Perhaps the clearest articulation of Sartre’s developing existentialist philosophy, No Exit is notable also as a rousing piece of theater, stocked with good “parts” and memorable lines, a perennial favorite with amateur and semiprofessional drama groups. Into a high-rise Hell drawn more from science fiction than from Scripture and presided over by a nearly silent functionary are cast three recently deceased characters, two women and a man, whose paths never crossed in life and likely never would have. Joseph Garcin, first to arrive, is a journalist whose pacifist convictions are somewhat at odds with his carefully cultivated “macho” image and his exploitative attitude toward women. Next to arrive in the carefully furnished room is Inès Serrano, a postal clerk who makes no secret of her lesbianism or of her parallel disregard for men. The third and last arrival, a vain, stereotypical “brainless blonde” with aspirations toward snobbery, soon polarizes the action by attracting both Garcin and Inès with her charms.
In its themes and language, No Exit often moves too close to popular culture, “soap opera” in particular, to be taken seriously as literature. Freely trading accusations, insults, and flirtations as each character seeks to get his or her own way, the trio quickly attracts and holds the spectator’s attention for approximately one hour’s uninterrupted playing time, taking turns as torturer and victim as they act out Sartre’s conviction, restated as a line in the play, that Hell is other people.
With the exception of Estelle Rigault, whose perceived beauty allowed her aunt and guardian to “marry her off” at an early age to a much older man with money, and whose subsequent life was led among the idle rich,...
(The entire section is 728 words.)