A Literary Analysis of the Dramatic Irony in Hell in No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

Categories: Philosophy

Jean-Paul Sartre’s portrayal of Hell in No Exit is fueled with dramatic irony, implemented in order to amuse the reader. Sartre’s illustration of Hades is very psychological, and instead of Satan agonizing you, three roommates take to the task. They each in turn irritate and aggravate one another, thus making themselves hysterical, and thus producing dramatic irony. In addition to a door that will not open, and living in a windowless room, all three characters possess no eyelids, and thus are unable to sleep.

For relief, they conspire with one or the other, but that merely plunges them further into the inevitable distress of Hell. Throughout the play, the dramatic irony that occurs between Inez, Estelle, and Garcin enriches the meaning and effect of the play in a postive form, despite the psychological plot evokes a disturbing, aggravating scenario– which is in accordance to the typical view of Hell. This eerie play is successful in creating a positive perspective to the existentialism philosophy, and in addition stirs up a scenario in which readers learn from such provocative characters.

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Moreover, it is weighty to realize that the lessons of existentialism– such as the role of personal responsibility, the bleak position of mankind in the universe, and the fact that being stuck with boorish people is the worst punishment ever conceived — are no longer revelations. What was avant-garde a half-century ago has since been digested and regurgitated by the mainstream. The existential theme of the play may be pass to modern society, that one may not learn, or even so much as benefit from it.

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Firstly, Sartre’s strong association with the existentialism philosophy is exemplified in No Exit. It is a portrayal that life in Hell is just the same as life on Earth, perhaps the only difference being that their travesties are magnified. As the lives of Inez, Estelle, and Garcin continue in Hell, their main torment is the one thing that they were never able to achieve on Earth. So due to the consequences of their actions, they eternally suffer in Hell. This presents a contrasting view to one tenet of existentialism, something which Sartre was heavily affiliated with. If there were no ill consequences, on what grounds would people be sent to Hell? Or Heaven for that matter? This new view brings to light the absurdity of life. What did Garcin do in order to be sent to Hell for all eternity? He was just a coward who claimed to be a Pacifist. And that is something he chose to do in life; an action that relied on his free will. The dramatic irony is that he must endure the embarrassment of his mortal life all over again in his immortal life, merely for exercising his free will. Through this, Sartre not only insinuates the absurdity of life, but also the bleakness that humanity serves. By incorporating such views, he sets up a condition that horrifies the reader, yet inspires satire. At the beginning of the play, Inez asks Garcin if he is the torturer, from which Garcin replies that he no such thing. From this, Garcin is blind to realize that she is the torturer, merely mistaken for a casual human being. Such dramatic irony enriches the existentialist views inspired in the play, and it works for both lovers and haters of the philosophy. It creates the perspective that you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. This is a perspective that you’ll love if you’re an existentialist, and something you’ll hate if you’re not.

The effects of No Exit may cause a reader to oppose existentialism, but whatever the case may be, it surely provokes the reader to think about the cause and effects of life. Living a life that wasn’t meant to be lived by you completely falsifies your identity. This was Garcin’s case, and his torturer was Inez, who knew in truth that he was a coward. Inez, the cold, apathetic clerk, had Estelle as her torturer, and Estelle would only surface unrequited love. Estelle, the femme fatale, remained tortured because she could never get Garcin to love her, as he is the only man within her reach. This is the main ingredient that produces the dramatic irony throughout the play. With Inez tormenting Garcin, Garcin tormenting Estelle, and Estelle tormenting Inez, each without realization that they are each others “Satan”, a strong irony is presented. This irony affects the reader in such a way that they learn it is not people which create our madness, but more the way we feel toward them. Madness cannot root from other people’s actions, but it can root from the effects of their actions.

This is exactly the reason why believers in existentialism are apathetic to life, as they are never mad from other people’s actions, but essentially mad at their effects. Take for example, Estelle. She is a woman driven mad because of Garcin and his failure to tribute any of his masculine attention to her. Estelle is not mad from his actions, but more so at the effect of his actions on her. If she were apathetic to his apathy, all would be fine. And if Garcin were apathetic to Inez, and Inez to Estelle, Hell would be brought down, and existentialism would triumph. Sartre subtly praises the existentialism philosophy in this, as he is basically saying, we should all be apathetic and all will be fine. And looking at it from a whole, this is the final ingredient that creates the dramatic irony in the play. In conclusion, No Exit is a play that presents a positive perspective on the existentialism philosophy. Through illustrating three people going mad and incorporating the tenets of existentialism, the reader is hinted that it is better to be apathetic to the absurdity of life, rather then to get all worked up from it.


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A Literary Analysis of the Dramatic Irony in Hell in No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre. (2022, Mar 30). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-literary-analysis-of-the-dramatic-irony-in-hell-in-no-exit-by-jean-paul-sartre-essay

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