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In the play No Exit, by Jean Sartre, the author attempts to describe his vision of what Hell is, a subject that many have pondered, but none really know. Sartre was under the impression that Hell had nothing to do with the fire and brimstone, as many people before him believed. He instead voiced his thoughts through the characters of No Exit. “Obviously there aren’t any physical torments…and yet we’re in hell. And no one else will come here. We’ll stay in this room together, the three of us, forever and ever…in short there’s someone absent here, the official torturer…each of us shall act as the torturer of the two others.” (No Exit, p. 22) The three main characters in this play, Inez, Garcin, and Estelle create the hell they were banished to, but not by using the “racks and red-hot pincers” of the past, but by hurting each other in a disturbed form of a “love triangle”, where the love really doesn’t exist.
In this complicated triangle Inez is attracted to Estelle, who is in turn needs a man such as Garcin to desire and notice her. Thus Garcin can hurt Inez by pretending to desire Estelle, or hurt Estelle by not caring. Garcin however, will never be at rest until Inez recognizes that he is not a coward. Thus, the triangle is complete, and the three create hell for each other. Even when they realize the problem, they can do nothing to save each other. “They’ve laid their snare damned cunningly…Alone none of us can save himself or herself; we’re linked together inextricably.”(No Exit p. 38) On top of this, none of the three are very truthful with each other, and any relationship between them is strained at best. This is Sartre’s vision of hell.
Very similar to Sartre’s hell, are the relationships between the characters in The Scarlet Letter. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter the priest of a Puritan settlement, Arthur Dimmesdale commits adultery with a young woman by the name of Hester Prynne. When Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingsworth returns from overseas to find his wife with a newborn baby, and a brilliant scarlet letter across her chest, both constant reminders of her sin, he vows to find her partner and extract his revenge upon him.
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The triangle between Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingsworth is remarkably similar to the triangle in No Exit. There is a good deal of mistrust and betrayal between the three. The relationship between Dimmesdale and Chillingsworth especially demonstrates the closeness between the two. Chillingsworth and Dimmesdale are intimate companions throughout The Scarlet Letter, and have a physician/patient relationship. However, after Chillingsworth discovers that Dimmesdale was the other man with his wife, he begins to torture Dimmesdale horribly. “He became, thenceforth…a chief actor, in the poor minister’s interior world. He could play upon him however he chose…The victim was forever on the rack.” (The Scarlet Letter p.96) In this manner Chillingsworth tortured Dimmesdale for seven years, until Dimmesdale could take no more of the pain and revealed the deep secret to the world. Dimmesdale was not the only victim however. Chillingsworth was a fairly normal man when he went overseas, and it was Hester and Dimmesdale’s actions that drove him to transform into the devil he became. Also, after Dimmesdale finally absolved himself, and passed on “All his (Chillingsworth) strength and energy-all his vital and intellectual force-seemed at once to desert; inasmuch that he positively withered up, shriveled away.” (The Scarlet Letter p.177) This is how the relationship between Dimmesdale and Chillingsworth was very similar to the torturous relationships in No Exit.
In a triangle there are three parts, just as in The Scarlet Letter there were three main characters. The third one, Hester Prynne removed herself from the triangle for many years, living with the scarlet letter on her chest to permanently remind her of her sin, and with a child to do likewise. However, her past actions continued to torture the other two, as well as herself. She blamed herself for the transformation of her former husband, and of Dimmesdale. “Roger Chillingsworth was a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil...The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne’s bosom. Here was another ruin, the responsibility of which partly came home to her.”(The Scarlet Letter p.116). This is how Hester was involved in the triangle that Sartre would have called Hell.
Many similarities can be drawn between the two triangles. In both, there is a severe lack of trust between the three members. Each person in the triangle has a way to hurt and torture the other two, and does it, whether consciously or unconsciously throughout both novels. In fact, Sartre might even call the situation that The Scarlet Letter displays “hell on earth.” It is for these reasons that the relationships between the main characters of these two books are similar, one being resolved in the end, and one continuing for eternity.