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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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Knowing about this innaccuracy of the translated title, one must analyze the play’s original title to fully grasp its connection to the story. While the English No Exit creates images of blocked entrances and no way out, Huis Clos, the idiomatic expression translated best to “confidential trial”, creates a very different image. “Confidential trial” makes the reader focus more on the conditions under which the three main characters stay
in Hell and their emotional bonds, as opposed to the fact that the three of them are bound together physically. This concept has direct proof, for in one instance during the play, the
character of Garcin almost leaves the room physically, yet cannot not make himself do it due to his wish to hear out Inez’ opinion. The original title in French also makes the reader think about how three very different people are made to assess, judge, and comment on one anothers’ personalities and mindsets. “Confidential trial” also makes more sense in the context of the story than its English counterpart, for underneath it all, it is a story of three people who judge, critisize, and analyze each others’ raw personalites without the scrutiny or the influence of any outside factors, rather than three characters who are forced to stay together without a way out.
In conclusion, while No Exit is the most widely accepted and well-known title translation of Huis Clos, it is not the most accurate. Firstly, one would not use "huis clos" to mean a literal closed door, since it is an idiomatic expression that is almost exclusively a term used to describe classified judicial procedures, with its closest translation being “classified and confidential trial”. Secondly, even if Sartre had not used the term “huis clos” idiomatically, the literal translation to “closed door” and “no exit” is still innaccurate, for one would not use the antiquated and official term “huis” to mean “door“ in the modern context of the play. Arriving at the conclusion that the English translation of the title is inaccurate and analyzing the title Huis Clos in its original French, one can distinguish that the French title is more effective when relating the title back to the story - for while No Exit focuses the reader more on the fact that the three main characters are forced to stay together physically, Huis Clos puts much more emphasis on the dialogues between the characters and their strong emotional bonds.
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