No Exit | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Course Hero. "No Exit Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Feb. 2018. Web. 3 Oct. 2023. <>.

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Course Hero. "No Exit Study Guide." February 13, 2018. Accessed October 3, 2023.


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No Exit | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The French edition as published in 1944 is all in one act with divisions into five staged parts. The first four are brief, corresponding to the introduction of the three characters, one by one, and their initial contact. As they begin to reveal truths about themselves, the remaining 80 percent of the play moves in one unbroken act to the end.


No Exit begins with a uniformed "valet" ushering three characters into a room in an unnamed and unspecified location. A young to middle-aged man, Joseph Garcin, is the first in and sees the oppressive, airless room as an outdated and ugly. Old-fashioned, heavy furniture bothers him, but the valet offers no choice. Garcin realizes the basic routines of earthly existence will cease here. The valet then brings in the next inhabitants: two women who also arrive uncomprehendingly. Inez Serrano is looking for her former companion "Florence." Estelle Rigault, younger and more glamorous, seems determined to appear at her best and demonstrates airs of superiority.

Each character has a sofa to sit on and look at the others. The hot, overly bright room has no windows or doors aside from the locked one through which the valet has disappeared. As the three characters begin to jockey for position and dominance, Garcin becomes passive and leaves the women to reveal bits of truth about themselves. Clearly Inez, a lesbian, is aggressively interested in Estelle, who fusses over her appearance with an eye toward attracting Garcin. The three are aware of having died from illness or accident and in Garcin's case by firing squad, but their existences are not over because they have some consciousness of who they are, and the conditions of those they left behind torment them.

Not yet accepting her fate, Estelle would like to believe she is there by error, but Inez clearly states they must have been guilty of terrible acts and are being punished by having to face each other without a break in time or place. She continues to pursue Estelle, who feels bereft of a mirror—there are none in hell. Inez then offers her eyes as a physical mirror so Estelle can see her reflection and have continual proof of her attractiveness, but the attention repulses Estelle, who continues to angle for notice from Garcin.

The Characters' Stories

Garcin leads the women to reveal details they have been suppressing because they have held false views of themselves. Garcin first reveals how he betrayed his wife, citing cruelty and infidelity as the reasons he is damned to hell. Inez narrates her story: a triangle composed of her, her male cousin, and his wife Florence whom Inez seduced away from her husband. After his accidental death, the two women lived unhappily together until guilt-ridden Florence gassed them both. Meanwhile Estelle confesses she betrayed her older, rich husband with a lover and after an unwanted pregnancy murdered the baby. Seeing his infant daughter killed, Roger, Estelle's distraught lover, shot himself in the face. Estelle then died of pneumonia. Garcin finally gives the most accurate details about his own torment. In addition to treating his wife miserably, he was accused of cowardice when he tried to avoid fighting for his country by fleeing to Mexico, was caught, and then shot for cowardice by a firing squad.

The characters have the ability to see what those they left behind, and still alive, are doing, and their behavior angers Garcin and Estelle particularly. Inez, on the other hand, claims complete indifference.

Eternal Damnation

As the stories of their earthly lives unfold, the three characters continue to interact painfully with one another. Garcin is ready to engage physically with Estelle and fulfill their needs, but Inez in her frustration will never permit it, tormenting them with her penetrating and judgmental gaze. She has suffered more than the other two during her unhappy life. Garcin looks to Inez for a higher level of understanding of his situation, proof he should not be called cowardly, but she cannot give him this validation since she has no regard for him as a man. Each realizes the ties binding them pull on one another endlessly. They can never escape the others, nor can they provide what the others need. They come to see they all have all been false to themselves and those around them in life.

Thus when the door mysteriously opens—allowing an opportunity for escape—no one will leave since they know nothing of what is outside for them. Further they need validation for all their acts, and because they do not cooperate they cannot come to any kind of agreement. They feel only it is somehow hotter, or worse, outside, yet there is no religious sense of a hell other than the hell of their own making.

With unresolvable tension between the women, Estelle, in a rage, tries to stab, Inez who she believes is inhibiting her from a relationship with Garcin. However, there is no wound—no blood, nothing—because Inez, like the others, is already dead. Estelle's frustrated act in fact amuses Inez who laughs loudly. Garcin brings the action to an end by telling the women they all will have to go on as best as they can, given how and where they are.

No Exit Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 The characters meet each other in their room in hell.

Rising Action

2 Garcin describes how he betrayed his wife.

3 Inez speaks of her seduction of Florence and their deaths.

4 Estelle admits to betrayal and child murder.

5 Estelle tries to seduce Garcin, angering Inez.

6 Garcin says his wartime pacifism was called cowardice.

7 Inez blocks Garcin's attempt to seduce Estelle.

8 Estelle refuses to reassure Garcin of his bravery.


9 Cursing both women, Garcin won't leave when the door opens.

Falling Action

10 Estelle tries to stab Inez, both of whom are already dead.

11 Inez cannot reassure Garcin he is not a coward.


12 All characters realize their doomed interdependency and fate.

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