No Exit (French: Huis Clos, pronounced [ɥi klo]) is a 1944 existentialist French play by Jean-Paul Sartre. The original title is the French equivalent of the legal term in camera, referring to a private discussion behind closed doors. The play was first performed at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in May 1944. The play begins with three characters who find themselves waiting in a mysterious room. It is a depiction of the afterlife in which three deceased characters are punished by being locked into a room together for eternity. It is the source of Sartre's especially famous phrase "L'enfer, c'est les autres" or "Hell is other people", a reference to Sartre's ideas about the look and the perpetual ontological struggle of being caused to see oneself as an object from the view of another consciousness.
Cover of the Vintage edition
|Written by||Jean-Paul Sartre|
English translations have also been performed under the titles In Camera, No Way Out, Vicious Circle, Behind Closed Doors, and Dead End.
Three damned souls, Joseph Garcin, Inèz Serrano, and Estelle Rigault, are brought to the same room in Hell and locked inside by a mysterious valet. They had all expected torture devices to punish them for eternity, but instead, find a plain room furnished in the style of the French 'Second Empire'. At first, none of them will admit the reason for their damnation: Garcin says that he was executed for being an outspoken pacifist, while Estelle insists that a mistake has been made; Inèz, however, is the only one to demand that they all stop lying to themselves and confess to their moral crimes. She refuses to believe that they have all ended up in the room by accident and soon realizes that they have been placed together to make each other miserable. She deduces that they are to be one another's torturers.
Garcin suggests that they try to leave each other alone and to be silent, but Inèz starts to sing about execution and Estelle vainly wants to find a mirror to check on her appearance. Inèz tries to seduce Estelle by offering to be her "mirror" by telling her everything she sees but ends up frightening her instead. It is soon clear that Inèz is attracted to Estelle, Estelle is attracted to Garcin, and Garcin is not attracted to either of the two women.
After arguing, they decide to confess to their crimes so they know what to expect from each other. Garcin cheated on and mistreated his wife, and was executed by firing squad for desertion; Inèz is a manipulative sadist who seduced her cousin's wife, Florence, while living with them—which drove the cousin to kill himself, and resulted in Florence asphyxiating herself and Inèz by flooding the room with gas while they slept, out of guilt—and Estelle had an affair and then killed the resulting child, prompting the child's father to commit suicide. Despite their revelations, they continue to get on each other's nerves. Garcin finally begins giving in to the lascivious Estelle's escalating attempts to seduce him, which drives Inèz crazy. Garcin is constantly interrupted by his own guilt, however, and begs Estelle to tell him he is not a coward for attempting to flee his country during wartime. While she complies, Inèz mockingly tells him that Estelle is just feigning attraction to him so that she can be with a man—any man.
This causes Garcin to abruptly attempt an escape. After his trying to open the door repeatedly, it inexplicably and suddenly opens, but he is unable to bring himself to leave, and the others remain as well. He says that he will not be saved until he can convince Inèz that he is not cowardly. She refuses, saying that he is obviously a coward, and promising to make him miserable forever. Garcin concludes that rather than torture devices or physical punishment, "hell is other people." Estelle tries to persevere in her seduction of Garcin, but he says that he cannot make love while Inèz is watching. Estelle, infuriated, picks up a paper knife and repeatedly stabs Inèz. Inèz chides Estelle, saying that they are all already dead, and even furiously stabs herself to prove that point. As Estelle begins to laugh hysterically at the idea of them being dead and trapped together forever, the others join in a prolonged fit of laughter before Garcin finally concludes, "Eh bien, continuons..." ("Well then, let's get on with it...").
Joseph Garcin – His cowardice and callousness caused his young wife to die "of grief" after his execution. He is from France and died after deserting during the invasion of France in World War II. He was unfaithful to his wife – he even recalls, without any sympathy, bringing home another woman one night, and his wife bringing them their morning coffee after hearing their engagement all night. Initially, he hates Inèz because she understands his weakness, and wants Estelle because he feels that if she treats him as a man he will become manly. However, by the end of the play he understands that because Inèz understands the meaning of cowardice and wickedness, only absolution at her hands can redeem him (if indeed redemption is possible). In a later translation and adaptation of the play by American translator Paul Bowles, Garcin is renamed Vincent Cradeau.
