this is our first example of sexual perversion. Garcin was a complete womanizer, he dominated his wife in any way possible, and used other women for nothing other than sex. Sartre would say that he destroyed any gains from sexual desire by actually fulfilling those needs. The play serves to enforce that idea. Not only does Garcin know that it was this behavior that brought him to Hell, but he sees his wife in a “saintly” light. His words insinuate that Garcin did not have a sexual relationship with his wife, and yet she still craved him. I believe that this is meant to enforce the desire theory. Garcin hated his wife for wanting him so much, she had achieved the ultimate end of sexuality, a state that he spent his time continually destroying. Therefore, it was not so much hatred, but it’s remarkably similar cousin: jealousy. However, what proves even more interesting is the case of his desertion from the military. He was formerly a “pacifist reporter”. This supposed pacifism was the cause of his death. A time of war eventually erupted around him, and he was demanded to fight. It was his desertion for which he was summarily killed by firing squad. Yet, that brief story is not quite correct. Anyone who chose pacifism, (and in this case a quick train to Mexico), would certainly not be punished. This is presented as Sartre’s classic case of bad faith. Further into the story, as Garcin watches his colleagues on Earth, he discovers they are viewing him as a coward. He is quickly engulfed in rage, disgusted that his peers could brand him a coward supposedly knowing his character. All of this is understandable, except that Garcin himself questions his true motives in running from service. One of his “roomates”, Inez asks of him:”That’s the question. Was that your real motive? No doubt you argued it out with yourself, you weighed the pros and cons, you found good reasons for what you did. But fear and hatred and all the dirty little instincts one keeps dark – they’re motives too. So carry on, Mr. Garcin, and try to be honest with yourself – for once.” (No Exit pgs. 38,39)I could not imagine a better description of bad faith short of Sartre’s original work. Garcin had convinced himself that he was truly a great man, showing his disgust with violence by choosing not to participate in the war, or, was he truly just hiding the true motive for his desertion; fear? Sartre presents to us the situation of the waiter, one who is a waiter by trade but chooses to believe that “he is not truly a waiter.” He acts as a waiter, he dresses as a waiter, is he not a waiter? The same logic applies to our subject Mr. Garcin. By his actions he is a coward, running from service while questioning his own motivation to do so. At a later stage in the play, Garcin manages to open the door to the corridor in an attempt to leave. Yet, he cannot leave. The very fact that Inez has identified that bad faith makes him stay. Estelle, grappling for his attention, tries to push Inez into the hallway and close the door. But Garcin will not allow it. Garcin: It is because of her [Inez] that I’m staying. ..Yes. You [Inez] anyhow, know what it means to be a coward. And you know what wickedness is, and shame, and fear. There were days when you peered into yourself, into the secret places of your heart, and what you saw there made you faint with horror. And then, next day, you didn’t know what to make of it, you couldn’t interpret the horror you had glimpsed the day before. Yes, you know what evil costs. And when you say I’m a coward, you know from experience what that means. (No Exit, pg. 43)At the same time, Sartre is briefly introducing the idea of “pools of nothingness”. Garcin stands at the door, ready to leave his two cellmates forever. But he cannot leave. Inez’s lack of respect for him, her poor interpretation of his character leaves too bad a taste in his mouth. There is a pool of nothingness where he needs her respect. Leaving the room represents the impossibility of filling that void. As the door pops open from Garcins efforts, the three remain motionless:Inez: So what? Which shall it be? Which of the three of us will leave? The barrier’s down, why are we waiting? But what a situation! It’s a scream! We’re-inseparables! (No Exit, pg. 43)While Garcin questions his character or lack thereof, the lovely character of Estelle is a wonderful example of objectivity. Without fail, she spends more time worrying about her make-up and appearance than the true nature or reason for her insertion into Hell. In fact, her only true need is that she be needed or ogled by a man. None of her supposed “values” are that at all. As her story goes: she lost her parents young, raised her brother, and married a rich man whom she did not love. Eventually, she took on a lover, Roger, who wanted her to have a child. As stated in the play:Garcin: And you didn’t want one [a baby]?Estelle: I certainly didn’t. But the baby came, worse