Dante’s Inferno and Sartre’s No Exit
This essay is on setting differences using the works of Dante’s The Inferno and Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit.
Adam looks about spotting all the important people that will influence the rest of his life. He takes a deep breath and prepares to make this his last and final addition to life. Quietly he draws back from the church as if to stop time, this moment may define him as a man. He turns to look at the priest as if to reply his answer, but suddenly he realizes the hand he is holding is as cold as death. Quickly he snaps back into reality recognizing he is not asking for his bride’s hand in marriage, but burying her. Once again his mind tricked him into thinking that he was starting all over again with a new chance; however, as in life, sometimes there are no second chances.
Dante’s Inferno and Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit illustrate irony in setting in similar ways, such that there are no second chances in life. Both works take the readers into the minds of their authors where each author gives their interpretation of hell. Dante’s and Jean Paul Sartre’s works both have similar aspects of setting that are expressed in similar styles. Through symbolism, representation, and finite physical details each author establishes
irony, yet also reinforces his theme. When Dante wrote The Inferno his mind thrived on the different levels of interpretation; likewise, Jean Paul Sartre’s mind thrived on this, and he patterned No Exit after Dante’s work.
The symbolism expressed in Dante’s Inferno correlates directly, in some cases, to the play written by Jean Paul Sartre, No Exit. Symbolism in both works cannot be defined by one level of thinking and neither can it be comprehended on one level. However, symbolism in relation to the setting of both works exhibits the nature of both writers to be very ironic in some cases. For example, throughout Dante’s Inferno, Dante makes many direct references to the light and the heavens: “Therefore, if you win through this gloomy pass and climb again to see the heaven of stars when it rejoices to you . . .” (p. 145, l. 82 -5).These references, also made in No Exit, reveal the irony that none of the inhabitants of hell can ever see the light of God or, in Jean Paul Sartre’s perspective, will always be reminded of the light and the choice they made: “Always broad daylight in my eyes- and in my head.” (p.6) is another example of ironic symbolism, the mantle, found in No Exit and the evident references to heaven and the “true way” The Inferno.
Additionally, “Yes, now’s the moment; I’m looking at this thing on the mantlepiece, and I understand that I’m in hell.”(p. 45): this direct quote from the play No Exit also captivates Dante’s exact meanings that while you are in hell you will constantly be reminded of the
path you chose not to take or the “true way” you chose not to follow. Finally the last illustration of symbolism in No Exit is the mirror and in Dante’s Inferno the creatures of hell. The mirror, or the lack of, reveals the character’s weaknesses towards themselves. The character of Estelle had six mirrors in her lifetime and now is sentenced in hell never to see herself again. While for the other characters, Inez and Gracin, the lack of mirrors represents something else. For Gracin he sees mirrors everywhere, and this shows the torture he goes through in hell, being constantly reminded of his sins. On the other hand, for Inez her mirror is seeing Estelle, her object of desire, and Gracin together forever, while also being constantly reminded of the sin, lust, she committed on earth. Dante’s work is much more
representative, and his creatures of hell disclose their symbolism in the guarding of the different circles of hell. For example the Minotaur, once a great beast who guarded many, is now guardian of circle seven and will forever be reminded of his sins on earth due to the fact his is the guardian of those …..who can never escape and his presence is a struggle of unending hell. The sins of hell in The Inferno and No Exit both exemplify the notion that
the sin you committed on earth is also the punishment you shall receive in hell. This notion is the basis of the irony, that what you could not live without on earth is the root for your damnation in hell. For example in The Inferno Dante’s circles of hell have punishments for each of the sins committed and for such sins, as lust, the violators of this sin are bound
together in all eternity never being able to be in contact with the flesh only the mind: “Love, which permits no loved one not to love, took me so strongly with delight in him that we are one in Hell, as we were above. Love led us to one death” (p. 61, l. 100 -3). Other examples of Dante’s punishment for sinners are the suicides living in hell as trees. This depicts the sin that because on earth they mistreated their bodies and harmed their bodies they are denied
human form in the afterlife.
The relationship that Jean Paul Sartre describes in the play No Exit is similar to Dante’s style; however, he has a theme to his punishment. In the play each character has committed a sin that he or she pays for in hell; therefore, each character is the other character’s hell. For example, Inez, committee of the carnal sin, falls in love with Estelle at first sight; however, Estelle, consumed with always being the center of attention to a man, falls in love with Garcin. Garcin, a flatterer, could never love one such as Estelle and completes the circle by falling in love with Inez. A circle of lust similar to Dante’s circles that almost mock the circle of eternal light and peace, the true way of God.
Finally setting elaborates its ironical qualities as certain details of both settings from The Inferno and No Exit make the amosphere of both works seem almost a product of their hell. Each direct physical setting of the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno show a unique atmosphere that maximizes the level of irony. For example, in the third circle of hell, the gluttons, the characters Dante and Virgil see themselves in “gigantic garbage dump” (p.78, l. 98). The punished are forced to live in this garbage dump in a setting or atmosphere they never could stand on earth. Another instance of ironical atmosphere, the silence that is maintained throughout Limbo. In all the other circles of hell there is constant reference to the wailing and fiendish noise of hell; yet, in Limbo like those who could not decide, the noise is neither joyous or despairing. In a comparable style, Jean Paul Sartre also creates this ironical atmosphere with his physical setting. From beginning to end, Jean Paul Sartre constitutes a ironical sense with having his maincharacters seeing his version of hell in a hotel suite. This ironical atmosphere gives the readers exactly the reaction he wants, the idea that this could never be hell because the lack of flaming pits and pointy tailed devils. He uses this edge to surprise his readers into thinking that hell can be anyplace in the world it is he state of mind and punishment that makes it truly hell.
“What I was living, the same I now, dead”(p. 109, l. 66) stated Dante in his work The Inferno. The setting reinforces this theme that the irony of the sin committed will be the punishment received. Setting in both of these works expressed the ironical nature of both these writers and how they used this to give insight to their work. Through the symbolism, representation, and finite physical details Dante and Jean Paul Sartre both exhibited the essence of the meaning of irony. These various literary devicestransform a work of literature
into a style with which readers can both identify and understand, yet also taking them to the next level. When setting can be interpreted ironically in many levels, something as simple as a few chairs and a table could represent Hell’s Kitchen.