Title Analysis of No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre

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Title Analysis of No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre

Since its first publication in 1944 in French, the play Huis Clos by Jean-Paul Sartre has been translated into numerous languages around the world. The English translations have seen many different titles, including In Camera, No Way Out, and Dead End. The most common and accepted of all the title translation, however, is No Exit. The translation is derived from the literal meanings of the title words in French: “huis” means “door” and “clos” means “closed”. Thus, taken one step further, since the term “closed door” is associated with a sealed-off entrance, the translation became No Exit. However, every language has words and phrases that are exceptions to the rules, idiomatic expressions that only a native French-speaker would be aware of - and “huis clos” is one such phrase. So exactly how accurate is this English translation of “huis clos” from its original French? And what kind of an effect does the plays true title have on the story?

The translation of "huis clos" to “no exit” comes from the literal translation of the phrase, with “huis” translating to “door” and “clos” to “closed”. This derived term, "closed door", explains the translation of Huis Clos to No Exit: a closed door generally creates an image of a barred entrance and no way out, a “no exit”. However, the phrase “huis clos” has a different meaning to native French speakers: "huis clos", is in fact, an idiomatic expression which translates best as "closed session." The expression relates to the justice administration and nowadays, is almost exclusively a judicial term. It is generally used only to describe parliamentary and court-room procedures in which the discussions of the meetings are not made public. Since nobody can have access to the content of these proceedings, they are idiomatically held “behind closed doors”. So although the literal and idiomatic definitions of the term are alike, one would simply not use "huis clos" to describe a literal closed door. Therefore, linguists agree that the literal translation of Huis Clos to No Exit is innacurate – for a “no way out” differs greatly “a confidential trial”.

Even if it weren’t for its idiomatic definition, the term would still not be used to mean “closed door”. Also knowledge that would only be known to a native French-speaker is the fact that although the term “huis” does indeed “translate to “door”, is a very old and exclusively literary word for “door”.

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