In his theory of existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre discusses new ideas of human responsibility and freedom. The author’s thoughts on existentialism find their reflection in most of his works. A famous one act play written by Sartre and entitled No Exit is not an exception. After reading Sartre’s No Exit, one can see the way the author expresses his ideas on existentialism in it. The play also provides an insight into the issue of how existential ideas of Sartre developed within the cultural circumstances in which he lived. The setting of the play and the range of basic character types demonstrate the applicability of the drama’s themes to reality. In this play, the major principles of Sartre’s philosophy are depicted through three main characters of the drama and the changes that they experience as the events in the play develop.
The analyzed drama reveals a lot of Sartre’s notions on existentialism, including the issue of freedom. The play shows that other people can criticize an individual, classify him or her in accordance with their subjective opinion, withhold such an essential feeling as love from him/her, and even murder him/her. The so-called ‘others’ tend to deprive a person of the power to live a life as he/she wishes. However, one of the main notions in Sartrean existentialism states that these ‘robbers’ cannot take an individual’s freedom. Such constant confrontations from the meaningless and vast universe make an individual feel some sort of anxiety, which Sartre calls ‘nausea.’ In such a case, freedom is a specific and powerful tool that a human can use in order to combat ‘nausea.’ According to Sartre, any individual must have freedom of action, choice, and thought (O´Neil, 2004). Although the important point is that making a choice and acting according to it, an individual has no way of changing it. The choice made becomes an essential part of his/her life and has its reflection in the life of a person until his/her last breath.
In No Exit, this idea appears at its extreme and shows readers that considering his/her past becomes a form of Hell for a human. As long as an individual is alive, he/she is free to rearrange his/her life anytime. However, when he/she is dead, all the events that occurred to him/her and all the actions that he/she did throughout his/her life become unchangeable facts. The atmosphere in the drama No Exit is the same as the one mentioned above. All three characters of the play are dead and censured to their unavoidable past actions and their consequences. The play shows one of the key ideas of Sartrean existentialism, revealing what happens when a person does not make the right choice.
The idea of total freedom in the play leads readers to the next existential notion by Sartre. In his existential thoughts, Sartre frequently uses the phrase ‘bad faith,’ which means self-deception. Since a human is completely free to act as he/she wishes, he/she is also absolutely responsible for his/her actions and their consequences. Because of the difficulty in making the right choice and possible consequences of wrong choices, people are scared of such kind of freedom. Therefore, they start deceiving themselves, pretending that they do not have this freedom. As a result, people enter the above mentioned ‘bad faith.’ In existential philosophy, ‘bad faith’ is of various forms (O´Neil, 2004). However, in No Exit, Sartre presents it as human blindness to their actions and the refusal to admit their own freedom of actions, thoughts, and choices. As one can see, in the analyzed drama, people deceive themselves and finally enter the ‘bad faith.’
Another existential idea that is revealed in the play No Exit sustains that mental sorrow is much worse than physical pain (Sartre, 2015). Although the play focuses on three characters that are in Hell, there is no flame, physical tortures, or other sadistic devices. The reason is that Hell is represented by other people who bring mental sufferings to these three individuals. In this emotional hell, tortures are presented in a variety of ways, starting from mutual mockery, baiting, prodding, and finishing with a more philosophical kind of torment, which involves humiliating an individual, thus reducing his or her status to the state of an object.
In this play, the look or glance of other people has the greatest power over a human. As a result of such a great power in a simple glance, the presence of other people becomes extremely unbearable for an individual since it incredibly reduces the significance of a person. Therefore, the author makes eyes the main weapon of the play, hinting that looks as well as judgments are bullets that cause severe pain when they reach their target. In No Exit, the ability to classify and judge other people is the main and most effective way to possess and control an individual.
Sartre states that existence goes before the essence (Sartre, 2015). No Exit is factually the picture of this saying. The play shows that humans first exist having no predetermined expectations, ideals, or purpose that they long for. People define their essence much later, identifying who they are by making choices and actions. People create their self each time when they make choices consciously, while the essence as well as beliefs is dictated by actions.
One of the main characters in the play No Exit, Joseph Garcin, has chosen bravery as his system of values (Sartre, 2015). Garcin calls himself a courageous person and dreams about some occasion that will help him show his courage. Assuming he is brave, Joseph is sure that he has proven his courageous spirit. However, in accordance with one of the existential ideas, a system of values can exist only in case an individual chooses it. In turn, the choice cannot be done by passing the stage of acting and basing only on the wish of an individual. Consequently, due to the fact that Joseph has not done any courageous act, he cannot consider himself a courageous man.
Finally, the famous conclusion of Sartre’s one act play No Exit also shows existential influence. The conclusion of the drama states that “Hell is other people” (Sartre, 2015). The existentialist perception explains that other people represent hell, and the main reason for such a statement takes its roots in all the emotional pain that other people can cause to an individual due to their subjective opinions. Being in one room, two people always fight over the issue of who is an object and who is a subject between them since, undoubtedly, both of them long to be a subject. The main message of the play is that in the presence of other people, the subjectivity and freedom of an individual will be always under pressure and attacks. This very threat and attacks are hell that consists of other people.
Taking into consideration the above conducted analysis of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit, one can state that this drama is the embodiment of existential ideas. The play reveals such concepts as freedom and responsibility for it, ‘bad faith’ and people deceiving themselves, mental sufferings and their crucial power in comparison to physical pain, the power of other people’s glances over an individual, existence and essence, actions and a system of values, and finally, hell itself and people who it is comprised of. As one can see, this play is of a deep sense and perfectly shows existential points of view. In a rather specific manner, the author maturely manages to transfer his message to readers and reveal the world of existentialism with its core ideas and points of view.