The Great Philosophers’ Opinions and “No Exit”: From Socrates to Sartre
A major controversy in the philosophies of both the modern philosopher Sartre and the ancient philosopher Socrates is the argument regarding how life will unfold. Either every choice someone makes determines the next thing that may happen to that person, or his or her life is already laid out in front of him or her, so that his or her every move has been predetermined. In the play No Exit, written by Sartre, the three characters Garcin, Inez, and Estelle all end up in hell and must examine their past actions and how they lived to see why they have arrived at their current situation. Sartre and Socrates were very strict about their philosophies, and the characters in this drama both agree and disagree with said philosophies. The characters believe that every move has been laid out before them by the devil in order for them to torture each other (Sartre 2559). The philosophers, of course, would disagree with this conception, as the choices that someone makes will affect his or her life path. Although the characters may think otherwise, ultimately their actions define who they really are.
Sartre and Socrates would criticize Garcin, a journalist for a pacifist newspaper, for thinking that he is in hell by some fluke, not because of his actions. He claims that he has done nothing wrong and stood by his morals, and when he had refused to fight was shot (Sartre 2549). He in fact was not standing by his morals because, in reality, he had run away from the fighting. He acted in a cowardly manner and is now trying to put up a false front and trick his new roommates. Socrates would think that Garcin is foolish for caring what others think because, in The Trial and Death of Socrates, the philosopher himself says, “Why should we care so much for what the majority think? The most reasonable people, to whom one should pay more attention, will believe that things were done as they were done” (Plato 45). This statement shows that Socrates would believe that Garcin’s actions got him where he was, so that he should just accept the consequences and deal with his situation instead of trying to trick others into thinking that he is someone that he really isn’t; their opinions should be irrelevant. Garcin also acted deceitfully when he treated his wife very poorly. He cheated on her, made her serve him and his mistress breakfast, and then blamed her for his cheating and poor treatment of her (Sartre 2555). This behavior showed how awful of a person he was and offers another reason why he has ended up in hell. In the book Twelve Theories of Human Nature, Sartre explains that a man would be in bad faith for believing that he is something that he is not (Sartre 236). Sartre would argue that this act of his had put Garcin in bad faith for blaming others for the actions he clearly decided to do, and for not owning up to his faults even though is it obvious that he was in the wrong.
Sartre and Socrates would look poorly upon Estelle as well for thinking that her actions did not define who she was on the inside. When asked why she is in hell, she responds, “As I told you, I haven’t a notion. I rack my brain, but it’s no use” (Sartre 2557). This statement shows that, along with Garcin, she is also trying to conceal her true self so that she will not be regarded as a monster. She is also lying to herself and not being true to who she really is. After further examination, she breaks down and tells her roommates that she had murdered her baby and drove a man to kill himself. In The Twelve Theories of Human Nature, Sartre says that a person cannot have freedom if that person thinks that he or she is something that he or she is not in reality (Sartre 235). This idea relates to Estelle because she keeps telling herself that she is this sweet young girl when in reality she is a horrible person; until she believes what she really is, she loses the freedom of choice that can define who she really is. In The Trial and Death of Socrates, Socrates says that the oracles are fools because they believe that they have more knowledge than they really do (Plato 25). For her part, Estelle is a fool for thinking that she knows a greater amount of information than she does when she attempts to fool the others. Estelle eventually dies of pneumonia after all the wrongs she had done just because something did not please her (Sartre 2558). The way she acted put her in bad faith; her guilt eventually overcame and weakened her when she died of pneumonia. Indeed, the choices she made dictated the path of her life.
In No Exit, Inez is a post-office clerk who understands that the actions she has committed have influenced her life and led her to be in the situation she is currently in. She had tortured her lover after her lover’s husband had passed away. Inez made the woman so miserable that she eventually killed Inez in her sleep by leaving the gas stove on (Sartre 2556). This chain of events shows how awful a person Inez was and how her actions in her mortal life impacted how she would live the rest of eternity. Socrates says, “It is much more difficult to avoid wickedness, for it runs faster than death” (Plato 40). Socrates would criticize Inez for being so awful, torturous, and wicked towards others. Yet he would advise her to try to change her ways, since she can clearly realize that she is doing wrong and therefore is capable of change. Sartre says, “We must accept our responsibility for everything about ourselves — not just our actions, but our attitudes, emotions, and characters” (Sartre 239). On the basis of these words, Sartre would commend Inez on this aspect of his philosophy because she fully accepts what she has done, along with its consequences, and she says that she would willingly do so again. Nonetheless, he would not think that the actions she has performed to incur those consequences were very admirablem, as he himself has placed her in hell in his play.
The actions of Garcin, Estelle, and Inez dictated every new event that happened to them. Their actions affected them during their mortal lives and persist in affecting them in the afterlife, even though they believe that the devil has already planned out their demise. Throughout No Exit, the characters slowly realize that their actions truly did define who they really were, the legacies they left behind, and how they got into the predicaments they were in. The philosophies of Socrates and Sartre, as related to the characters, reveal that the belief that everything is predetermined is false and that, in a scenario such as is presented by No Exit, individuals must endure the everlasting consequences for their previous actions.
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