Inèz Serrano – Inèz is the second character to enter the room. A lesbian postal clerk, she turned a wife against her husband, twisting the wife's perception of her spouse and the subsequent murder of the man (who is Inèz' cousin). Indeed, Inèz seems to be the only character who understands the power of opinion, manipulating Estelle's and Garcin's opinions of themselves and of each other throughout the play. She is honest about the evil deeds she, Garcin, and Estelle have done. She frankly acknowledges the fact that she is a cruel person.
Estelle Rigault – Estelle is a high-society woman, who married an older man for his money and had an affair with a younger man. To her, the affair is merely an insignificant fling, but her lover becomes emotionally attached to her and she bears him a child. She drowns the child by throwing it off the balcony of a hotel into the sea, which drives her lover to commit suicide. Throughout the play she tries to get at Garcin, seeking to define herself as a woman in relation to a man. Her sins are deceit and murder (which also motivated a suicide). She lusts over "manly men", which Garcin himself strives to be.
Valet – The Valet enters the room with each character, but his only real dialogue is with Garcin. We learn little about him, except that his uncle is the head valet, and that he does not have any eyelids, which links to Garcin because Garcin's eyelids are atrophied.
The play was widely praised when it was first performed. Upon its 1946 American premiere at the Biltmore Theatre, critic Stark Young described the play as "a phenomenon of the modern theatre – played all over the continent already", in The New Republic, and wrote that "It should be seen whether you like it or not."
- In 1946, the BBC broadcast a production with Alec Guinness as Garcin, Donald Pleasence as the Valet, Betty Ann Davies as Estelle and Beatrix Lehmann as Inèz, all of whom starred in the first London stage production (see below). The translation was by Margery Gerbain and Joan Swinstead.
- Riverside Records released a 2-LP recording of the Paul Bowles translation in 1961 (RLP 7004/5) with Douglas Watson as Garcin/Cradeau, Nancy Wickwire as Inèz and Betty Field as Estelle.
- In 1968, Caedmon Records released a 2-LP recording of the Paul Bowles translation directed by Howard Sackler (TRS 327), with Donald Pleasence as Garcin/Cradeau, Glenda Jackson as Inèz and Anna Massey as Estelle.
- The first Broadway stage production, using the Paul Bowles translation, ran for three weeks in 1946 at the Biltmore Theatre and starred Claude Dauphin as Garcin, Peter Kass as the Bellboy, Ruth Ford as Estelle and Annabella as Inèz. The production was directed by John Huston.
- The first stage production in London was performed in 1946 under the title Vicious Circle at the Arts Theatre Club and starred Alec Guinness as Garcin, Donald Pleasence as the Valet, Betty Ann Davies as Estelle and Beatrix Lehmann as Inèz. The production was directed by Peter Brook and the translation was by Margery Gerbain and Joan Swinstead.
- In 2018, after raising £5000 through Kickstarter, a "Snowden"-inspired adaptation premiered at Drill Hall in Edinburgh and the Fringe.
A one-act chamber opera based on the play was created by composer Andy Vores. The production had its world premiere on April 25, 2008 at the Boston Conservatory’s Zack Theatre. Vores' opera premiered in Chicago in October 2009 by Chicago Opera Vanguard.
Talk Show from Hell, a modern parody by Jean-Noel Fenwick, was produced by the Open Fist Theatre in Los Angeles, California, in 2000. Mike Schur has compared his show The Good Place, which involves a demon trying to design a novel type of hell in which the inhabitants create one another's torments, to Sartre's play.
- Wallace Fowlie, Dionysus in Paris (New York: Meridian Books, inc., 1960), page 173.
- Danto, Arthur (1975). "Chapter 4: Shame, or, The Problem of Other Minds". Jean-Paul Sartre.
- Young, Stark. (9 December 1946). "Weaknesses". The New Republic, pp. 764.
- League, The Broadway. "No Exit – Broadway Play – Original - IBDB". ibdb.com.
- "Production of Vicious Circle - Theatricalia". theatricalia.com.
- "No Exit - Performance". Kickstarter.
- "On (and off) track".
- Foley, F. Kathleen (April 14, 2000). "In the Lively Sartre Parody 'Talk Show,' Hell Isn't Half Bad". Los Angeles Times.
- "The Good Place: The Podcast Chapter One". June 1, 2018.