What is the historical context of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit was performed in Paris in 1944 during the Nazi Occupation of World War II.  Because there were curfews imposed by the Germans, Sartre wrote his play in one act so that Parisians could meet this curfew.  Before the play could be performed, however, it had to meet the approval of the German censors who approved and then disapproved several times as they watched rehearsals.  Nevertheless, Sartre inserted subtle messages of resistance in his play that the Parisians greatly appreciated. However, critics were divided in their reviews, probably in order to prevent arousing suspicion by the Nazis.

No Exit became symbolic of the Resistance, an underground organization formed by the exiled general Charles de Gaulle who was in Great Britain. Members of the Resistance of occupied France aided Great Britain with military intelligence and by helping British pilots who were shot down escape France.  Those who worked with the Germans under the newly formed Vichy government were known as Collaborators; these are the pacifists to which Garcin alludes in the play.  Another element in Sartre's play that relates to the Nazi occupation is the ironic comments about the abundance of heat and light in the hellish room that Garcin, Estelle, and Inez occupy. Of course, the philosophy of Existentialism that is thematic to No Exit also appealed to the members of the Resistance in its emphasis on the necessity and responsibility of the individual's creating his own essence.