On No Exit
No Exit is an excellent depiction of the psychology of pure vanity, sadism and moral “relativism” in caring what others think of them and their ethics rather than them actually being moral. Most of the observations I could make I think the person of slightly above-average intelligence (the bare minimum level of intelligence for someone who would be compelled to read Jean-Paul Sartre) would be able to make quite easily; and considering the short length of the play I shan’t bother you with my long explanations of the obvious. But what I do think is worth mentioning is the importance of intellectualism and moral objectivity and true reflection and how all of these characters lack it.
Estelle is the most obvious of the three; she is an empty vessel who is totally incapable of any serious reflection or valuing anything outside of superficiality. She gives the appearance of being happy because she’s obsessed with appearances; but in actuality she’s always concerned about appeasing others or having desperate boys in her clutches to appease her. She exists only in her relations to others.
But for Inez others exist only for her relations to them. A cold hearted woman who is incapable of legitimate feelings of warmth or friendship, she masquerades like Estelle to manipulate others but instead of attaining her own superficial gratification, her needs are intimately and deeply psychological. That is she requires others to suffer for her to feel joy and marvels at the extent she can mold others and dance at her whim. But of course ultimately this results in her murder by a woman who she drove to suicide. She too requires others to be happy but because of this can never truly be content in herself for her psychology deals with a deep sense of inadequacy and rejection partly based perhaps on her too being Hedonistic but being unable to find joy herself and being not particularly beautiful but in some sense being vain.
Garcin is clearly the most decent of the three. Asides from his treatment of his wife he is an overall moral human being. I in no way find his cowardice to be a major moral fault; certainly not something worth going to Existentialist Hell for. But perhaps that’s the thing. Existentialist Hell isn’t a place one goes to for moral sins, but for lack of genuineness and strength in one’s self. Seen in the case of Garcin in his neurotic concern of others perception of him, but as a complete moral human being; not the superficial and simplistic way of Estelle or the manipulative and self-servingly sadistic way of Inez. But they all lack true moral objectivity, reflection and action regardless of others’ perception of said actions – even though Garcin claims to have thought all the things through rigorously; what he clearly has done is spent hours and hours rationalizing to himself though he has a few moments of honesty. Garcin was only capable of treating his wife terribly because she didn’t explicitly judge him morally because of it; in-fact, she showed nothing but signs of submission and tacit approval by serving coffee for him and his lover in their home.
That is why intellectualism is necessary in the majority of moral conduct. Basing ethics off of feelings and compulsions will leave most with the psychology and mentality that morality only exists only so-far as other people judge one’s true motives that all three characters attempted to hide. For this urge to conform to moral rule at-risk of being ostracized and to be esteemed highly by others is the main motive for moral action in-regards to the majority’s moral psychology. Inez is merely the inverse of this.
Reason however guides one’s hand to act impartially in the sense of seeking what is right and consequentially the best alternative – rather than Deontology which is little more-than an appeal to moral feeling which exists almost entirely out of social conditioning and negative psychological attributes; or Divine Command Theory which once again creates a system where morality only exists so far that some Sky God is watching one’s acts and is of course a large material of the immorality and lack of objectivity that humans have currently – outside of feelings, others perceptions and awareness, and self-interested in the sense that it can not only give us what we want when acting on impulse often leads to short-term pleasures if any at-all, it can guide us on what desires to act on for after-all man is a multi-faceted and conflicted being that requires some governing fulcrum to steer one’s self in the storm’s of passions and impulses lest he give into baseness or ease.
Though it is an obvious and simple point, I feel the urge to quickly state the ridiculousness of having a Hell – the worst of all possible worlds – be primarily psychological rather than physical which is far more excruciating than any torment of the soul. Though depicting an “Existentialist Hell” or a nightmarish formulation where one’s psyche is on the rack is of course something that requires and becomes the plaything of a far-greater intellect that is bored by the simple religious notion that is Hell – one half of the most simplistic backdrops which is both the most boring and used to create the greatest bores on this Earth. No Exit is an interesting depiction of how we create our own suffering and how we suffer variously and often vicariously through the expectations, conflicts of nature and interest and conditioning that make us who we are; the main flaw of No Exit being its complete lack of the latter two being a product of Sartre’s view of “radical human freedom.” It’s strange that he wishes to escape materialism and determinism on Earth but uses the latter as a prerequisite of maximal predetermined suffering in Hell. Almost as strange as a supposed Marxist believing in “radical freedom” when Marx gave the most comprehensive and absolute rebuttal of free-will of perhaps any philosopher.