The three are initially strangers to one another, but soon learn each other’s worst secrets. Equally malicious, they invariably confirm the sense of guilt each has acquired in life. Cradeau, the French newspaperman, was shot for collaborating with the Germans and fears the implication of cowardice. Inez gradually poisoned a young woman’s mind against her lover in order to use the woman for her own lesbian needs. Estelle killed her newborn baby by a lover so that her rich old husband would not discover her infidelity. She is horrified that the room contains no mirror, for she is unsure of her own existence unless she can see her reflection.
The play is sometimes misunderstood as being unrelievedly negative about human companionship: At its climax, Cradeau exclaims, “Hell is other people!” Sartre has said of this play that “...many people are encrusted in a set of habits..., that they harbor judgments about them which make them suffer, but do not even try to change them.” Such people, he says, are already dead. While he does suggest that it is difficult to know oneself initially except through the eyes of other people, mature living demands that one renounce self-chosen hells and accept responsibility for oneself and others.
The best commentary on the moral implications of this work is Sartre’s discussion of patterns of bad faith in his BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. In spite of its relatively heavy philosophic intent, however, the play is...
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