The bronze ornament perched on the mantelpiece poses an immediate threat to Joseph Garcin’s concept and acceptance of his death. He understands his fate, but the ornament already beings to symbolize the meaning that Garcin cannot find in his life or death. The ornament subtly highlights Sartre’s existentialist themes in the play, but only Garcin interacts with the prop. “I assure you I’m quite conscious of my position,” he tells the valet. “A man’s drowning, choking, sinking by inches, till his eyes are just above water. And what does he see? A bronze atrocity…” (Sartre 4) That the ornament, amongst the other props resting in the room, appears to have no purpose or meaning confounds Garcin. What is he to do with his ornament? His first instinct, while alone in the room, is to touch and embrace it, as he has to embrac...
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...me what his actions of made of it. Another example of existence preceding essence, Hell to him on Earth was an intricate visual of torture with no inherent meaning to him. Hell to Garcin now is the struggle to accept his fate. However, at the play’s end, he is ready to move on, just like Hamlet.
Sartre and Shakespeare accomplished portraying man’s attempts at seeking the meaning of life in death. Garcin and Hamlet on surface are so different, but grapple with the same inner strife and question of their personal ability to accept fate. In order to look within themselves, they must look outwards, and find the ornament and skull as keys to the map of life.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. 9th Ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. Print
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