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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Note: The play is not divided into acts or scenes. The divisions have been created by the writer of the guide to make it easier to discuss the play.
Garcin, led by a room valet, enters a drawing room, which is decorated in Second Empire style. Garcin says that he hopes to get used to this accommodation in the course of time. The valet tells him that some do get used to the room, but many do not. Garcin then asks the valet about the location of the instruments of torture, such as racks and red-hot pincers. The valet responds that there are none. As Garcin strolls about the room, he notices that there are none of the normal conveniences; the room lacks mirrors, windows, and beds. When he asks the valet if anyone is allowed to sleep, the response is negative. Garcin comments that when he lived down there (on the earth), he used to enjoy sleeping and dreaming.
Although the setting of the play seems at first to be an ordinary room, it soon becomes obvious that the play is really set in Hell and that Garcin has just died and been sent to the underworld. Although the room is sparse, the valet tells him that many of the people in Hell get used to their rooms, but others never do.
Garcin is surprised that there are no instruments of torture in the room, but the lack of mirrors, windows, beds, and even toothbrushes will become a torture in themselves. Garcin is particularly concerned by the news that he will never again be allowed to sleep, the thing on earth that refreshes everyone. He will also be tortured by the fact that he can look down to earth and see what is going on, making him aware of what he is missing there.
In this opening scene, the sense of aloneness is very vivid. At this point in the play, Garcin does not know that he will be joined by others. He believes that his perpetual hell is living by himself without the relief of sleeping, staring out a window, or brushing his teeth. It is an existence filled with nothingness -- much like Sartre's existential view of life on earth.
It is significant to note that Sartre's view of earth and hell is not the traditional one. Not only are the obvious instruments of torture missing, hell is also pictured as being above, with earth down below.