No Exit

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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 gripping in dramatic terms.

Bibliography

Bradby, David. Modern French Drama 1940-1990. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Looks at Sartre’s career and locates No Exit as part of Sartre’s early period. Presents a significant view of how the dramatist came to regard his own work later in his life.

Champigny, Robert. Sartre and Drama. Birmingham, Ala.: French Literature Publications, 1982. An evaluation of Sartre’s role as a dramatist that takes the beginnings and end of his career into account. An interesting and comprehensive discussion that features an expansive examination of No Exit.

Cohn, Ruby. From Desire to Godot: Pocket Theater of Postwar Paris. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. An illuminating look at the original production of No Exit and how critics and audiences during the German occupation of France responded. A lively, fascinating interpretation emerges, complete with important details of subsequent productions.

McCall, Dorothy. The Theatre of Jean-Paul Sartre. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969. Although somewhat dated, this analysis of how the playwright’s works relate to his views on theater still makes for highly informative reading.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Sartre on Theater. Edited by Michel Contat and Michel Rybalka. Translated by Frank Jellinek. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. In this collection of the playwright’s own writings on his own play, the editors compile some pieces that deal directly with No Exit and several others that discuss Sartre’s views on drama and theater during the time the play was composed and performed.

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