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A month takes a matter of minutes in Sartre's hell. In other words, the relationship between the characters and the world of the living is perpetually off-balance. When Garcin says that his wife died a month ago, he qualifies the statement by saying, "Just now." Indeed, a month ago is just now; the characters of the play soar through time, and even their visions of the world below are only temporary - fleeting images doomed to fade to black, transient sounds fated to fall silent. It is perhaps ironic that Sartre suggests this kind of temporal structure within the one-place/one-time dramatic idiom first proposed by the ancient Greeks.
Though the characters are indeed dead, Estelle refuses to recognize it at first. She says she feels just as alive now as she ever did, and recommends she, Inez, and Garcin call themselves "absentees." That word has a strangely hopeful ring, as if implying that the characters have not yet reached the end and will soon enough return to the living. "Absent" sounds somehow more temporary than "dead" - and yet dead is what they are, as Inez emphatically reminds us at the play's close: "Dead! Dead! Dead! Knives, poison, ropes - useless. It has happened already, do you understand? Once and for all. So here we are, forever."