‘No Exit’ – Enjoying Jean-Paul Sartre

‘No Exit’, a play by Jean-Paul Sartre (1946) – 46 pages

Are you intimidated by Jean-Paul Sartre? I used to be terribly intimidated by this French philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic Jean-Paul Sartre, the only person ever to turn down the Nobel Prize in Literature. I remember a long time ago trying to figure out what existentialism is. I never did figure it out, but the Ortega y Gasset sentence ‘I am myself plus my circumstances’ pretty well sums it up for me. I knew that Sartre was also a novelist, but although I was reading every other famous and deep novelist, I was too intimidated by Sartre. I figured his fiction would be way too abstract and metaphysical for me.

However when I finally did turn to Sartre’s fiction in the early 1990s, I got a pleasant surprise. His fiction was very easy to follow and was entirely engaging for me. I read the first novel ‘The Age of Reason’ of his ‘Roads to Freedom’ trilogy and was so captivated that I immediately read the other two novels ‘The Reprieve’ and ‘Troubled Sleep’. Later I would read his excellent short novel ‘Nausea’.

Never mind his philosophy; Jean-Paul Sartre wrote great fiction.

‘No Exit’ is the first play of Sartre’s that I have read. After reading the play. I watched two separate performances of the play including the 1962 movie.

‘No Exit’ takes place in Hell. In the play, Hell is a sitting room with three sofas. One man and two women know that they have arrived in Hell. They don’t know each other, but together they try to figure out what they each did while they were alive that got them sentenced to Hell. Since this is Hell, they wonder when the torturer will arrive, but the torturer never shows up. However sitting around and talking about their past lives, they get on each other’s nerves and they wind up yelling and screaming at each other. They finally figure out that they are each other’s torturers, and the play ends with the famous line “Hell is other people”.

After discovering Jean-Paul Sartre, I went on to read some of the fiction of his wife Simone de Beauvoir who was also a mighty fine novelist. Two of her works I can recommend are ‘The Mandarins’ and especially ‘When Things of the Spirit Come First’.

 

Grade:    A

 

6 responses to this post.

  1. I was the same – when I was 20 I was totally convinced I couldn’t read stuff like Sartre. of course I could, and he was quite brilliant, though I haven’t read his plays – I have that joy to come!

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi kaggsy,
      ‘No Exit’ is a quick read or a quick watch on YouTube at an hour and a half. Jean-Paul Sartre is one of my favorite novelists, and there are good reasons he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. I’ve only read The Age of Reason, which is remiss of me because I liked it, and I would like to read more of his fiction.
    I have his ‘What is Literature?’ and Sartre for Beginners by Philip Thody and Howard Read, but I haven’t got round to them either…
    I’ll keep an eye out for a performance of his plays… I’m no good at reading plays, I need them to be on stage.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. I haven’t read this since I did my MA in theatre – more years ago than I care to admit! I think The Flies is the only other one I’ve read,

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Cathy,
      An MA in theatre, that’s great. I and my wife look forward to going back to see plays after this major lockdown.
      It appears that ‘The Flies’ is Jean-Paul Sartre’s second most famous play. It will probably be the next Sartre work I will do, but so many other writers first.

      Liked by 1 person

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