Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
The major theme of the play is man's cruelty to his fellow man, as exhibited in all three of the major characters both on earth and in Hell. Garcin was cruel to his wife, constantly cheating on her even though she loved him dearly. Estelle shows her cruelty by marrying an older man for his money and then taking a young lover; when she has his baby, she cruelly kills it by throwing it in a lake. Inez is also characterized by cruelty. As a lesbian, she used her female lovers for her own desires and purposes, controlling them and sucking the life from them.
In Hell, the three of them continue to be cruel to one another. Inez desires a relationship with Estelle, but she rejects Inez and spits in her face. Estelle has a strong desire for Garcin and constantly seduces him. Inez stands in the way by constantly watching the two of them, for she knows that Garcin will never become intimate with her eyes upon him. Garcin is also cruel. He toys with Estelle's emotions and tells her she should turn to Inez for solace. Inez is also cruel to Estelle, taunting her about her appearance; she tells her that her hair and lipstick are a mess and that she has a pimple on her face. She also refuses to comfort Garcin, but constantly reminds him that he is a coward, judged by his actions.
At the end of the play, Garcin realizes that the way that people treat one another is really what Hell is all about. He accepts that for eternity he will torture Inez and Estelle and be tortured by them.
Hypocrisy and Falsehood:
Through the characters of Garcin and Estelle, Sartre weaves the theme of hypocrisy and falsehood throughout the play. Garcin tries to pretend that he was a brave, kind, and noble man during life. In truth, he cheated on his wife and deserted the battle when the fighting became dangerous. In a similar manner, Estelle tries to pretend she was thoughtful, refined, and respectable. In truth, she married a man three times her age for his money and then took a young lover; when she gave birth to the lover's child, she killed it by throwing the baby into the lake, causing her lover to commit suicide. It is only Inez's pushing and prodding that causes them to face the truth about themselves.
Although Inez is equally as evil as Garcin and Estelle, Sartre is less critical of her. At least she is truthful about her past and states that she lived a damned existence on earth. As a lesbian, she admits that she sucked the life out of her female lovers; but even Inez has some hypocrisy in her. She states that she will not miss Florence, her last lover, when it is obvious that she does; she also says that her life was in order, which is quite questionable considering how she lived. It is Garcin, however, who suffers most from his hypocrisy. He wanted to be a brave man of principles, but in the face of danger, he could not do it. He feels ashamed over his cowardice and hates that the people back on earth are talking about his weakness. But in Hell, he still lies to himself and says he can be saved if only Inez will believe he was not a coward; of course, since she is not basically a hypocrite, she will not lie to Garcin, like Estelle. She tells him he is a coward, judged by his action. Garcin does not listen to her and continues to believe that his desertion was a single aberration in his personality; he is still living a falsehood as he tries to convince himself he is brave.
As an existentialist, Sartre is very critical of hypocrisy. He feels that man has the freedom to become whatever he wants and is then defined by his choice. By denying one's existence, which hypocrisy does, a person damns himself and lives a life of existential nothingness. Life is absurd and has no meaning, as proven by Garcin, Inez, and Estelle. Given the opportunity to escape from Hell, they do not leave through the open door, for their life on earth was really no less hell than their existence in the underworld.