Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Hell is-- other people!"

What does everyone think of No Exit?


Ehren said...

I loved it!
I though it was clever and well written and there was definitly some truth to it. I though it was interesting how all 3 of the main characters were partially damned to hell because of lust.
I liked how at first it just seemed like there were three innocuous people in a room together, but as the play progressed their true colors started showing and more was revealed about who they really were.

Mr. Plainview said...

I found No Exit fascinating. It really got my head turning. There were two lines that caught my attention:

Inez: "Well, I was what some people down there called a 'damned bitch'" (25).

Estelle: "I'm only half wicked, and half of me is down there with you, clean and bright and crystal-clear as running water..." (32).

"Down there..." So Hell must be up. It has to be if those continuing to live on earth are down there. This contradicts every image of Hell I've known to this point. Heaven is usually up, and Hell is down, right? The Inferno certainly portrayed Hell as being beneath us.
Why does Sartre place Hell above us?

Ehren said...

I highlighted those lines too!

Ok, so remember how Inez, Estelle and Garcin all had "visions" of what was going on on Earth? Maybe Sartre put them above Earth just so they could look down on the sublunary humans, almost in an omniscience sort of way, knowing what they were doing. If they were posiitoned under the people on Earth they might appear more subordinate or inferior, looking up at them.

puddlewonderful said...

I just adored this play. I feel like there's so much contained within, that I'm just beginning to gather and find. It's a devilishly clever (excuse the terrible pun), completely brilliant, modern interpretation of Hell.

Sartre seems to ascribe a lot of significance to one's legacy on Earth. I think this is an aspect of his existentialism, though I'm not familiar enough with the philosophy to be certain. But notice how upset each character becomes when they lose their last ties to Earth. The ties are their impressions left with others, their place-- and importance-- in the memories of the living, as well as perhaps their imprints on certain objects. When they lose them, they can no longer see Earth-- and they are so distressed. I should think I would be distressed too. I feel like the sole comfort of the dead-- or the damned-- is the memory of them that lingers on Earth. It's just an interesting concept I thought worthy of note. Is the measure of a man what he leaves behind, and how long it remains with him? Would Caesar, then, forever have ties to Earth and forever see Earth because of his fame, or is it a direct impression one must leave?

I have trouble believing in an afterlife-- I struggle with the idea often-- and in my doubt that there is any existence for us beyond death, I have turned to that outlet. I should think that whatever little marks I can leave on this planet, whatever memories linger in the minds of others, perhaps pages published and resting in libraries-- those should be nice to leave behind, a comfort I should like to have on my deathbed.

Mr. Plainview said...

No Exit does an amazing job of really nailing the "people are Hell" concept. I would just like to make note of the fact that Estelle, Inez and Garcin all stay even when the door is open. Garcin, who beat upon the door, refuses to leave because of Inez. She knows what cowardice is.
See, people aren't simply Hell; they keep you in Hell. People not only create the punishment, but enforce it as well.

Dean Elazab said...

I agree, having hell above earth made me think. I think that this shows that no matter how good of a life you have on earth, even hell is better than it.

puddlewonderful said...

...Dean, how can you suggest that?

Sure, there are more people on Earth, but the specific combination of people, their constant presence in Hell makes it so much more excruciating for everyone there. Everyone who is dead seems to long for life, to miss what they had-- and especially to want a chance to have changed.

tmichals said...

I haven't finished yet but so far I find this really interesting. I never imagined hell in such a way that Sartre portrays. I love the how the 3 characters figured out on their own why they have been put together in the room. Like Ehren mentioned, I think it's really interesting how they are able to look down on Earth and see what is going on.

Mr. Plainview said...

I would like to clarify what I last said. In Hell, people perform their own torture. While one is still alive, I think it is quite the opposite. I do not believe one can survive without other people. I suppose this can be taken quite literally in the sense that it requires two people to create more people. But I strongly believe one needs to care. If you care for others that's dandy. If others care for you that's dandy as well. But if you care for others and others care for you, that's really pretty damn dandy. In other words, I believe that while one is still alive, people create a sense of salvation for one another. We have a reason to keep living. Perhaps you want to spend as much time as possible with a loved one. Once you're locked in a room with two other people you don't know, though, those people are just a bothersome reminder of what you once had.

JP said...

Does anyone else question the idea that "hell is other people"? I take issue with this for a number of different reasons.

First of all, I like most people. There are certainly a lot of bad people out there, but everybody's got some good in them. And, like Brandon said, other people make my life much more tolerable and fulfilling. I find some people unpleasant, but never so much that I'd describe being around any combination of people as "hell."

