Literature Study GuidesNo ExitScene 5 Section 1 Summary

No Exit | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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No Exit | Scene 5, Section 1 | Summary



The three characters begin giving information about themselves as Inez pays considerable attention to the attractive young Estelle, saying "I wish we'd had some flowers to welcome you with." The characters don't know how to refer to the place where they are or what their situation is now they know they have died. Apparently death is not the end of their existence on some level. They find the term "absent" as useful to describe the sense of having died but still interacting with what seems to be something like life.

Garcin is a Brazilian journalist who claims his wife is now mourning his death from 12 bullet wounds in the chest. He is able to "see" back down to how others are behaving in their earthly lives. Inez says her life ended in "perfect order" unlike his, while Estelle, who like Inez is from Paris, continues her emphasis on surface appearance by objecting to Garcin's informality as he finds the room oppressively hot and removes his jacket. Inez makes it clear she does not care about the jacket—or for men at all—and believes, unlike Estelle, the arrangement of the three in the room is someone's malicious plan, not random chance. Estelle clings to the idea they may have been socially acquainted in life but realizes Inez comes from a working-class background with no social connection between them. Without using the term dead Estelle wants to believe she is there by mistake, as there is no reason she should be caught in this situation.


As information is revealed about the characters, they have to adjust to the reality of being dead yet somehow still "knowing" about their surroundings and those they have left behind. At the same time, they must try to accept whatever reality they will face with the two others also present.

Their characters and personalities are shown totally distinct even as they face a common situation. The two Parisian women come from different social classes, spurring them to behave differently and have different expectations. Estelle is concerned with social standing and appearances. She talks snobbishly about her society friends—"Everyone went to their parties"—and is offended when Garcin removes his jacket, for she "loathe[s] men in their shirt sleeves," despite the heat in the room. The jacket symbolizes the formality of existence—the need to dress for others and play a role. By taking it off, Garcin seems ready to move in another direction, but Estelle is not, as she continues in death to put on airs about formality and proper social behavior. Inez and Garcin surely do not fit with her expectations for the company in which she finds herself. Yet there they are.

Extreme awkwardness both divides and unites them. Estelle would put a more pleasant name to their existence if she could, while her "roommates" seem more down to earth and care less about the superficial ritualistic behaviors that still seem to be on Estelle's mind. If the hints about Inez's personal over-interest in Estelle at this point are shown true, an impossible situation will arise: two women and a man all with conflicting desires and all trapped together forever. Estelle would like some explanation, as she asks, "What can be the idea behind it?" Inez, however, as a result of the long-suffering life she led, appears more realistic, believing they will have to unburden themselves with more truths and not look for anything outside themselves.

Whereas the first scenes of the play have been short and explanatory to set the scene, from here on the characters will be forced to look inside themselves and engage in longer and more complicated battles of will with their own natures as well as with those of the other two whom they cannot escape. The theme of vision—that people see themselves through others, and thus show bad faith—is clear in this section, as shown in Estelle's pretensions and need to create an appearance for others.

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