Cover of the Vintage edition
|Written by||Jean-Paul Sartre|
No Exit (French: Huis Clos, pronounced: [ɥi klo]) is a 1944 existentialist French play by Jean-Paul Sartre. The original title is the French equivalent of the legal term in camera, referring to a private discussion behind closed doors. The play was first performed at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in May 1944. The play begins with three characters who find themselves waiting in a mysterious room. It is a depiction of the afterlife in which three deceased characters are punished by being locked into a room together for eternity. It is the source of Sartre's especially famous and often misinterpreted quotation "L'enfer, c'est les autres" or "Hell is other people", a reference to Sartre's ideas about the look and the perpetual ontological struggle of being caused to see oneself as an object from the view of another consciousness.
English translations have also been performed under the titles In Camera, No Way Out, Vicious Circle, Behind Closed Doors, and Dead End.
Three damned souls, Joseph Garcin, Inès Serrano, and Estelle Rigault, are brought to the same room in Hell and locked inside by a mysterious valet. They had all expected torture devices to punish them for eternity, but instead find a plain room furnished in the style of the Second French Empire. At first, none of them will admit the reason for their damnation: Joseph says that he was executed for being a pacifist, while Estelle insists that a mistake has been made; Inès, however, is the only one to demand that they all stop lying to themselves and confess to their moral crimes. She refuses to believe that they have all ended up in the room by accident and soon realizes that they have been placed together to make each other miserable; she deduces that they are to be one another's torturers.
Joseph suggests that they try to leave each other alone and to be silent, but Inès starts to sing about an execution and Estelle vainly wants to find a mirror to check on her appearance. Inès tries to seduce Estelle by offering to be her "mirror" by telling her everything she sees, but ends up frightening her instead. It is soon clear that Inès is attracted to Estelle, Estelle is attracted to Joseph, and Joseph is not attracted to either of the two women.
After arguing, they decide to confess to their crimes so they know what to expect from each other. Joseph cheated on and mistreated his wife; Inès seduced her cousin's wife while living with them; and Estelle had an affair and then killed the resulting child, prompting the child's father to commit suicide. Despite their revelations, they continue to get on each other's nerves. Joseph finally begins giving in to the lascivious Estelle's escalating attempts to seduce him, which drives Inès crazy. Joseph is constantly interrupted by his own guilt, however, and begs Estelle to tell him he is not a coward for attempting to flee his country during wartime. While she complies, Inès tells him that Estelle is just feigning attraction to him so that she can be with a man – any man.
This causes Joseph to abruptly attempt an escape. After his trying to open the door repeatedly, it inexplicably and suddenly opens, but he is unable to bring himself to leave, and the others remain as well. He says that he will not be saved until he can convince Inès to trust in him. She refuses, saying that he is obviously a coward, and promising to make him miserable forever. Joseph concludes that rather than torture devices or physical punishment, "hell is other people." Estelle tries to persevere in her seduction of Joseph, but he says that he cannot make love while Inès is watching. Estelle, infuriated, picks up a paper knife and repeatedly stabs Inès. As they are all already dead, this attack does nothing and Inès even halfheartedly stabs herself, beginning to laugh. As Estelle comments on the idea of their being trapped here forever and laughs too, all three join in a prolonged fit of laughter before Joseph finally concludes, "Eh bien, continuons" (roughly "Eh well, let's continue...").
Joseph Garcin – His cowardice and callousness caused his young wife to die "of grief" after his execution. He is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and deserted during an unspecified military conflict. He was unfaithful to his wife – he even recalls, without any sympathy, bringing home another woman one night, and his wife bringing them their morning coffee after hearing their engagement all night. Initially, he hates Inès because she understands his weakness, and wants Estelle because he feels that if she treats him as a man he will become manly. However, by the end of the play he understands that because Inès understands the meaning of cowardice and wickedness, only absolution at her hands can redeem him (if indeed redemption is possible). In a later translation and adaptation of the play by American translator Paul Bowles, Garcin is renamed Vincent Cradeau.
Inès Serrano – Inès is the second character to enter the room. A lesbian postal clerk, she turned a wife against her husband, twisting the wife's perception of her spouse and the subsequent murder of the man (who is Inès' cousin). Indeed, Inès seems to be the only character who understands the power of opinion, manipulating Estelle's and Garcin's opinions of themselves and of each other throughout the play. She is honest about the evil deeds she, Garcin and Estelle have done. She frankly acknowledges the fact that she is a cruel person.
Estelle Rigault – Estelle is a high-society woman, a blonde who married an older man for his money and had an affair with a younger man. To her, the affair is merely an insignificant fling, but her lover becomes emotionally attached to her and she bears him a child. She drowns the child by throwing it into the lake, which drives her lover to commit suicide. Throughout the play she tries to get at Garcin, seeking to define herself as a woman in relation to a man. Her sins are deceit and murder (which also motivated a suicide). She lusts over "manly men", which Garcin himself strives to be.
Valet – The Valet enters the room with each character, but his only real dialogue is with Garcin. We learn little about him, except that his uncle is the head valet, and that he does not have any eyelids, which links to Garcin because Garcin's eyelids are atrophied.
The play was widely praised when it was first performed. Upon its 1946 American premiere at the Biltmore Theatre, critic Stark Young described the play as "a phenomenon of the modern theatre – played all over the continent already," in The New Republic, and wrote that "It should be seen whether you like it or not."
- Huis clos (1954), directed by Jacqueline Audry
- No Exit (1962), directed by Tad Danielewski
- No Exit (2006), directed by Etienne Kallos
- In Camera (BBC 1964), adapted for television and directed by Philip Saville, starring Harold Pinter as Garcin
- Vicious Circle (BBC 1985) starring Omar Sharif, Jeanne Moreau and Cherie Lunghi
A one-act chamber opera based on the play was created by composer Andy Vores. The production had its world premiere on April 25, 2008 at the Boston Conservatory’s Zack Theatre. Vores' opera premiered in Chicago in October 2009 by Chicago Opera Vanguard.
Talk Show From Hell, a modern parody by Jean-Noel Fenwick, was produced by the Open Fist Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, in 2000. On Doorway to Hell, a parody of anthology television shows that ran on the sketch comedy show Second City Television, host Lin Yee Tang Dave Thomas introduced a story called Man in a Box, only to ruin the story in his monologue by revealing that the box is in fact Hell itself. In episode "Stewie B. Goode" from American animated comedy show Family Guy, Stewie Griffin gets sent to hell in what seems to be a dream after being knocked unconscious. This inspires him to change his attitude on life. In hell, he walks into a fancy hotel room, and questions if that is what hell is really like. This seems to be a reference to No Exit. In Season 11 Episode 10 of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia entitled "The Gang Goes To Hell: Part II", the gang is locked in the "boat jail" of a religious-themed Christian cruise ship after committing various sins throughout the previous episode. The episode may be borrowing from No Exit in the scene when they all try to not speak to each other and when Charlie thinks they are already dead.
Notes and references
- Wallace Fowlie, Dionysus in Paris (New York: Meridian Books, inc., 1960), page 173.
- "The Most Famous Thing Jean-Paul Sartre Never Said".
- Danto, Arthur (1975). "Chapter 4: Shame, or, The Problem of Other Minds". Jean-Paul Sartre.
- Young, Stark. (9 December 1946). "Weaknesses". The New Republic, pp. 764.
- "On (and off) track".
- Foley, F. Kathleen (April 14, 2000). "In the Lively Sartre Parody 'Talk Show,' Hell Isn't Half Bad". Los Angeles Times.
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