Second, and somewhat paradoxically with my first contention, I'm not really bothered by what most people think of me - especially strangers. If my friends or family ever formed a negative opinion about me, then I'd be bothered, because those people support me and care about me, and I care about them too. But some random butch named Inez? I don't think I'd care. At all.

Finally, if hell is other people, then does that mean Earth, and this life, is hell? Does that mean heaven is being all alone? I don't buy either of those ideas.

What do you all think? Would you really call hell other people? Maybe people behave differently in hell?

puddlewonderful said...


I took Hell not to be all other people, but to be those specific other people who would be hell to live with-- it's all planned. Garcin isn't with his friends. He's not even with random strangers. He's with people who are going to drive him CRAZY. There are people I could name-- plenty of people-- that I think would make me completely miserable-- and to be with them forever?! Dear GOD. If you think you could tolerate most people for all eternity, John, you're a better person than I am.

In No Exit, I don't think it's just what Inez thinks of Garcin that matters. It's that she-- by knowing his reason for being in Hell, and by being rather perceptive-- knows Garcin. And when she knows him, her judgment of him is poor. It's different from a complete stranger. If a stranger came up to me and said "You're a terrible person, Michelle," I'd think nothing of it. What do they know? But people for whom you care are generally the people who know you best. If I let someone know me, the real me-- so intimately that they knew all my "sins"-- and they had a negative opinion of me, well, I'd be devastated.

Now to address that tricky generalization and your inference. I admit that it seems Sartre suggests that our life on Earth, because it constantly involves other people, is Hell. But if it were Hell, wouldn't all the other characters have hated their lives? And indeed they seem to miss it. No-- Hell isn't other people, per se. It is when you submit yourself to the judgments of others. So, John, you, not allowing yourself to be judged by others (at least, not much) are not subjected to the Hell of other people. But when Garcin, Inez, and Estelle are confined to a room together, and get to know and judge each other-- then they are in Hell. Because they all think they have done something wrong-- well, they have, really-- and they want redemption. Instead of looking within for redemption from an inner source, they are constantly drawn outward-- by each other-- to find it in each other. And so they each have powers over each other, and manipulate each other, and are constantly miserable because they cannot find strength in their own selves. Heaven is to know, in your heart of hearts, that no matter what one thinks, you are good. You are the best you could be, and you are pleased and content with yourself and all your earthly endeavours.

Ehren said...

I think a major part of people in this play being "hell" is that Garcin, Inez and Estelle all seem to access each others vulnerabilities and manipulate them. If they completely didn't know each other and didn't care they probably wouldn't be as devastated, but they get to relate to each other to some extent and sometimes even depend on each other (Garcin even says that if Inez trusts him, then he will be a good man [or something like that])but they never let each other coexist happily, they always penetrate each other personalities by using their emotional weakness

Aaron Nussdorf said...

I love the Exalstential Weltanschauung! The aceeptance of the absurdity of life and death was so present; one could almost taste it. The focus on the importance of behaving, acting and living within the momment was also quite apparent. One thing that catches my attention, in retrospect, was the total subtly of the mention of a god or diety controlling every thing. [Yes, there was the mention of "they", which could mean anything.]

I think that Sartre put the visions to torment the damned. They were all very concerned about their memories and who wouldrememeber them and how. It was a form of torture to be forgoten, to be believed a coward, or to be thought of as an infanticide-er.

I dont think Sartre places hell anywhere. I think he treats it as an omnipresent force (the concept: Hell = People). [I know that the characters say "down there" and what-not; I beleive that it was the human mind trying to give itself a scence of direction, though completely absurd.]

I think that Mr. Plainview and J.P. bring up a very interesting point. I shall pose this concept: "People are both Hell and Salvation." People certainly can bring out the best and worst within our 'soul.' Gacin says that Inez needs to find hope or acceptance of the "good" person he was, then he can be saved. So, if hell is being tortured by perpetually being the worst person you could be, then heaven must be acting as the best possible human you could be.

What I find interesting is Sartre's use of the Gaze. The Gaze is excellently put into play when Inez says that she will always watch Gacin or when she will have Estelle see the world through her eyes. What does this say about the effect that poeple have on others' actions? Is the "Gaze" a philosophical construct or an actual occurance? How frightened are we of the "Others" knowing who and what we really are?

El Paco said...

I couldn't agree with Sartre more. Unlike most of you, I definitely think that people are hell. I mean I guess it just depends on the kind of person you are. I'm more of an existential realist/cynicist and I agree with Sartre's every word, whereas John is more epicurean (correct me if I'm wrong) and disagrees with Sartre. I haven't finished reading No Exit yet, though, so my opinion is subject to change. Also, I've always found the Gaze pretty interesting. That is all.

puddlewonderful said...


