Literature Study GuidesNo ExitScene 5 Section 4 Summary

No Exit | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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No Exit | Scene 5, Section 4 | Summary



Inez and Estelle both see how life on Earth is proceeding without them and are tortured by the knowledge. The apartment where she lived with Florence has been rented to a couple, and Inez witnesses a man and woman in her bed, a special sexual pain to her. Yet when Garcin suggests they help each other, she senses her emptiness and admits, "I'm all dried up. I can't give and I can't receive ... A dead twig, ready for the burning." She cannot relate to Garcin and realizes in her eternal torture will be her unfulfilled desires for Estelle. Still clinging to some idea of their supporting each other since they cannot escape, Garcin says, "We're chasing after each other, round and round in a vicious circle, like the horses on a roundabout." He can feel only pity for Inez, but she says she does not want that and refuses to be "pawed" when he touches her.

Basically she wishes to be left alone with Estelle, but that cannot succeed either. Consumed by her own vision of life continuing without and after her, Estelle looks down those still living earthly lives and sees her friend Olga now involved with Peter, a former lover of Estelle's. Forced to remember his words of love for her—"my crystal girl," "my glancing stream"—Estelle now knows Olga is betraying her by revealing details of Estelle's sordid past. This is a torture she must endure, which her companions in the room cannot touch. Inez tries to get close to her again, repeating those words, but Estelle is repulsed and rejects her, as Inez has rejected Garcin, as he has rejected Estelle. When Inez makes her pass, Estelle spits in her face, saying, "You haven't any eyes," since none of the three can blink and have to "see" things eternally.


The vision the three characters have of one another is a special torment. The entangled ties binding them are becoming tighter as their desires are shown to be impossible—sources of agony rather than pleasure. It's a special torture after supposed death to have to witness others having physical or sexual pleasures similar to those that eventually brought the three to their unhappy ends. But they seem neither dead nor alive and cannot look away any more than they can blink. The strings or ropes that connect them are being played upon and tensed with every exchange of the different combinations of two or three. Like the classic love triangles of stories and songs, the structure made up of three connected wires brings impossible difficulties, without resolution. They are seeing more clearly by far than when they first arrived at the room, but the clarity is not a comfort. Rather it is an intensification of the hopeless situation they have created through false acts—bad faith—injurious to themselves and others.

As Estelle sees her friend and her former lover in their own world, she can only cry, "It's absurd ... I'm only half here, I'm only half wicked, and half of me is down there." But she cannot separate herself like that, no more than any dead person can will herself to return to Earth to correct the errors and missteps of former life, no matter how skilled a dancer and user of others she may have been.

Sartre's atheism would never permit him to believe in actual life-after-death contact, but the characters express a universal sense of longing for what cannot be, an awareness and vision after death, hence all the more reason to live correctly and truthfully while alive. Audiences should be aware there is no hint of redemption or of any existence beyond an eternity in a stiflingly hot, airless, ugly room with villainous companions. It is also interesting to note that in Sartre's "hell" the damned look downward toward Earth, reversing the traditional Christian locations of heaven above and hell below.

In this section the symbol of dance music representing attachment to the former life is highlighted and torments Estelle as she watches Olga and Peter entwined together. Estelle can make fun of them, but her commentary is heard only by Garcin and Inez, and Estelle is nothing more to the living than an object of pity, most likely false pity, as she would have shown were she in Olga's place. The symbol can be extended to represent the three characters now in the room, for they are whirling around on a kind of symbolic dance floor where missteps may cause loss of face, failure to connect, and the essence of futility in human—or formerly human—relations.

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