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No Exit

No Exit


by Jean-Paul Sartre

Analysis: Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Garcin chats it up with the valet

We might have our suspicions, but we can’t be sure yet that Garcin is in hell. Our initial situation is a guy by himself in a drawing room populated by Second Empire furniture and some rather cryptic props (make sure you see "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory on that note).


Inez shows up. Estelle shows up. We realize that everyone is in hell together.

Remember, hell is other people. There’s no conflict for Garcin when he’s alone. The arrival of the two women brings with it a host of problems, among them such existentialist ideas as "the look," competitive subjectivity, objectification, and a lot of bad faith. (We explain all of these concepts in Character Analysis, which you should definitely read.)


Take your pick

We can’t really pin down a specific complication, but the initial conflict – other people – certainly gets messier as the play progresses. Details like the personal histories of the characters, the scenes witnessed back on earth, and the tense interactions between all three individuals serve to raise the emotional involvement of the audience and the emotional stakes of the play.


"Open the door! Open, blast you! I'll endure anything, your red-hot tongs and molten lead, your racks and prongs and garrotes – all your fiendish gadgets, everything that burns and flays and tears – I'll put up with any torture you impose. Anything, anything would be better than this agony of mind, this creeping pain that gnaws and fumbles and caresses one and never hurts quite enough."

This monologue right here is the climax of No Exit. Garcin has reached the breaking point and is physically raging again the door keeping him in hell. Notice that he – not Estelle or Inez – is the focus of this emotional climax. (For more evidence that he’s our protagonist, see "Character Role ID").


Should he stay or should he go?

When the door finally opens, Garcin doesn’t run out like a mad man. Instead he ponders reflectively, "I wonder why that door opened." For a few seconds we’re left with the suspense of the decision facing out main character: stay or go?


Garcin explains his decision to remain in hell

The denouement is the stage in which everything is made clear, and in this case, what needs to be cleared up is Garcin’s seemingly inexplicable decision to remain in hell when he was supposedly free to go. His explanation is rather explicit: he needs to remain behind to convince Inez that he’s not a coward. (If you’re interested in the existentialist’s reaction to and judgment of this decision, read Garcin’s "Character Analysis.") What’s most interesting about this part of the play is the consequences it has for the bleak future Garcin and the others face. No longer are they the helpless victims of the management, (the "they), keeping them against their will. Instead, this hell is a chosen hell. Garcin has chosen this "agony of the mind." According to Sartre and his concept of personal freedom, Garcin has to make a choice, and he has to be held responsible for the fall-out. He has no one but himself to blame for hell – and its lack of exits.


"Hell is – other people!"

All of the arguments, reasoning, debates, and questions in No Exit have led the three main characters – and the audience – toward this indisputable conclusion: hell is other people. That’s why there’s no need for hot pokers or other torture devices. That’s why hell is simply three people in a room together. The characters’ reaction to this conclusion – uncontrollable laughter – is interesting in and of itself, and we talk all about it in "What’s Up With the Ending?" See you there.

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