Upon entering a place that appears to be hell, though it looks oddly like a coldly modern, windowless hotel, each of Sartre's characters expects to be tortured for his or her supposed sins. The wait; however, turns out not to be for the arrival of some "other," but rather the discovery that one's own self, and one's fellow human beings, perform the job perfectly well.
Garcin, like Judas, is consumed by the need to possess powers and capabilities beyond that of any other human being. Much as Judas cannot submit to the ultimate Divine Truth, Garcin fins it impossible to admit his own frailties. He detests Ines for recognizing his failings, but fails to see that his greatest weakness is his lust need for self-preservation despite the toll it takes on his psyche and his character. Garcin would, in his own mind, be a noble man, if there were never anyone to whom he could compare himself, but measured against his fellows he is nothing but a coward and a philanderer, utterly incapable of feeling for others. This too, is Judas' sin. Judas was not the center of creation any more than Garcin, but both behave in much the same fashion. Estelle, a potential foil for Garcin, condones adultery, murder, and suicide through her own actions. Yet, she fails to win Garcin while her own evil deeds do not provide Garcin with any reasonable excuse for his own conduct. Garcin tries to explain himself to Ines and Estelle:
GARCIN: Certainly not. And now, tell me, do you think it's a crime to stand by one's principles?
ESTELLE: Of course not. Surely no one could blame a man for that!
GARCIN: Wait a bit! I ran a pacifist newspaper. Then war broke out. What was I to do? Everyone was watching me, wondering: "Will he dare?" Well, I dared....
I folded my arms and they shot me. Had I done anything wrong?
ESTELLE: Wrong? On the contrary. You were
INEZ: --a hero! And how about your wife, Mr. Garcin?
GARCIN: That's simple. I'd rescued her from-- from the gutter.
Garcin portrays himself in heroic terms, presenting his cowardice and treatment of his wife as actions worthy of praise. Misrepresenting the story of his life, he treats other human beings to a strangely sanitized version, playing on their need to believe that they are imprisoned with someone know less worthy than themselves. Better still, they desire to think they have been cast into hell with a true paragon among men. Garcin rationalized his choices by implying that whatever he has done it is for the best. His wife was better off with him than in her former life, and his country was best served by his sticking to his "principles."
Garcin and Judas are stand-ins for every human being today or in the past. Their selfish actions, their attempts to believe that they are the focus of truth, and uniquely worthy of adulation and worship, are beliefs not restricted to these particular sinners. Whether in Dante's world, or in Sartre's, sin was most commonly the result of ignorance. To understand our world, to understand the cosmos, we must look beyond ourselves and stop seeing in terms of the physical. Material existence, its pleasures and gratifications of the senses, are not necessarily the goals of eternity. We spend but a few short years on this earth, and all too often, it is in a pantomime of self-absorption. We do not interact with our fellow women and men. We do not dare to comprehend their feelings and needs. Together, with a little empathy, and some understanding, we might learn things, and so become stronger than the sum of our individual identities. Truth is there for the taking. We need only seek it.
Dante Alighieri, Dante's Inferno, trans. Henry Francis Cary (New York: Cassell, Petter, Galpin, 1885) 45.
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