Study Guide

Estelle Rigault in No Exit

By Jean-Paul Sartre

Estelle Rigault

Estelle Rigault is a young society woman from Paris. Orphaned as a teen, she married a rich older man to support her and her brother, had an affair with a boy closer to her own age, and drowned the resulting child. We know she’s younger than Inez and Garcin (the former calls her a "child" while Garcin addresses her as "little girl"). We also know that she’s older than eighteen (she doesn’t want to be a "baby snatcher" by dating an eighteen-year-old boy) (382). We know she’s a bit of a snob, given the passage about the "Dubois-Seymour parties" she always attends and the stage direction regarding her recoil from Inez when learning that the woman is a postal worker.

Now, as far as a good existentialist is concerned, Estelle is the worst at dealing with this whole hell thing. She retreats into bad faith in four different ways.

Bad Faith #1: Denial

Estelle is one of those "If I close my eyes, maybe it will go away" types of people. Take a look at this passage:

ESTELLE: Please, please don't use that word [the dead]. It's so – so crude. In terribly bad taste, really. It doesn't mean much, anyhow. Somehow I feel we've never been so much alive as now. If we've absolutely got to mention this – this state of things, I suggest we call ourselves – wait! – absentees. (120)

Estelle also hesitates to admit what she’s done in the past; it takes more than half the play for her to confess her crime. Also check out the weird three-way conversation around line 375. The stage directions explain that, though Inez is speaking to Estelle, Estelle faces Garcin and pretends that she is conversing with him. This only speaks to her ability to retreat into bad faith via denial.

Bad Faith #2: The Look, Objectification, and Being-For-Others

Remember that the heart of No Exit is that line "hell is other people," and that the hellishness of comes through competitive subjectivity. (Check out Garcin’s "Character Analysis" for more.) Because other people are looking at Estelle, she is turned into an object. Now because she is in bad faith, Estelle wants to be turned into an object. Like Garcin, she wants to give up her freedom (and the responsibility that goes with it), and become a thing in the eyes of the other. She wants to exist as being-for-others instead of being-for-itself (again, see Garcin’s "Character Analysis"). Hence her obsession with mirrors, her own appearance, and getting Garcin to look at her. Even her nicknames back on earth – "my glancing stream, my crystal" have to do with looking, reflecting, appearing. This is probably the most telling passage we have regarding Estelle:

ESTELLE: When I can't see myself I begin to wonder if I really and truly exist. I pat myself just to make sure, but it doesn't help much. […] I've six big mirrors in my bedroom. There they are. I can see them. But they don't see me. They're reflecting the carpet, the settee, the window – but how empty it is, a glass in which I'm absent! When I talked to people I always made sure there was one near by in which I could see myself. I watched myself talking. And somehow it kept me alert, seeing myself as the others saw me. […] No, I can't do without a looking-glass for ever and ever. I simply can't. (214-5)

At this point, Estelle is no longer concerned with existing herself, but with keeping someone else’s eyes on her.

Bad Faith #3: Being-in-the-midst-of-the-world

Yes, another type of being. We already had got being-for-itself (the way people exist), being-in-itself (the way an object exists), and being-for-others (being an object in the eyes of another person). Now we have being-in-the-midst-of-the-world, which means being a passive thing – an attempt on the part of being-for-itself to be being-in-itself. (Just take a second. That’s less confusing than it sounds.) If being-for-others comes about when we try to define ourselves through another’s gaze, being-in-the-midst-of-the-world comes about when we try to become an object. Take a look:

ESTELLE: You have to look at something, and there's nothing here to see except the sofas and that awful ornament and the table. Surely I'm better to look at that an lot of stupid furniture. Listen! I've dropped out of their heart like a little sparrow fallen from its nest. So gather me up, dear, fold me to your heart – and you'll see how nice I can be. (393)

ESTELLE: I'll sit on your sofa and wait for you to take some notice of me. I promise not to bother you at all. (410)

In asking Garcin to look at her like an object, Estelle is definitely guilty of this form of bad faith.

Bad Faith #4: Sex and Desire

Sartre believed that sex, too, was in bad faith and was part of this objectification problem. When you desire someone, he said, it’s because you wish to turn them into an object. Remember, you’re fighting for subjectivity. If you turn someone else into a sexual thing who exists for you, you maintain your subjectivity and make them the object. The problem is, said Sartre, by having sex with them, you make yourself into an object, too.

We can apply this reasoning to Estelle’s desire for Garcin. We know she’s not interested in him in particular. As Inez points out, any man will do. Estelle just needs a guy to desire her, so she can become an object and be free of the responsibility of being a subject. Throughout the play her repeated pleas for Garcin to look at her, hold her, touch her, or want her have to do with this particular brand of bad faith.