luck. I went to Switzerland for five months. No one knew anything. It was a girl. Roger was with me when she was born. It pleased him to no end, having a daughter. It didn’t please me!..There was a balcony overlooking the lake. I brought a big stone. He could see what I was up to and he kept on shouting: “Estelle, for God’s sake, don’t!” I hated him then. He saw it all. He was leaning over the balcony and he saw the rings spreading on the water-”(No Exit, pg. 28)Following this sequence, her lover returns to Paris and quickly commits suicide. Her retort to this is questioning, she cannot understand why he would do this when her husband didn’t suspect a thing. Upon materializing their love with a child, Estelle had no more use for Roger. While we would think that such an event would infuse love and passion into a relationship, she loathed the fact that he was so infatuated with her. I view this to be an interpretation of not only Sartre’s views on blind objectivity and social stature, but also of sexual perversion. Estelle needs someone to desire her, she has an insatiable appetite for being coveted. One might think that this could be satisfied by the everyday attention a child might get. However, Sartre is very careful to build a situation where sexual desire and reciprocity is the only possible solution to the problem. Estelle is continually confronted by Inez, who has already expressed her desire. These advances are rejected outright. Estelle continually “pecks” at Garcin, asking for some spark of interest. Her actions have given us more evidence to Sartre’s theory of sexual desire and it’s relation to sexual perversion. The most prolific and impressive state of any sexual interaction is that of desire. Unfortunately it is a state that is inherently unstable. The only way to satisfy the sexual desire one feels is through the physical act. As we see from Estelle’s story (and her opinion of it), this quickly degrades. We can sit and say that this is futile and thereby not worth any effort put into it. Our characters, and Sartre for that matter, believe that the state of sexual desire is so alluring that it is irresistible. Estelle has no shame about expressing this theme, constantly demanding that Garcin show some physical affection. It was this affection, and it’s ends, that originally sentenced her to Hell! In addition to this story, Estelle goes on to enhance the sexual perversion theme when discussing Peter, a boy she knew in life. She can see him dancing with her best friend Olga, and is very quickly angered:Inez: Do you love him?Estelle: ..No, of course I don’t love him; he’s only eighteen, and I’m not a baby-snatcher.Inez: Then why bother about them? What difference can it make?Estelle: He belonged to me. (No Exit, pg. 32)Our third character is Inez Serrano. I believe that she is presented as an incarnation of what we would all consider to be “evil”. She and Garcin are the first two individuals to enter the room, and she instantly believes that he is the torturer. Garcin is shocked and amazed, and after explaining that he is no such person asks why she would think so:Garcin: Frightened! But how ridiculous! Of whom should they [the torturers] be frightened? Of their victims?Inez: Laugh away, but I know what I’m talking about. I’ve often watched my face in the glass. (No Exit, pg. 9)This is our first indication of what Inez is truly like. She is very willing to admit her nature, that of a sadistic torturing soul. Her end came at the hands of her lover Florence, a girl she had stolen away from her cousin. The only pleasure that Florence truly brought Inez was through her manipulation. In Inez’s words:Inez: ..I crept inside her skin, she saw the world through my eyes. When she left him, I had her on my hands.Later, she gives an explanation for her actions:Inez: When I say I’m cruel, I mean I can’t get on without making people suffer. Like a live coal. A live coal in other’s hearts. When I’m alone I flicker out. For six months I flamed away in her heart, till there was nothing but a cinder. One night she got up and turned on the gas while I was asleep. Then she crept back into bed. So now you know. (No Exit, pg. 27) Inez is our “common evil”. She serves to torture Garcin with her non-belief in his character, and to provide a realistic light to the entire group. While the others are trying to delude themselves with arguments of randomness or nonsense, Inez refuses to fall victim. She knows why things have been laid out as they have, why these three people have been chosen to exist in eternity together. Most importantly, though, Inez represents another even stronger, interpretation of Sartre’s sexual perversion. Inez’s vice is her need to fulfill her desire through the objectification and manipulation of her significant other. She describes her worldly lover Florence as a “tiresome little fool” and “I won’t miss her in the least.” She has shown us through self-description