4.5 out of 5 (5 ratings)


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  • ISBN: 9780679725169



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Review by

Every play was magnificent. Gripping, psychologically scathing, it breathes life.

Review by

{Some Spoilers below}While Jean Paul Sartre is probably better known as an existentialist philosopher, his reputation as a playwright and novelist was very good during his lifetime (he refused the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964). "No Exit" is his most famous play, and justifiably so. It is a classic one-act play that places three people in "Hell" together. As the action develops, it becomes clear that their torments are not the fire and brimstone of medieval imagining. Rather, they are tormented by each other, or as Sartre states succinctly, "Hell is--other people." Sartre uses the conventions of the stage perfectly as he strands these people to be tormented by--and to torment--the other characters.The other plays in the collection are not as strong. "The Flies," Sartre's first play, is a retelling of the Oresteia. Instead of the fatalism of Aeschylus, Sartre gives us the existential struggles of characters working out their fate. Each character struggles with concepts of freedom as the net of their past draws them inexorably toward a tragic end. "Dirty Hands" takes place in an imaginary European country during World War II. A young man in the communist party desires responsibility, but once he is given an assignment (to assassinate a rival in the party), he struggles to accomplish the goal. The main action is a long flashback which dramatizes his struggles. The play is bracketed by the character in the present ruminating on his past. The bracketing is too philosophical for my taste; I prefer the dramatization that marks the middle acts. Finally, "The Respectful Prostitute" is an attack on American racism. It is the least successful of the plays, though it is fascinating to see the response of a non-American to the segregation that was present in U.S. society in the 1940s.I highly recommend "No Exit" to everyone. The other plays may be of interest to those with a deep interest in the stage or in Sartre. While the other plays do not measure up to "No Exit," they do provide interesting and thought-provoking reading.

Review by

No Exit is one of my all-time fav's but I don't recall the other plays. No Exit is the ultimate one act. possibly best ever written.

Review by
Hell is--other people!The premise of No Exit is simple to tell--three nogoodniks have died and gone to hell, locked together in a drawing-room to annoy each other for all eternity. Reduces the need for floggers and flayers, you know. Garcin, Inez, and Estelle slowly reveal their history, why they have come to this place and how each is exquisitely suited to torture the other. This eternal triangle is not quite equilateral, though. All is not well in this part of hell.Garcin is the one who breaks the symmetry. He tries to avoid the role of torturer and fosters the hope that they can resolve their situation. He suggests that each should engage in self-examination, "that way we--we'll work out our salvation. Looking into ourselves." When that fails he suggests mutual examination of their sins, "if we bring our specters into the open, it may save us from disaster." This also fails, as Inez and Estelle embrace their hellish roles by being themselves. The two women, after all, are each complicit in murder/suicide, and are beyond hope. Garcin's transgressions are of another sort altogether. More about that below.Three people tucked away for eternity--clever premise, well constructed character development and plot execution, but why do we care? It's not real, doesn't conform to any collective notion of an afterlife. What does strike us as real, though, and is closer to us than the two murderers, is Garcin. He considers his mistreatment of his wife the reason for consignment to hell, but says, "I regret nothing." It is not this issue that he needs to resolve. Rather, he agonizes over his cowardice, his desertion in time of war, for which he was shot. He cringes when he hears his colleagues denigrate him. He seeks and receives vindication from Estelle, then is made to understand by Inez that Estelle will say anything to assuage him. It is Inez who understands him completely, who knows his cowardice from exploring the depths of her own soul. It is she who must vindicate Garcin, else he suffer for eternity. When the door to the room opens unexpectedly, Garcin cannot leave while Inez remains behind, "gloating over [his] defeat." Garcin is, using Sartre's terminology, both a being-for-itself (sentient) and a being-for-others (social). But in Garcin the being-for-others dominates, so that his life is totally controlled by what others think of him. Hence his extreme concern about his reputation as coward. Hence his treatment of his wife, whom he rescued from the gutter to serve as his vanity mirror. Garcin realizes that she, like Estelle, reflects not the truth, but Garcin as she needs to see him. Garcin punishes her either for her to become a faithful mirror or because she cannot.Garcin is in hell, but we the living face his issue also. We are necessarily socially connected, we are a being-for-others, but we must be equally a being-for-itself. As a being-for-others we can see our own face only as reflected in the faces of others. As a being-for-itself we need to see our own independent image of ourselves--so that we can become the being that we imagine.For Garcin, "no exit" may be too pessimistic, the original "huis clos" possibly more apt. Garcin could not escape the room when the door opened for him. Perhaps he still can if he realizes that his fate is not in Inez's hands, but in his own, by discounting her opinion and the opinion of others in favor of his own. Or, this being hell, perhaps not. But for us who are not yet arrived, the door is open to us, so to find ourselves on the other side, to see ourselves not as others see us.
Review by

Four masterpieces from one of the best known existentialist philosophers. Starting with No Exit is a great way to get into this collection; it is a great examination of how we interact with, and utimately torture, other people simply by the ordinary passage of our lives. To think of eternity unable to get away from the other people, even for a while, that is truly hell. He follows this with a reworking of the Electra/Orestes story, a long play about a dissident during the war and the moral decisions he's faced with, and ends up with a play about a young woman who is faced with her own moral dilemma, where she holds the fate of two men in her hands, one a "respected, worthwhile" member of the small community, the other merely a "nigger" - she is tormented as she tries to make the right decision, one that will be moral, honest, and fair. If she fails, her own self-worth will be at stake. Throughout all of it, the core of existentialist philosophy weaves and scampers, but the plays are not simply dry philsophical pieces. They are stories, with characters that catch you and bring you along. Yes, art can have a message (it always does) and that message does not need to be preachy, dull, or even obvious. People unfamiliar with existentialism will still be able to enjoy exploring the moral questions raised in these plays, and exploring the worlds he creates, and the characters he peoples them with.