March 22, 2010
"Hell is...other people." In Sartre's existentialism view, this is quite literally true. No Exit is a play that explores the afterlife in a satirical and often humorous way, challenging us to think about the how we define ourselves and the context we build for ourselves in order to create meaning in our world.
At the outset of the play, Garcin has just arrived in the afterlife. He is conducted by a valet to his new 'accomodations,' which is something akin to a mid-level hotel room, albeit one to which he will be confined forever. Still, it's nice enough. The valet is amused by Garcin's queries as to the location of the burning pincers, the hot pokers, the other instruments of torture. Garcin is confused and not a little relieved to learn none of these are part of the environs he would inhabit for all of eternity. This would be much easier than he had anticipated--or so he thought.
Not long after, he is joined by two women, Inez and Estelle. None of the three knew each other in life, and they are left to wonder how they three came to be one another's eternal roommates. In attempting to make connections among themselves, they at first maintain the facade of innocence, feigning surprise at their fate. Soon enough, though, the ugly truth comes out, and they each see the other in all their naked and calculating guilt. They see the blackness and the cowardice in their souls, dependent upon each other to absolve them, to mirror back what they want most to see in themselves--justification.
But, as Inez says, "You are--your life, and nothing else." There is no justification, no way to defend oneself. And yet that is what they continue to do--to seek approval and affirmation from one another, all the while recognizing they have the power to withhold that affirmation from the other two, and thus keep the upper hand. It's a vicious circle, being more drawn to the lure of the power over others than to the desire to work together for a common cause, a greater good. Rather than subverting the desire to wield power over others, each becomes more fierce in attacking the character of the others, knowing what they seek is salvation in each other.
And thus they begin eternity. No end in sight, no change expected. A forever of looking for peace, and a forever of knowing it won't come. Who needs the fires of Hell? Hell is..other people.