Hell is other people. This is one of the most quoted sentences of Jean-Paul Sartre, French novelist and philosopher. No Exit is one of his short plays which ends with that sighing realisation: Hell is other people.
Three people arrive in hell after death: Garcin, Inez and Estelle. Garcin and Estelle pretend that they were condemned to perdition by mistake or unjustly. Inez is honest enough to admit that she was “a damned bitch” who had a homosexual affair with her cousin’s wife Florence. The cousin chose to kill himself under a tram and Florence turned on the gas killing herself and Inez.
Garcin is forced to admit that he was not the hero he pretended to be. He was a deserter in the time of war. Moreover he had been treating his wife abominably. He reached home night after night “stinking of wine and women”.
Estelle was from a poor family and hence accepted marriage with a man who was three times older than her but was rich. She had an affair with a young man with whom she had a child. She threw the child into a lake. Her lover shot himself. Now in hell Estelle is still worried about her physical appearance. Do I look beautiful? That’s her concern. She tries to seduce Garcin, the only man available to her in hell.
Garcin detests the women. He wants to be left alone. Estelle wants him while Inez wants Estelle. Lust doesn’t leave you even in hell, it seems. Nor does antipathy. After all, hell should be a meeting place of all possible vices. The worst vice is becoming an object of the other person’s gaze. The other person is constantly watching you. In hell, no one sleeps. It is an eternity of surveillance. You are being watched by the other all the time. That is hell. Garcin tries to escape from the room assigned to the three of them. He bangs on the door and rings the calling bell. There is no answer.
“We are inseparables,” says Inez. Estelle wants to push Inez out so that she can live with Garcin in that room in hell which has three sofas and no other facilities. The three condemned souls realise that they have no escape from that room. They have to live with one another. Estelle tries to kill Inez with the paper knife lying in the room. But the dead cannot be killed, you see.
“Kiss me,” Estelle tells Garcin. She says that the kiss will be the best revenge on Inez. As Garcin embraces the beautiful Estelle, Inez says, “What a lovely scene: coward Garcin holding baby killer Estelle in his manly arms!” A realisation descends on Garcin that “Hell is other people”.
All these characters are Christians for whom hell should be a place of fire and torture. But they realise that their catechism was all wrong. Devils and their tortures are not required to create hell. You are my hell and I am yours. You freeze me into a label and create my hell. I am a coward or baby killer or something like that for you. I am just a label that you give me. That label is my hell. You give me the label. You reduce me into that label. You are my hell.
A scene from the play: Source
PS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge. The previous parts are:
3. The Castle
Tomorrow: The Old Man and the Sea