Study Guide

Inez Serrano in No Exit

By Jean-Paul Sartre

Inez Serrano

A self-proclaimed sadist, Inez is one tough cookie. She believes that each person should be out for themselves ("You'd do better to watch your own interests," she tells Garcin), and refuses to let either of her companions off the hook. She forces them to take responsibility for their previous actions: dragging confessions from them or threatening them with what Garcin deems an "agony of the mind" (370, 500). From her stories of life on earth, we know she was a member of the working-class (a postal worker), and that she’s a lesbian. Because this last fact is never explicitly stated, we have to use what is implied and suggested in the text to figure it out.

INEZ: (testily) Not "Mrs." I'm unmarried. (71)

INEZ: Oh, I don't care much for men any way. (141)

ESTELLE: Are you really – attracted by me?
INEZ: Very much indeed. (246-7)

Then there’s the story of her "crimes" back on earth. Inez lived with her cousin and his wife, Florence. We never learn the details, but we know that she turned Florence against the husband. Either way, we know Inez is attracted to Estelle, which makes for some great dramatic conflict, not to mention all the mental agony. And because we’re dealing with Sartre here, it also makes for some juicy philosophical discussion.


In Garcin’s "Character Analysis," we claimed that he was a middle ground between the somewhat enlightened perspective embodied by Inez, and the atrociously flagrant bad faith embodied by Estelle. While Inez is by no means an ideal existentialist, she is the closest we get to Sartre’s own voice in No Exit. Remember that bad faith is essentially just self-deception. Inez avoids such self-deception to a greater degree than any other character. She constantly owns up to her crimes, admits her situation, and faces her surroundings. Let’s take a look:

INEZ: Yes, I see. Look here! What' s the point of play-acting, trying to throw dust in each other's eyes? We're all tarred with the same brush. […] Yes, we are criminals – murderers – all three of us. We're in hell, my pets; they never make mistakes, and people aren't damned for nothing.
[…] In hell! Damned souls – that's us, all three! […] A damned soul – that's you, my little plaster saint. And ditto our friend there, the noble pacifist. We've had our hour of pleasure, haven't we? There have been people who burned their lives out for our sakes – and we chuckled over it. So now we have to pay the reckoning. (188-94)

INEZ: I prefer to choose my hell; I prefer to look you in the eyes and fight it out face to face. (262)

She also reveals some key insights into Sartre’s existentialism. Inez understands bad faith. When Garcin claims that they are in hell by mistake, she is "amused" by his response, but reasons, "I suppose you've got to reassure yourself somehow" (148). She gets that Garcin’s response is one of fear and that he’s fleeing from responsibility by choosing self-deception. And while Garcin gets to deliver Sartre’s famous "Hell is other people!" line, Inez gets credit for the insight, a good 300 lines earlier:

INEZ: Well, well! Ah, I understand now. I know why they've put us three together. […] You'll see how simple it is. Childishly simple. […] It's obvious what they're after – an economy of man-power – or devil-power, if you prefer. The same idea as in the cafeteria, where customers serve themselves. […] Each of us will act as torturer of the two others. (196-202)

And of course, like any good existentialist, Inez is "always conscious of [her]self – in [her] mind. Painfully conscious" (215). Sartre agreed with Inez’s assessment that consciousness is a painful thing; he believed that it overwhelmed the self and often caused the anguish that leads many to bad faith.


Because of her consciousness and her insights, Inez is often in a position to teach or guide her two companions. Unfortunately, because of her self-professed sadism ("I'm rather cruel, really"), she’s also in a position to torture them. It’s often hard to tell when we’ve got a case of tough love (that is, when she’s asking difficult questions to get to important truths), and when we’ve got a case of downright cruelty for the pleasure of being cruel.

It’s easy to make a case that Inez is a sadist, pure and simple, starting with all the burning imagery (fire = destructive) she uses to categorize herself:

INEZ: I can't get on without making people suffer. Like a live coal. A live coal in others' hearts. When I'm alone I flicker out. For six months I flamed away in her heart, till there was nothing but a cinder. (299)

INEZ: And what do you expect me to do in return?
GARCIN: To help ME. It only needs a little effort, Inez; just a spark of human feeling.
INEZ: Human feeling. That's beyond my range. I'm rotten to the core. […] I'm all dried up. I can't give and I can't receive. How could I help you? A dead twig, ready for the burning. (356-360)

Then you could look at the song she sings early in the play – it’s about taking joy in public executions. You might remember that she thinks Estelle’s mouth looks "far better" when it is "crueler" and "diabolical" (233). Inez is drawn to pain.

