According to Aristotle, the function of a tragedy is to purge pity and fear out of a person. The tragic hero of a tragedy must have certain qualities that can contribute to this function. Inez Serrano, a character from Sartre`s play No Exit, not only exhibits those qualities but also demonstrates Sartre`s own existentialist philosophy. Inez is the perfect example of tragic character because she does not change throughout the play and above all, she knows why she was put in hell. While it is true that her bad fate is the result of her own actions, Inez is a much better person than Estelle and Garcin for admitting and realizing her errors.
Her honesty continuously puts her in a bad place with the other two characters. Right at the beginning of the play, Inez is the first to note that the three of them have been placed together as part of a larger plan. Nothing, she claims has been left to chance. “I tell you they’ve thought it all. Down to the last detail” (Sartre 14). Nonetheless, Estelle is convinced the whole thing must be a mistake – including her even being in hell. She married a man older than she, fell in love with another, and refused to leave her husband for him.
Is she to be punished for her fidelity? Garcin likewise claims never to have done anything wrong: he opposed a war on pacifist grounds and refused to fight in it. For that, he was shot. Where is the logic, therefore, in his being sent to hell? Inez, however, maintains that “they never make mistakes” (14) and that “people aren’t damned for nothing” (14). This is exactly the kind of attitude that makes her fit Aristotle`s characterization of a tragic character. She is not only true to herself but is very blunt about the whole situation to the other characters as well.
She is the same person from the beginning to the end and never once undergoes a volte-face in opinions or thoughts. Inez knows they all committed ineffable errors worthy enough to put them in hell and tries to explain that to the other characters. When the other characters talk about their lives, they try to justify their actions. Inez on the contrary says, “There have been people who burned their lives out for our sakes-and we chuckled over it. So now we have to pay the reckoning” (17). This attribute goes hand in hand with another one of Aristotle’s characterizations: gain in self-knowledge.
Inez was in hell for turning a wife against her husband, twisting the wife`s perception of her spouse, and the subsequent murder of the man who was Inez`s cousin. To put in correct terms, Inez`s fall is not pure loss. The actions she committed in the world were done without any form of regret and without any form of shame. But over the course of this “journey” to hell, she has come to the conclusion that she is indeed a cruel person. She says, “I used to remind her everyday: Yes my pet, we killed him between us. I`m rather cruel, really” (26).
Another one of Aristotle`s ideas that correlates with Sartre`s is the concept of free will and bad faith. The character`s downfall is partially his or her own fault, the result of free choice, not of accident or villainy or some overriding, malignant fate. In fact, the tragedy is usually triggered by some error of judgment or some character flaw also known as hamartia that contributes to the character`s lack of perfection. While Inez is by no means an ideal existentialist, she is the closest one to Sartre’s own voice in No Exit. Bad faith is essentially just self-deception.
Inez avoids such self-deception to a greater degree than any other character. She constantly owns up to her crimes, admits her situation, and faces her surroundings. She says, “Yes, I see. Look here! What’s the point of play-acting, trying to throw dust in each other’s eyes? We’re all tarred with the same brush…Yes, we are criminals – murderers – all three of us … In hell! Damned souls – that’s us, all three” (22)! She continues on to say, “I prefer to choose my hell; I prefer to look you in the eyes and fight it out face to face. Inez is “always conscious of [her]self – in [her] mind. Painfully conscious” (20). Sartre agreed with Inez’s assessment that consciousness is a painful thing; he believed that it overwhelmed the self and often caused the anguish that leads many to bad faith. Inez understands bad faith. When Garcin claims that they are in hell by mistake, she is “amused” by his response, but reasons, “I suppose you’ve got to reassure yourself somehow” (15). She understands that Garcin’s response is one of fear and that he is fleeing from responsibility by choosing self-deception.
She understands why the three of them have been put together and that they are to serve as each other`s torturer`s: “Well, well! Ah, I understand now. I know why they’ve put us three together. … You’ll see how simple it is. Childishly simple. …It’s obvious what they’re after – an economy of man-power – or devil-power, if you prefer. The same idea as in the cafeteria, where customers serve themselves. Each of us will act as torturer of the two other (26). Sartre’s one-act play engenders so much speculation, extending beyond the parameters of existentialist philosophy into Aristotle`s tragic character.
A room without mirrors, without time, without “life” presents a problem that cannot be solved, a paradox that must be confronted – just as the characters must confront their own inner demons, their own pasts, and their own hell. However, no one does this as beautifully as Inez. As Inez puts it, when identity breaks down and one face becomes indistinguishable from another, the “other” dissolves; hell is then, by necessity, oneself. Works Cited Sartre, Jean-Paul. No Exit and Three Other Plays. New York: Vintage Books, 1946. Print.