Literature Study GuidesNo ExitScene 5 Section 5 Summary

No Exit | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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No Exit | Scene 5, Section 5 | Summary



Garcin and Estelle, the two characters who might share an actual physical, or sexual, connection, approach each other with longings that do not match. He is willing to have a physical relationship with her as man and woman. Although he won't love her, he can fulfill her desires if she will give him support in his own image of masculinity. Inez, enraged, cannot bear the possibility of this coupling because she and Garcin were to be helping each other, even though neither can give what the other needs. Inez swears she will not take her eyes off them, an action that will hinder their pleasures. Although Garcin wants Estelle physically, he is now tormented as well by looking down to Earth and "seeing" his former compatriots in Brazil, especially Gomez, who viewed him as a coward for fleeing into his pacifism and trying to find safety in Mexico. He believes not only Gomez and others will call him cowardly, but he will be considered as such for a long time, perhaps forever, and the truth he believes about himself never known.

He remembers his fears at his own death, and Estelle cannot ease his torment. She wants him physically but is unable to give him the proof he needs to validate himself because she cannot see his story as anything but weak. He admits his wife has died from grief and shame: "What else should she die of ... and I've carved out my place in history." Inez gloats over their failure to connect, and Garcin becomes repelled by both women, telling them, "You disgust me, both of you ... I'm through with you both. I won't let myself get bogged in your eyes."

With the belief he can still escape, Garcin tries to force the door open, realizing the physical tortures he feared when first arriving would be preferable to remaining for eternity in the room with Inez and Estelle. As he begs for release, he exclaims, "I'll put up with any torture you impose. Anything ... would be better than this agony of the mind, this creeping pain ... that never quite hurts enough." Closed at first, the door opens, and he almost falls out. Now he hesitates and decides to remain since he cannot understand why it opened. Inez is not tempted to leave and realizes "we're—inseperables!"

Estelle acts, thinking to eject Inez and remain with Garcin, but he will stay in the room with Inez because they have a special bond in recognizing each other as cowards. He thinks he can find sense through her acceptance of him for what he is and what he has done. If she has some measure of faith in him, he will remain there with her, since he feels Estelle "doesn't count. It's you who matters ... If you'll have faith in me I'm saved." Garcin tells Inez they are thus at each other's mercy and bound together. However, she realizes she cannot help him and does in fact see his actions as cowardly since he chose freely to do them. She is also at his mercy since he can have Estelle in a way she cannot. He begins embracing Estelle with passion, but Inez's glance prevents him from acting then and will always do so.

As the play ends, Garcin realizes their positions have been clear since the moment he saw the bronze statue on the mantel. No escape. There are no tortures outside of the glances and judgments of others, and no remedy for their roles. Estelle even tries to stab Inez to death to free them both from her but finally must realize this futility: they are indeed dead, as Garcin repeats, "For ever, and ever, and ever ..." They sit on their sofas, at first laughing loudly, then in silence. Garcin tells them they will have to go on where and how they are.


The final elements of the play all reinforce the sense of a relentless need to face the truth. Each individual must counteract the views and judgments of others, which may take away one's authentic being. The three characters desperately try to find a connection with another that can support them, but their needs and desires are at cross-purposes and thus negate each other. At the end of the play, Garcin realizes "a man is what he wills himself to be." This will is a solitary and lonely situation. Others will make demands of every sort, but finally the self-definition and commitment to acting with truth has to dominate. Even long-desired sex cannot free a man from the hold of an imperfect understanding and brings with it a different sense of entrapment.

As an atheist Sartre still chose to present an image of an afterlife of some sort in which there is no god, angel, or devil—only the other people with whom one shares humanity. They are never the people from one's own earthly existence, but seemingly random others who also face the challenge of being human.

Then when the door opens and an opportunity for escape seems to present itself, the challenge of interacting with others and maintaining a sense of worth causes Garcin to remain in the room, in the human condition. The famous line "Hell is other people" does not mean individuals hate or reject others and wish to be left alone. On the contrary, if others' judgments take away truth and integrity rather than provide the right kind of solidarity, individuals will live a hellish existence, a correct choice for those committed to finding meaningful action while alive. Therefore, they must continue as best as they can.

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