No Exit is an existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre, originally published in French in 1944 as Huis clos. English translations have also been performed under the titles In Camera, No Way Out, and Dead End. The play features only four characters (one of whom, the Valet, appears for only a very limited time), and one set. No Exit is the source of the famous Sartrean maxim, "Hell is other people". It has been adapted in cinema many times, notably in 1954 by Jacqueline Audry.
The play begins with a Valet leading a man named Garcin into a room that the audience soon realizes is in hell (many people believe that hell is portrayed as a gigantic hotel because of the "rooms and passages" mentioned in the play). The room has no windows, no mirrors, and only one door. Eventually Garcin is joined by a woman (Inès), and then another (Estelle). After their entry, the Valet leaves and the door is shut and locked. All expect to be tortured, but no torturer arrives. Instead, they realize they are there to torture each other, which they do effectively, by probing each other's sins, desires, and unpleasant memories. At first, the three see events concerning them that are happening on earth, though they can only observe and listen, but eventually (as their connection to Earth dwindles and the living move on) they are left with only their own thoughts and the company of the other two. Near the end of the play, Garcin demands he be let out; at his words the door flies open, but he and the others refuse to leave.
Garcin – Garcin is the first character to whom the audience is introduced. He is a Brazilian whose sins are cowardice (he deserted the army at the start of World War II) and callousness (he blatantly cheated on his wife to the degree that he even brings his affairs home and gets her to make them breakfast, showing no sympathy). At the start of the play, he hates Inès because she understands his weakness, and lusts after Estelle because he feels that if she treats him as a man he will become manly. However, by the end of the play he understands that because Inès understands the meaning of cowardice and wickedness, only absolution at her hands can redeem him (if indeed redemption is possible for him). He is constantly waiting for his physical torture to come, but this itself is one of the tortures. He is condemned to wish for pain, which he feels will redeem his cowardly actions.
Inès – Inès is the second character to enter the room. A lesbian, her sin is turning a wife against her husband, twisting her perception of her spouse. Indeed, Inès seems to be the only character who understands the power of opinion, throughout the play manipulating Estelle's and Garcin's opinions of themselves and of each other. She is the only character who is honest about the evil deeds she, Garcin, and Estelle have done and, without her, life in Hell would not be torture.
Estelle – Estelle is a "society woman", a blonde who married her husband for his money and deceived him with a younger man. Throughout the play she makes advances towards Garcin, seeking to define herself as a woman (perhaps her only role) through a man. Her sins are deceit and her role in the death of the baby she conceived with her young lover, which then drove her lover to suicide. In the end, she loses the struggle for Garcin to Inès.
Valet – The Valet enters the room with all three characters, but his only real dialogue comes with Garcin. It is never made clear in the play whether the Valet has chosen his job, was born into it, or if this is his punishment. We do learn that his Uncle is the head valet. Several interpretations can be made as to the purpose of Valet's character.
The theme is commonly thought to reside in one line near the end of the play: pas besoin de gril: l'enfer, c'est les autres – You don't need red-hot pokers: Hell is—other people! but, rather is an ironic statement coming from Garcin, someone who isn't the most adept at offering a clear understanding of things, and thus meant to be ironic. Rather the message is that hell lies within, in the arbitrary values ascribed to things that are on a crash course ending inevitably in suffering. "Hell is other people" has since entered popular culture to the point where it is a line known to those who have never heard of No Exit.
The last line of the play is also a topic for discussion: Garcin, after refusing to leave the room, says Eh bien, continuons..., most often translated literally "Well, then, let's get on with it...", but others have suggested that this leaves the dark humour of the French untranslated, and perhaps a better cultural equivalent is a darkly ironic "All right, let's get it over with..." (ironic because, since Hell is forever, it will never be "over with.")