Summary and Analysis
Garcin wonders if Estelle thinks that he was a coward for being a pacifist during the war. He wonders if he fled ("bolted" toward Mexico) because he was against war or because he was afraid. He decided, after he was caught, that his death would finally settle the matter, but then he admits that he faced even that moment rather badly. Again, Garcin hears his former colleagues at the newspaper talking about him: Even "the others" from his lifetime are a torture to him, and he cannot intervene in their conversations to defend himself. Additionally, he is not comforted by the idea that these men will eventually die because other men will replace them and perpetuate the belief that Garcin was a coward. His fate is in their hands. Can Estelle love him? Estelle says that she can love him, but only for his body: He has a manly chin, mouth, voice, and head of hair. He does not look like a coward. This overjoys him, and he prepares to leave Hell with her until they hear a shrill laugh: It is Inez, who prevents them from escaping. Garcin tries to leave through the door: He is ready to put up with red-hot tongs and molten lead — whatever torture "they" wish to subject him to, but he must leave this agony of mind. The door opens, and he is surprised; in fact, he is so stunned that he decides not to pass through it. Estelle tries pushing Inez through the door so she can have Garcin to herself, but he tells her to desist, that it's because of Inez that he is staying in the room. This catches Inez off-guard; he says that Inez knows what it's like to be a coward. He no longer hears the voices of people on earth, and he realizes that Inez is the same kind of person as he: It is she whom he must convince that he is not a coward. Estelle does not count: She is interested only in exterior appearances. He says to Inez: "If you'll have faith in me I'm saved." He spent his life trying to be a man, and Inez suggests that it was only a dream. He retorts that he made his choice deliberately, and that a man is what he wills himself to be. Inez enjoys her status as Garcin's torturer, and she taunts him with her evaluation of him as a coward.
Suddenly, Estelle yells at Garcin to kiss her, thereby revenging himself on Inez. As he bends over Estelle, Inez cries out, knowing that while Garcin is at her mercy, she is also at his. Garcin reaches the climactic conclusion that "Hell is — other people!" Estelle is furious that Inez has interrupted her attempt at lovemaking, so she picks up a paper-knife and stabs Inez several times. Inez laughs as she's being stabbed; she knows no harm can come to her — she is already dead. All three of them laugh at their ridiculous situation. Then they sit on the sofas, pause for a moment, and finally decide to "get on with it."
This last section is a small capsule of the ideas contained throughout the play: Other people are our torture, and once a person is dead, there is nothing to be done about changing other, living people's attitudes. Sartre stresses the negative, ugly, cold side of this Hell: It is not something to look forward to, and, he implies, it can be avoided by following his system. The anxiety or hell of life (that is, "nausea") can be combated through freedom of choice, action, responsibility, and a life in "good faith." In No Exit, Sartre focuses on the negative, seamy aspects of human emotions, eliminating the positive, fulfilling, and happiness-producing effects. There is no place in his Hell for fun; it is a bleak, remote, and isolated place of horror. Good intentions count for nothing (Inez says: "It's what one does . . . that shows the stuff one's made of"), and unless man is prepared to act decisively, Sartre has nothing but scorn for him. It is this kind of man, he asserts, who is at the mercy of other people's opinions — the hell and the torture of "the others." This is the principal message of the play. In a historical sense, Hell is symbolic of France during World War II and "the others" represent the Nazis.