Places: No Exit

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1945 as Huis clos (English translation, 1946)

First produced: 1944, at the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier, Paris

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Existentialism

Time of work: Twentieth century

Places DiscussedHell

Hell. No ExitAs the play opens, a man is being ushered into an ordinary-looking room by a valet. It appears at first to be a hotel or the guest room of some country mansion. The man notices that the furniture is French Second Empire, an elaborately decorative pastiche of earlier styles, which makes the furniture appear to transcend history. There are three sofas: one claret red, another vivid green, and the third a more neutral color. The guest, Garcin, also notices a bronze statuette by Ferdinand Barbedienne, known for his copies of famous originals. Again, this implies that nothing in the room is authentic or real. Garcin also remarks on the absence of mirrors and observes that the only domestic tool in the room is a letter opener. He inquires of the valet about its purpose and is assured that its purpose will soon be revealed. As the valet exits, he indicates that the door will be locked behind him and that the servants’ bell does not always function.

Two women are then let into the room by the valet. After some intense conflicts and confessions, it becomes obvious to the three people that they are in Hell, locked together for eternity. They pound on the door to no avail. Committing suicide with the letter opener only intensifies their agony since they are already dead. They are their own devils. There are some intense exchanges between the characters in this tiny room, and it becomes clear that this torture will last forever. The setting, a room in Hell, is Jean-Paul Sartre’s metaphor for his belief in existentialism, the philosophy that states that outside circumstances have no power to affect human beings’ lives. Humans are responsible for their own destiny and cannot escape that responsibility.

BibliographyBradby, David. Modern French Drama 1940-1990. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Looks at Sartre’s career and locates No Exit as part of Sartre’s early period. Presents a significant view of how the dramatist came to regard his own work later in his life.Champigny, Robert. Sartre and Drama. Birmingham, Ala.: French Literature Publications, 1982. An evaluation of Sartre’s role as a dramatist that takes the beginnings and end of his career into account. An interesting and comprehensive discussion that features an expansive examination of No Exit.Cohn, Ruby. From Desire to Godot: Pocket Theater of Postwar Paris. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. An illuminating look at the original production of No Exit and how critics and audiences during the German occupation of France responded. A lively, fascinating interpretation emerges, complete with important details of subsequent productions.McCall, Dorothy. The Theatre of Jean-Paul Sartre. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969. Although somewhat dated, this analysis of how the playwright’s works relate to his views on theater still makes for highly informative reading.Sartre, Jean-Paul. Sartre on Theater. Edited by Michel Contat and Michel Rybalka. Translated by Frank Jellinek. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. In this collection of the playwright’s own writings on his own play, the editors compile some pieces that deal directly with No Exit and several others that discuss Sartre’s views on drama and theater during the time the play was composed and performed.
Categories: Places