I agree with you about Hell's location. "Down there" is kind of just a way people talk about locations. It may have to do with their visions-- we don't ever see the things we watch as looking up at them. We think of it as looking down-- I think.

I think you make a few errors in your wording, Nuzzy. Hell isn't being tortured by being the worst person you could be, exactly-- I feel like Sartre emphasizes the importance of life, and life only. As in The Inferno, once you're dead, it's over. Remorse won't save you-- or maybe, frozen as the person you were when you died, with no chance ever for personal growth, there is no possibility anymore for remorse or repentance. So Hell is being tortured by knowing and being constantly reminded of what an awful person you were in life, of subjecting yourself to "The Gaze" of others, only to find yourself lacking, every. single. time.

But if people are salvation, is Heaven, then, being redeemed by their Gaze? Because that's not existential-- I don't think. The Gaze, as I understood it, is always bad, because it removes your self-judgment. It keeps you from being the one and only controller of your actions and the one and only judge of your worth; it removes your independence, cripples you by forcing you to rely upon the judgment of Another. You can never truly act according only to your own standards-- and I think that's the goal of existentialism. I believe the existential ideal is self-guidance and self-reliance, working only under one's own personal conceptions of right and wrong, and being true only to one's self. The Other and his Gaze only force you from that path.

If Garcin relies upon Inez, he will never be free-- I am pretty sure Sartre solidly implies this. Garcin's best bet would be to resolve the issues with himself. In fact, when he first arrives in Hell, you will notice that he's okay with it. I mean, sure, it's no picnic, being alone in a room with bad decorating and the heat cranked up a bit too high. But he's ready to sit and think for all eternity. We all thought he was bad, but he seemed okay with who he was on Earth. Then the two others come in, and everything explodes. Suddenly he has to think about his sin, and when others know it, and judge him for it, he becomes a wreck. Then he is in Hell. Those people will never free him from his torture-- and whether he kids himself or not, I do believe the reader must realize that he will never escape, never find salvation in Inez's eyes. But you are right about Sartre's language-- he really does remind one of The Gaze excellently.

As for your questions about the Gaze-- I'll try for brevity, since I've already written too much (and I do apologize). Anyone who has ever felt ashamed by his actions once his peers discovered them would tell you The Gaze exists. Really, if we can ever remember worrying about our appearance to others, or attempting to adjust our outward appearance for others-- we have felt the Gaze. I have. As for the fear of revealing our true selves-- that's pretty personal. I'm sure it varies from person to person, but I suspect it terrifies us all-- at least a bit. How much is something I shall avoid elaborating.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

Someone asked: 'how people are measure, either by the actions or how long his/her actions remain with him?'
I think that we are measured by how we effected the world. I also believe that, if one was to change the world for the better by effecting one or a hundred persons for the better, you are a "good" person. However, the catch of this is: you can't really 'destroy' a life in the process.

JP said...

Alright, after reading Michelle's post and others, I have another question:

Is Sartre's version of hell wholly dependent on exploiting people's insecurities?

What does that mean for people who have no (or minimal) insecurities? I mean, I have my shortcomings... but for the most part I'm self-aware enough to notice my flaws and my past mistakes, accept them, and even embrace them.

Instead of using myself, though, how about a hypothetical: How would Sartre's version of hell function for someone who is the epitome of comfortable with him or herself? The way hell is portrayed in No Exit, it seems like hell would only have a truly significant effect on the exceedingly insecure.

tmichals said...

I think if someone was really comfortable with themselves then they would have no idea why they were there and be plagued by mass confusion forever and ever and ever.

bballinsupasta said...

first of all, i wish i knew french so that i could read the play in french. mr. marsalis said that it was really awesome when he read it in school. i agree with john that people have to be kind of insecure to fit in his hell. i also think that most people have some sort of insecurity, but the degree of them varies.

Manal said...

I agree with Michelle's post. I think that Sartre is trying to demonstrate how depending on one's personality, the opposite personality would drive him crazy and make his life uncomfortable because of lack of compatibility. Then, not only do people have different views regarding certain topics, but those views if different from yours would subject you to scrutiny. As a result,you would be judged by The Gaze, and you would try to redeem yourself according to the other's opinion. I think this is what hell is in Sartre's mind. That when people start living trying to impress others without thinking about their own wants. I think Sartre is against being judged and living by the gaze and therefore the people become hell because they either try to change themselves to fit in the gaze or use the gaze on others.

puddlewonderful said...

