How do the literary elements serve the theme of the play?Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit [Huis Clos]

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. the philosophy of Existentialism prevails.  Here are some literary elements.

The motif of freedom

The three characters, Garcin, Inez, and Estella are all cowardly.  Garcin has a chance for freedom when the door is opened, but he cannot leave for fear of what lies beyond.  Inez tells Estella to look into her eyes and see her own reflection when Estella is dismayed that there are no mirrors, indicating that Estella's existence depends upon the opinions of others.

Theme of Existential absurdity 

The three characters engage in conflicts because of their insecurities and fear of freedom.  Inez depends upon Estella, Estella depends upon Garcin and vice versa.  This fear leads to the absurdity of life, for one must create one's own existence through freedom and responsibility, according to Existentialism.


The garish and tediously overdone Second Empire style room symbolizes the disharmony and anguish of the three characters.

The bell, which does not often ring represents their disconnection to the real world.

The clashing colors of the couches--wine red, livid green, and blue symbolize the clashing personalities of the characters.

The door indicates that for the characters there is no way out as an individual.

The inability to blink symbolizes "no exit" from the states in which the three find themselves.  "So one has to live with one's eyes open all the time?" asks Garcin.

The paper knife symbolizes the futility of Estella to change what her fate is.  She is already dead and responsible for what her life has been.

The one-act play follows the classic rule of unity, action, and place.  There is one setting and a singleness of theme and action toward the development of this existential theme.