Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice. One of the most famous works of existentialist literature is Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit.”

In this play, three characters are trapped in a room together for eternity, and they soon realize that their punishment is not physical torture but rather the realization that they cannot escape each other’s company. The play is often cited as an example of existentialist thought, but why exactly is “No Exit” considered existentialist? Let’s explore this question in depth.

The Philosophy of Existentialism

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emerged in the 20th century. At its core, existentialism emphasizes individual existence and freedom. The philosophy argues that human beings are not predetermined by fate or divine will; rather, we are free to make choices and determine our own destiny.

According to existentialists, this freedom can be overwhelming and even terrifying. It means that we must confront the reality of our own mortality and take responsibility for our actions. This responsibility can be daunting, but it also gives us the power to shape our lives as we see fit.

The Themes of “No Exit”

The themes of “No Exit” align closely with those of existentialist thought. For one thing, the play emphasizes the idea of individual freedom. The characters are trapped in a room together for eternity because they have made choices that have led them there; they are not victims of fate or circumstance.

Furthermore, the play explores the idea of choice and responsibility. Each character has made mistakes in their life and must now face the consequences. They cannot escape their punishment because they must confront their own past actions.

Another key theme of “No Exit” is the idea of authenticity. The characters realize that they cannot hide from one another; they are forced to be their true selves at all times. This is a terrifying realization, but it also allows them to be honest about their own flaws and shortcomings.

Why “No Exit” Is Existentialist

So why is “No Exit” considered existentialist? The play embodies many of the key themes and ideas of existentialist thought.

It emphasizes individual freedom, choice, responsibility, and authenticity. It also forces the characters to confront the reality of their own existence and mortality.

Furthermore, the play’s setting is symbolic of many existentialist ideas. The characters are trapped in a small room with no way out, which represents the idea that we are all trapped in our own existence with no escape from our mortality. The fact that they are trapped together also emphasizes the importance of human relationships and connection in an otherwise meaningless world.


Overall, “No Exit” is a powerful example of existentialist thought. The play explores many of the key themes and ideas of the philosophy, including individual freedom, choice, responsibility, authenticity, and mortality. By emphasizing these themes through its plot and characters, “No Exit” forces us to confront some of life’s most profound questions and challenges us to take responsibility for our own existence.