What conflicts are involved in No Exit?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Considered by many critics to be Jean-Paul Sartre's most easily understood dramatization of his philosophy of Existentialism, Huis Clos, or No Exit as it is called in English is a one-act play in which three people find themselves in hell, Joseph Garcin, Inez Serrano, and Estelle Rigault.  Immediately there is conflict as the three are not honest about why they are in hell. Finally, they tell the truth since they have nothing to lose.  Garcin then tries to seduce Estella, but Inez wants to be her mirror, also. Inez and Garcin vie with one another for the affections of Estelle, who is the most unrealistic of all.  When Inez pushes Estelle too far, Estelle tries to stab her with a paper knife.  Only then does she realize she is in hell.  

After rivalry over Estelle's affections and arguments over which couch each will have, Garcin discovers that the valet does not blink.  Nor do they. Because of this idiosyncracy, Garcin realizes that there is never sleep or blinking--no exit from reality.  For, the tiny moments of blinking at least let people close their eyes to reality, if only for a split second.  After all their bickering, Garcin asks the others to simply sit on her couch and keep quiet.  But, they are together for eternity.  This is it, Garcin realizes,

What? Only two of you?  I thought there were more;many more. [Laughs]So this is hell.  I'd never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the 'burning marl.'   Old wives' tale!  There's no need for red-hot pokers.  Hell is---other people!

The women echo the words forever and forever.  But, Garcin says "Well, well, let's get on with it....

 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Most of the conflicts present in Sartre's work are personal and interpersonal.  The conflicts between the characters are fairly prominent and seem to permeate the very nature of dialogue within the play.  Inez has a conflict with Garcin from the very start with the mannerisms with his mouth, and exacerbating when Estelle chooses him over her.  Estelle endures her own conflict when she has to rebuff Inez's advances and begs to be taken by Garcin out of the room.  Garcin's conflicts reside in the fact that he needs Inez's validation that he is not a coward and doesn't receive it.  The triangle of dependence precluding independence that Sartre constructs is one where there is nothing but conflict.  Inez hates Garcin and needs Estelle, only to never have her.  Estelle rejects Inez and needs Garcin, only to not enjoy his full affections because of his need for validation and release.  Garcin needs absolution that he is not a coward and not reprehensible for his political and personal actions.  Estelle cannot give this to him, as she simply needs him as a man.  The only one who can give this is Inez, who, as we said, hates him.  Such a triangle reveals a great sense of personal and interpersonal conflict residing in Sartre's depiction of hell.

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