Sheung Yee Tang
Professor L. Janakos
February 1, 2009
Condemned to be Free
“L'enfer, c'est les autres. (Hell is other people).” Should one’s perception of his existence be based upon others? And if so, how will a human let these exterior perceptions affect his own judgment of himself? Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s renowned play No Exit examines these questions and offers a unique view that may alleviate or aggravate one’s anguish with regards to those puzzling questions. No Exit was written in 1944 during World War II in Sartre’s attempt to understand his and others’ existence in a time of despair and desperation. The play is set in a Second Empire style furnished room in hell. Three main characters, Garcin, Inez, and Estelle, are presented in the form of dialogue and each convey different characteristics that encompass the definition of Sartre’s view of existentialism. One of the fundamental concepts of existentialism is the freedom to choose. However, having this freedom to choose brings upon infinite responsibility and burden because one’s choice is in a sense “fashioning an image of humanity” (Warburton), which means that we make this certain choice because we think that this is what a human being should be like. According to Sartre, one can even choose what he feels and what he wants to want. If one allows another’s perception to overshadow his own perception and choices, then this person is “condemned to be free” because he has allowed another to create his own essence and define his existence. In No Exit, Inez is the only person closest to freedom (as defined by existentialism) with strong faith in her choices, while Garcin and Estelle both attempt to escape from freedom in fear of the burden of freedom.
To understand the characters, one must first understand the fundamentals of existentialism. Sartre, an atheist, believes in the centerfold concept of existentialism: “Existence precedes essence” (Stanford Encyclopedia). A...