No Exit

Identity in No Exit College

In “Metafictional Characters in Modern Drama,” June Schlueter contrasts the metafictional character with the dramatic character. According to Schlueter, “drama presents a fixed identity, which in real life is a misnomer” (9). Metatheater differs from traditional theater because metafictional characters do not have fixed identities. The metafictional character is dual; it is both real and illusory, both actor and character. This rift between real and illusory extends to incorporate not just the duality of character and actor, but also the duality of the inner and outer self. In Sartre’s No Exit, the essential self (which in metatheater represents the actor) represents the inner self, and the role-playing self (which refers to the character in metatheater) represents the outer self. As the three sinners attempt to determine the proper balance between inner and outer self, they confront an existential crisis common to human nature: the search for an identity.

In No Exit, this rift between actor and character is apparent when Inez asks Garcin and Estelle: “what’s the point of play-acting?” (17). (The characters are already in hell, so what is the point of pretending to be innocent?) Sartre’s use of the word “play-acting” reminds...

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