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Sartre’s most popular play is undoubtedly the one-act drama No Exit, which is a discussion of such familiar negative existentialist themes as bad faith, self-destruction, and the impossibility of interpersonal relationships. It is in this play that Sartre’s famous line, “Hell is other people,” occurs. Although many nineteenth century philosophers developed the concepts of existentialism, it was Sartre who popularized it. His one act play, Huis Clos (Closed Doors) or No Exit, first produced in Paris in May, 1944, is the clearest example and metaphor for this philosophy.
There are only four characters: the Valet, Garcin, Estelle, and Inez and the entire play takes place in a drawing room, Second Empire style, with a massive bronze ornament on the mantelpiece.Sartre begins his philosophy with the assertion that existence precedes essence. It contains three basic ideas:
Existence is the process wherein a thing becomes what it will be. It is through the process of existence that a person defines himself.
Humans are “condemned to be free” that is, without the existence of an absolute god or a pre-existing universal definition, they are free to define themselves through their actions and choices. Such freedom, which is at the heart of human existence carries with it the burden of personal responsibility, because of this Sartre refers to it as a condemnation. Freedom is not freedom from, but is, freedom for.Existence is a process of becoming that projects into the future. One’s existence is always a projection of possibilities to choose from.
Thus, freedom is always a projection of future possibilities for possible action. Nothingness lies at the heart of being and creates a yearning for fulfillment, nothingness is the origin of freedom and the origin of human existence. The lack of a pre-determined essence is the nothingness at the heart of being that drives the human to seek to define himself, such drive for the fulfillment of definition being the motor within existence. Man defines himself by the choices he has made. As there is no pre determined essence every act of projection and choice is a defining and hence, essential, act.The responsibility for one’s being and definition are one’s responsibility. To be is to be responsible for what one is. This is the theme of No Exit.
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