Before we go any further, we have to take a brief detour and talk about sadism from Sartre’s point-of-view. We talked earlier about the way in which Inez embodied existential ideals. Her sadism, however, is one of the ways she deviates from it; Sartre actually talks about sadism as an example of bad faith. Why? Because causing someone else pain – or enjoying pain at the hands of someone else – both involve defining the self in terms of the other. Inez, for example, defines herself as cruel and relies on reactions from Garcin and Estelle (reactions that involve pain, even if it’s just mental pain) to confirm her existence. According to existentialism, Inez and her sense of self are not dependent on others. If she believes it is, then she is deceiving herself. And what is self-deception? Bad faith.

There are other ways in which Inez deviates from sound existentialist practice; her concern over her apartment back on earth, for example, is the same sort of petty "human dignity" that plagues Garcin. And she’s more than willing to make herself an object for Estelle to possess, which is a flight from freedom similar to Estelle’s (more on that in Estelle’s "Character Analysis").

Now let’s look at another perspective: maybe Inez’s treatment of Estelle and Garcin isn’t sadistic. Rather, she’s trying to guide them as to how to cope with their scenario. Let’s see a few examples:

INEZ: There...You know the way the catch larks – with a mirror? I'm your lark-mirror, my dear, and you can't escape me...There isn't any pimple, not a trace of one. So what about it? Suppose the mirror started telling lies? Or suppose I covered my eyes – as he is doing – and refused to look at you, all that loveliness of yours would be wasted on the desert air. (245)

You could say that Inez is deliberately tormenting Estelle by pretending she’s got a pimple on her face when she hasn’t. Or, Inez is trying to illustrate to Estelle the problem with relying on others to define the self. Similarly, she debunks Garcin’s false hope that if they pretend each other isn’t there, they will be free of torment:

INEZ: To forget about the others? How utterly absurd! I feel you there, in every pore. Your silence clamors in my ears. You can nail up your mouth, cut your tongue out – but you can't prevent your being there. Can you stop your thoughts? I hear them ticking away like a clock, tick-tock, tick-tock, and I'm certain you hear mine. It's all very well skulking on your sofa, but you're everywhere, and every sound comes to me soiled because you've intercepted it on its way. (262)

This passage could just as well have come out of Being and Nothingness. This is Sartre’s perspective on the matter, and Inez is the one trying to explain it to the others. For another example, check out the scene towards the end of the play, when Garcin and Estelle have decided (through mutual deception) that they can love each other after all. Inez is the one who points out that it’s all a big farce.

GARCIN: Estelle, we shall climb out of hell. [Inez gives a shrill laugh. He breaks off and stares at her.] What’s that?
INEZ: [Still laughing.] But she doesn't mean a word of what she says. How can you be such a simpleton? "Estelle, am I a coward?" As if she cared a damn either way. […] She wants a man – that far you can trust her – she wants a man's arm round her waist, a man's smell, a man's eyes glowing with desire. And that's all she wants. She'd assure you you were God Almighty if she thought it would give you pleasure. (479-82)

Of course, the fact that she’s laughing while she does this is a good case for sadism over tough love. But to make this decision even tougher for you, take a look at what is arguably the most important debate in No Exit – the discussion between Inez and Garcin about his courage or cowardice:

GARCIN: Listen! Each man has an aim in life, a leading motive; that's so, isn't it? […] I aimed at being a real man. […] Can one possibly be a coward when one's deliberately courted danger at every turn? And can one judge a life by a single action?
INEZ: Why not? For thirty years you dreamt you were a hero, and condoned a thousand petty lapses – because a hero, of course, can do no wrong. An easy method, obviously. Then a day came when you were up against it, the red light of real danger – and you took the train to Mexico.
GARCIN: I "dreamt," you say. It was no dream. When I chose the hardest path, I made my choice deliberately. A man is what he wills himself to be.
INEZ: Prove it. Prove it was no dream. It's what one does, and nothing else, that shows the stuff one's made of.
GARCIN: I died too soon. I wasn't allowed time to – to do my deeds.
INEZ: One always dies too soon – or too late. And yet one's whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are – your life, and nothing else. (522-7)

At this point, Sartre is definitely speaking through Inez. Garcin’s claims to choose courage as a value system, but doesn’t act accordingly. Inez calls him on this. It’s your actions, not your opinions that matter. The final line in this important passage above, "You are your life, and nothing else," is a key tenet of existentialism. Garcin’s claim, that man is what he wills himself to be, runs counter to Sartre’s philosophy.