The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

As the curtain rises on No Exit, Garcin and the Valet enter a French Second Empire-style drawing room. Gradually it appears that Garcin is dead and this room is in Hell. He laughs with the bellboy over his medieval expectations of physical torture, but begs for a toothbrush. The Valet explains the rules. The light is constant, with no day or night. Eyelids do not function; there is no sleep. There is no outside, only more corridors, stairs, and rooms. There are no mirrors. The statuette on the mantel is too heavy to move. The capricious room-service bell usually will not ring. Garcin laments that he will not be able to blink and enjoy a break in consciousness, but he asserts his courage. The bellboy leaves him alone.

Garcin tries the bell, calls out, and beats on the door, but there is no response. As he calms down, the bellboy returns with Inez and leaves. Inez supposes Garcin to be her tormentor. He laughs, but he is worried that she can see fear on his face. He covers his face, and they wait in silence. The bellboy then enters with the beautiful Estelle. She mistakes Garcin for another man whose face has been shot away. After the bellboy leaves, Estelle introduces herself as in a social setting. The characters can “see” scenes in the world they have left. Estelle describes her own funeral as it is being performed. They specify the means of their deaths: Estelle died from pneumonia, while Inez was killed by gas from a stove and Garcin by twelve bullets in the chest. Estelle is shocked by Garcin’s bluntness; she prefers the euphemism “absent” to “dead.” Inez is rude and hostile, but Estelle insists on social appearances. She also insists on occupying the one sofa that harmonizes with her dress, and Garcin must abandon it. He wants to remove his coat; Estelle refuses permission. She thinks that men in shirtsleeves are disgusting.

It is clear that the three are incompatible. They come from different social circles. Garcin longs for the masculine atmosphere of his newspaper offices, Estelle for her own boudoir. Inez stands between them, a man-hating lesbian attracted to Estelle. Estelle blames an administrative error for their juxtaposition, Garcin a fluke of timing in their deaths. Inez mocks the other two, insisting that nothing has happened by chance. She suggests that they tell their reasons for being in Hell. Estelle and Garcin tell and accept alibis of self-sacrifice and heroism. Inez pushes for more. Estelle objects, Garcin threatens, and Inez realizes that they are meant to be each other’s torturers. Garcin...

(The entire section is 1047 words.)