No Exit – Jean-Paul Satre

“You remember all we were told about the torture chambers, the fire, and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is—other people!”

No Exit is an excellent thought-provoking existentialist work by Jean-Pual Satre. Written in the format of a One-Act play, Satre examines in depth his philosophical doctrine that “Existence precedes Essence”. Satre’s doctrine rejects the notion that human beings possess any inherent identity which precedes their existence. His doctrine advocates that it is the human beings who create their own identity and values through their own consciousness. This own creation of values and identity helps determine humans the meaning of life for themselves. In other words, we humans, through our own consciousness, make free choices, and they define our identity and values instead of being the result of a previously designed model or purpose. This then is the philosophy behind “Existence precedes Essence”. However, the problem is that with freedom of choice comes responsibility. When we make our own choices, we must take responsibility for our actions deriving from our choices. And this is where most people will shy from the freedom of choice, this fear of responsibility. So, it is easy for those who shy from responsibility to let others define for them their identity and values. But whatever is said, living with one’s freedom restricted is not so easy. Having constantly to live up to the standards and values placed by others is torture. This is what Satre means when he says that “L’enfer, c’est les autres” (Hell, it is other people).

In No Exit, three people find themselves in one room, in hell. There are no “official” torturers there, no torture equipment. Each of their tormentors is one of the others. Each one sees him or her through the eyes and mind of the other since there are no mirrors in the room to see oneself. Through this allegorical setting, Satre shows that when one lets others define one’s identity, values, and standards, one has no peace of mind. One constantly lives in hell. And this hell is the other people who control you, who restrict your freedom, who shove their own values down your throat. When one is in this hell, there is NO EXIT!

No Exit is one of the profound existentialist works. There is much food for thought here. Even if you don’t agree with Satre’s doctrine, you cannot deny some of its truths. And his choice to present his deep philosophical doctrine through the medium of a play is equally commendable, for I feel it is not the easiest medium to set a philosophical work.

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.