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No Exit is a short one-act play with no division into scenes. When acted on stage, its duration is only one hour and ten minutes. The success of the play is largely due to Sartre's extremely careful dramatic construction, which follows the classical pattern of development.
The early part of the play is largely introductory with the characters and setting being presented. Garcin, Inez, and Estelle are brought into Hell one by one, led by a valet. At first, Sartre gives the impression that that the three of them are visitors to a hotel. It soon, however, becomes obvious that the protagonists are in a special kind of Hell, where they will torture one another.
The rising action of the play begins as Garcin, Inez, and Estelle start to torment one another, both intentionally and unintentionally. Garcin is tortured by the mere presence of the two women, for he would like to be left alone to think and put things in order. Inez, a lesbian, is tortured by Estelle, whom she passionately desires. Estelle, however, is repulsed by Inez and directs all her attention to Garcin, whom she wants as a lover. Inez grows jealous of Garcin, who keeps Estelle from her. At the same time, Garcin becomes interested in Inez, for he desperately needs her to believe that he is not really a coward.
As the characters continue to reveal their true natures and torture one another, the rising action builds to its climax. Totally frustrated, Garcin goes to the door and bangs on it wildly. To everyone's amazement, the door opens, but Garcin does not depart. He cannot leave with Inez thinking he is a coward. When Estelle tries to shove Inez out the door, Garcin prevents it; therefore, he saves his torturer. When she refuses to tell him he is not a coward, Garcin utters the climatic words of the play - "Hell is other people."
The falling action is very brief. Estelle picks up a knife and stabs Inez, hoping to rid herself of her tormentor once and for all. Of course, a dead person cannot be killed again. When Inez reminds her of this, all three of them fall into a hilarious laughter. They slump onto their sofas, and Garcin utters the brief conclusion to the play. "We might as well get on with it." His final words capture the nothingness of existential belief.
Besides following the classical pattern of plot development, the play is unified by time, place, and character. There are only three key characters in the entire play, and very few minor characters. In fact, the only other character that enters the room in Hell is the valet; the rest of the characters are seen in flashbacks or as Inez, Estelle, and Garcin gaze down to earth. Additionally, the entire drama takes place in a single room in Hell over a period of a few days (in earth time). Even though there are flashbacks to the past, the action is never confusing.
The play ends in great tragedy. Inez, Estelle, and Garcin are totally defeated by their inner beings. On earth, they lived a damned existence, and in Hell they are condemned to an eternity of torturing one another. Even when the door in Hell swings open, there is "no exit" for these three tragic beings.