and opinion that this is not a clever ruse designed to fool her cohorts, it therefore shows us that she has no warm feelings for Florence. She kept her around as a “toy”. What could possibly be more objectifying than that? In saying “she saw the world through my eyes”, it certainly sounds like she is trying to remove Florence’s individuality. Florence should be deprived of even her own opinion because it is indicative of her personality. Achieving that level is the ultimate end of Sartre’s sexual perversion. One wants another not as a complement one’s consciousness, but rather as an object. Inez cannot escape these desires, even in the afterlife. This time, Estelle is the object of her affection. Garcin represents a threat to that end, Estelle seeks physical pleasure from him. Inez cannot imagine a fate worse than allowing Estelle to get away. As she said, she wants to crawl underneath her skin, to make Estelle see the world through her eyes. Is there a better definition of objectification of persons? It is as though Inez is trying to “push” the soul out of Estelle. Once she has been “obtained”, she is nothing more than a shell of a person, mental jewelry. The difference in this situation from the other two is that Inez knows why she desires another person. Most people are confused, and cannot see that the end of sexual desire is the act. Inez sees this, but as she says, uses it to torture other people. Slowly she pulls their individuality out, and replaces it with herself. While each person represents some existentialist theories, the setting and premise of the play represents one of the most important ideas Sartre has. That is, the “world” does not posses any meaning or characteristics, those are given to it by other consciousness. The source-sink model discussed in class is the best example of this theory. Each consciousness “feeds” off the world, giving it meaning and interpretation. One consciousness can “feel” it when another is infringing on that world. As stated by Inez: Inez: [We must try] To forget about the others? How utterly absurd. I feel you there, in every pore. Your silence clamors in my ears. You can nail your mouth shut, cut your tongue out – but you can’t prevent your being there. Can you stop your thoughts? I hear them ticking away like a clock, tick-tock, tick-tock, and I’m certain you hear mine…Some “tortures” seem specifically designed for satisfying this purpose. For instance, who would think that having no eyelids, no ability to blink would be a terrible torture? What is so bad about a small drawing room? If you apply Sartre’s theories, these punishments are the most foul available. For instance, the small drawing room is specifically designed to limit the universe. There are no windows, no mirrors, and no devices of attention (books, magazines, paintings). The entire universe, as it appears to these people, is this tiny room. In other words, we have limited the output of the source. Now, we add three people to the universe, three sinks. There is nothing that can attract their attention, they cannot engross themselves in a book, or spend time interpreting a painting. This removes the possibility that anyone “close in on themselves” the way Sartre describes the man reading in the park:There, for example, is a man who is reading while he walks. The disintegration of the universe which he represents is purely virtual: he has ears which do not hear, eyes which see nothing except his book. Between his book and him I apprehend an undeniable relation without distance of the same type as that which earlier connected the walker with the grass. But this time the form has closed in on itself. There is a full object for me to grasp. In the midst of the world I can say “man reading” as I could say “cold stone”, “fine rain”. (Oaklander, pg. 284) Even more horrifying, Hell has stolen away their ability to close their eyes. There is no way to turn off the sinks! Oaklander gives us a good description of the system, and how it applies to this situation:Rather it appears that the world has a kind of drain hole in the middle of its being and that it is perpetually flowing off through this hole. The universe, the flow, and the drain hole are all once again recovered, reapprehended, and fixed as an object. All this is there for me as a partial structure in the world, even though the total disintegration of the universe is involved. Moreover these disintegrations may often be contained within more narrow limits.. (Oaklander, pg. 284)In conclusion, Jean Paul Sartre takes less than fifty pages to materialize his existentialist ideas for the stage. He has given us interpretations of sexual desire, bad faith, and conscious interactions. As a note: I truly believe that this play could be analyzed on an even deeper level. Each comment could be dissected and applied to part of Sartre’s theory. However, this scope was limited to stay within the bounds of this paper.