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Friday, May 03, 2013

On being a moral agent

"Garcin turns out to have the worst case of "bad faith" of all three characters in this section. He can't decide on his own that he is not coward, but will only believe it if Estelle says so herself. Even though he later says that he made his choice "deliberately" and that a man is what he "wills himself to be," Garcin wearily explains that he can't decide for himself if he is a coward or not. He says that he is unsure of his motives and that he has been unable to be honest with himself about why he ran for the border. He also obsesses about the people who are judging him back on earth. He claims that he has left his "fate in their hands."

This classic example of bad faith stems from Garcin's complete inability to accept responsibility for is actions. Rather than acknowledge his freedom to choose his own personality, Garcin surrenders his free will to other people. He becomes a "being-in-itself," whose essence is determined by the look of the "other." This is why he can't leave when the door opens. He can't imagine existing on his own, knowing that Inez will be judging him and that he won't know what she is saying. Just like Estelle's inability to feel that she exists without seeing herself in a mirror, Garcin is unable to exist without other people defining his essence for him.

Garcin also remains a prisoner of his past. He keeps "listening" to what people are saying about him rather than listening to his own voice in the present. Even when he attempts to convince Inez that he is not a coward in the present, he continually justifies his actions in the past. For instance, he suggests that he died "too soon" and "wasn't allowed time" to act, forgetting that he will be stuck in hell for eternity. Sartre wrote that the responsibility for one's freedom was so overwhelming that we are "condemned to be free," a statement literally played out by Garcin's inability to leave the room. Unable to exist without people judging his past, Garcin condemns himself to remain in the eternal present of the room.

It is fitting that Sartre originally entitled the play The Others. Suffering under the German occupation, Sartre wrote that he began to understand that Evil was just as absolute and independent as Good in society. By simply placing three individuals in the same room, Sartre not only suggests that hell naturally exists on earth but that "hell is other people." As Garcin discovers, there is no need for physical torture: the gaze of the "other" reduces and "devours" his individuality. He is unable to do anything, even kiss Estelle, when Inez is watching. Ignoring his innate freedom and responsibility, Garcin thinks Inez's judgment is the only proof of his existence."

--- SparkNotes: No Exit: Section 3
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