Book Review: No Exit & The Flies

No Exit & The Flies, by Jean-Paul Sartre

I first became familiar with the writings and thinking of Sartre [1] as a high school student doing a dramatic reading of the part of Garcin in No Exit.  I happened to find this small volume, of which both plays I had already read and been familiar with, while on a trip to Powell’s before a recent concert, and once I got around to reading it it did not take me long to finish.  My interest in this collection was primarily in the first play, which has long had a fairly strong influence in my own writing about the torment of never-ending situations and difficulties in communication and coming to terms with other people, an issue that has been of rather unhappy importance in my own existence.  As it happens, I happen to working on a script of my own about a situation where three people are trapped together and I was curious if there were any translations of Sartre’s plays in Esperanto.  I have not found any so far, and it would likely be best if the translation were done by French Esperantists familiar with Sartre’s original text.  At any rate, my reading purposes here were somewhat in the nature of research into what made this play so impactful for me and how to set up my own scenes with three people trapped together in an unhappy triangle.

The contents of this book are very simple.  After a brief note from the publisher about what books of Sartre they have available (as of 1972, when this particular volume was published), the first sixty or so pages are taken up by No Exit, a one-act play where three characters (and a minor role for a diabolical valet) wrestle with the fact that due to their crimes against humanity they will be spending all eternity tormenting each other.  Garcin is a cowardly pacifist whose ideals did not stop him from tormenting his wife and making a mess of of his own life, Inez is a lesbian who enjoyed tormenting others in life and Estelle is an attractive but not particularly moral woman who rejoiced in her power over men.  The results are somewhat as you would expect.  The second play is a three act drama written during World War II that somehow managed to escape the censors, who did not see in Sartre’s drama a call to resistance against totalitarian authority, based on the story of Orestes and Electra and their murder of their mother and her adulterous lover who had previously slain their father Agamemnon.

For someone who claimed to be an atheist, Sartre wrote a lot about the afterlife.  His view of God was clearly defective, in that he saw God (as Zeus) as rejoicing in the misery of human beings and in penance.  One wonders if Sartre was reacting to the reactionary tradition of French Catholicism rather than the God of the Bible, or if he even was aware of the wide gulf that existed between a self-sacrificial God of love and the harsh and vindictive God that he instinctively rebelled against.  One can find little of hope in Sartre’s belief of no redemption, no love, and no hope.  His philosophy, instead of a brave and defiant gesture of freedom, looks as pathetic as the cowardly Garcin or the strutting Orestes, a poseur who affects to be free of superstition but winds up devoid of the love and graciousness towards God and man that makes life worth living, beyond making it possible for one to enter into salvation in the first place.  The plays are of interest, though, in representing the ways that those who claim not to believe in God remain at least on a subconscious level aware of their deliberate acts of rebellion against a God whose existence by their rebellion they concede, however unwillingly.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: No Exit & The Flies

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Barber Of Seville | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Marriage Of Figaro | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Mikado And Five Other Savoy Operas | Edge Induced Cohesion

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