L’Enfer C’est Les Autres

Huis Clos is one of my favorite plays.  When I lived in Paris I took a theater class which forced me to read great French literature from all time periods.  The 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries were all thoroughly covered.  I went to the theater to see a different play at least once a week and saw les grands oeuvres at La Comédie Française and host of other theaters across Paris.

Huis Clos, or No Exit, is an existentialist one-act play with only 4 characters:  Joseph Garcin (the callous, cowardly deserter), Inès Serrano (the cruel lesbian postal clerk), Estelle Rigault (the lustful, deceitful murderess) and the Valet (essentially the Gatekeeper).  The central idea of existentialism is that existence precedes essence.  According to Jean-Paul Sartre, Man defines himself – it’s his choice (through his acts) who he becomes.  Sartre says “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards.”

Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche were two of the first philosophers who were considered fundamental to this movement, yet never used the actual word.  Kafka, Dostoevsky, Camus and Simone De Beauvoir along with Sartre – all existentialists in varying forms.

“L’enfer c’est les autres” is by far my favorite Sartrean quote.  In English it means “Hell is other people”.  The older I get, the more I can relate to it.  Does it mean that people make your life hell?  Does it mean that Hell is what YOU make it?  Through you acts and character during your lifetime.  Does it mean that other people are YOUR mirrors who expose all your flaws and sins and keep you aware of what you have done?

Imagine being stuck in Hell for an eternity with 3 people who make you insane.  Three companions (for lack of a better word) who pick at you and remind you who you are or were.  You are locked into a sadomasochistic circle forever.  Behind closed doors you cannot sleep.  You cannot sit comfortably.  You cannot have any peace.

But isn’t that what Hell is supposed to be?

What’s your Hell?


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