I wonder if Sartre doesn't believe that people who are okay with themselves even go to Hell? One of my understandings of existentialism (or it's applications/brands/implications) was a sense of moral relativism, that is, that you are only required to act according to your sense of morals (and here we begin to rely on what perhaps might be utter falsehood, in which case, I apologize for my misconceptions); hence, if you feel guilty for an action, it's wrong, but if you think that what you did was okay-- if you truly believe, in your heart of hearts that you did not act wrongly in any way-- then you are a moral person, because you act in accordance with your beliefs. This would be someone who denied the Gaze completely, operating under his or her own moral code.

Of course there are some complications with this-- how, for example, would anyone develop their own moral code without exterior influences? Don't we inherit a sense of morality from our parents and our childhood environment? I imagine, under Sartre's assumptions, that it is a labor to cast aside all those views and ideas imposed from birth to find our true, pure inner compass.

So, John, if we have someone, who, say, thinks he has lived a moral life his whole life (Garcin, Inez, and Estelle did not), he would go to heaven, because God-- or humanity, or whatever-- could ask nothing more of him.

I feel like this has loopholes. If we are to assume Hell is The Gaze, then what of people who sin against their own individual moral code? Which was kind of your question, I know. If it's their individual code they should only feel self-motivated remorse, but they certainly do not deserve Heaven, I don't think Sartre would say they did. Perhaps Sartre implies that we all act, innately, according to our own personal principles, and that if we feel Shame, we simply have not realized our own moral code? The more I consider it, the more I believe that is his theory. Shame comes from one source: the Gaze. Hence, we all naturally act as we believe we should-- but other people-- or perhaps, society in general-- imposes its views upon us, and makes us feel shame if our own innate ideas are not identical, and, hence, our actions are not acceptable to the Others.

My question is, what happens to those who accept the Gaze of others in life-- and the imposed morals of others-- and act upon them with perfection? My guess would be that Sartre would deem this impossible, that no one shares views with society, and that it is impossible to act consistently against one's inner moral code in conjunction with an opposing, exterior one.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

I think that the answer to your question is yes. I would suggest that there is nothing worse than having your insecurities exploited.
I think those whose Gaze effects others go to hell. Look at Inez: all she did was manipulate people through her Gaze.
Is the Gaze a construct or is a real phenominon?

joel derby said...

I really do not agree with the idea of Hell being other people. In heaven you would be with other people, am I right? That's right, I'm right. The Hell is that they are all judgmental people, they refuse to understand one another. They make no effort to become friends and accept each other despite the fact that the are stuck together for eternity with no chance of escape. They are not good people, if they could accept each other as individuals they would most likely be in Heaven. So maybe Hell is the inability to accept others and make the most of situations.

El Paco said...

I think what Sartre means is "Hell is certain people," such as George Bush, Rush Limbaugh, etc.

stephen gieger said...

I think that Satre's choice to create a torture in Hell unlike that of Dante's Inferno was an interesting comparison. Instead of creating some painful torture like that of the wrathful in Dante's, Satre employs more of the aspects of human nature in that he creates a punishment that involves people living with each other. The gaze of each other is the torture in that they all worry what each other is thinking.

stephen gieger said...

In response to Joel's comment, I do not think that Hell is the judgement of others but rather the idea within ourselves that we are constatnly being judged. The people were constantly worrying about what the others were thinking and even Garson listens to the other women talk when he claims that he is trying to ignore them. People's inability to aviod thinking about "the gaze" of others is what Satre's hell represents

Mr. Plainview said...

In all seriousness, I couldn't help but think of airport security when Estelle found her mirror had been confiscated. I'm not making any political commentary, but I've heard countless horror stories of items being confiscated at the airport. I had this image of Estelle waiting in a long, twisting line that stretched on and on. Yet the detector thingie doesn't check necessarily for metal, but objects that can ease the torture of Hell. In Estelle's case, this would be the mirror.

bballinsupasta said...

i agree with stephen's last comment. however, i also think that the gaze causes hell. i would like to share an airport security story. on the way to a tourney in april, one of my teammates had all of her hair grease and skin creams in her carry on. the tsa people threw all of it away. when we got to virginia, we had to stop at a walgreens and let her buy a ton of new products because she was freaking out about her hair.

JP said...

stephen gieger said...
In response to Joel's comment, I do not think that Hell is the judgement of others but rather the idea within ourselves that we are constatnly being judged.

I think in some ways this makes a lot of sense, and is a pretty interesting take on No Exit.

If hell is nothing but an idea - a state of mind - then does that mean no one but you can put yourself in hell?

That would make a lot of sense, given Sartre's existential belief that God's existence is irrelevant. Maybe Sartre was saying in No Exit that you only go to hell if you allow yourself to accept that state of mind - the state of being at the mercy of the judgment of others.