Student Question

In Sartre's No Exit, how do Garcin, Estelle, and Inez reflect anguish, forlornness, and despair?

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Once the stories of their lives and misdeeds are revealed, along with the dawning realization that they are trapped for eternity in each others' company, Estelle, Garcin, and Inez experience anguish, forlornness, and despair. The dynamic among the three is hostile, and they come to know that it will have no end.

Estelle is perhaps the most forlorn, anguished, and despairing of the three because of her weaknesses. She is narcissistic and has spent her life trying to outrun childhood poverty through relationships with men who could provide for her and feed her ego. She is vain and likes to be catered to. Once she realizes that she is trapped with people who she considers to be her social inferiors and that she will no longer be coddled and loved for her beauty, she realizes how empty her unending future will be. She can't even content herself by gazing into the mirror to be reassured by her looks, because she no longer has a reflection.

Garcin, of course, suffers as well. His anguish is driven by the realization that he died a coward's death after cruelly mistreating his wife. He will not be remembered as a good man, and the existentialist idea that "existence precedes essence" means that he was only defined by his actions while he was living. He cannot look back from the afterlife and know that his earthly life was a resonant one. He will focus for eternity on his lack of character and realize that his existence is not something that can comfort him in the afterlife. He cannot ever escape the fact that his immorality has sentenced him to a place where he and his companions know the worst about him.

Inez may not suffer in the same way as Garcin and Estelle because she arrives with more self-awareness than they possess. However, she likely feels anguish and despair because there will be no escape from Garcin and Estelle, and they neither fear nor care for her. She has lived a life in which she manipulated others, and she will not be able to do that to Garcin and Estelle. She has been stripped of her power, which will no doubt create anguish, since it is the quality that she has always used to define herself.

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