No Exit is not about traditional punishment for sin. There is no consideration of God, and the functionaries of Hell are seen less as demons than as bureaucrats. Jean-Paul Sartre uses the concept of Hell as a semihumorous frame. Here is a torture chamber in the guise of an overheated hotel salon. The bellboy has an uncle to visit in off-hours, the head valet in Hell. This ironic frame serves to explore ideas about self-definition and interpersonal relations drawn from existential philosophy. Everything serves in definition of the characters or their situation.
The details of interior decoration are calculated in terms of the personality triangle Sartre presents. The colors of the sofas are set by Estelle’s dress; her reaction defines her superficial character. Estelle can contemplate infanticide with equanimity but is horrified by blunt speech. She is the vagina dentata incarnate, incapable of love or nurture, seeking to fill herself, a slimy morass into which Garcin fears to sink. Garcin, at the opposite end of the scale, is a macho bully, a man’s man, whose women are only witnesses for his masculinity. Inez holds the sexual middle ground; as a lesbian, she is female, but she competes with the man for the erotic favors of her fellow woman. She is invariably the only one who forces confrontation, while Garcin seeks peace and Estelle admiration.
The characters are not fully rounded, nor are they meant to be, since they represent...
(The entire section is 532 words.)