Both literary works, No Exit and Invisible Man, are existentialist texts about self- definition. Both works present a contrast of existential and non-existential forces. In No Exit the characters find themselves in an existential hell where all aspects of their existence are controlled by an assumed demonic force. The form of the torture presented is to be placed with other people, thus forcing them to define one another. This is highly anti-existential, as Inez, one of the three hell inmates, points out, “Suppose the mirror started telling lies” (Sarte 21). This demonstrates how being defined by outside forces is an incorrect path. This same idea of maledicting outside forces controlling ones actions and dictating one’s life is a key theme in Invisible Man. The unnamed narrator, finally realizing his existentialism at the book’s end reflects, “Too often in order to justify them, I had to take myself by the throat and choke myself…” (Ellison 573). He realized that being defined by forces other than one’s self leads to this unhealthy sickening practice, which, in the book, usually leads the narrator to an existential breakthrough, before relapsing, and being claimed by a new controlling force, from Dr. Bledsoe to Brother Jack. The characters in No Exit share this pattern of existential epiphany and relapse into ignorance. Yet at the end of both books, the characters all realize and accept, albeit grudgingly, the simple truth stated by Garcin, “A man is what he wills himself to be” (Sarte 43). This defines the existential principles on which both books are based. Both characters also fail to grasp the realities of their situations and are not able to see others for who they truly are. Jay Gatsby lives under the false impression that he still has a chance with Daisy, insisting that he “is going to fix everything just the way it was before” when they were young (Fitzgerald 110). He is perpetually naïve in thinking that he can regain the love they once had, not recognizing the changes that have occurred in both their lives that make this impossible. He is not aware of Daisy’s corruption and greed. The narrator, Nick, recognizes Tom and Daisy as “careless people (who) smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness,” but Gatsby still sees her as the innocent, pure girl he fell in love with (179). The Invisible Man is also often blind to others’ intentions and true characters, specifically their own ignorance and inability to see the truth. He does not realize that Homer Barbee is blind until the end of his speech extolling the Founder, when “for a swift instant, between the gesture and the opaque glitter of (Barbee’s) glasses, (he) saw the blinking of sightless eyes” (Ellison 131). The Invisible Man’s inability to recognize others’ ignorance leads to him accepting their beliefs and conforming to their ideals instead of finding his own. He does not discover that Brother Jack has a glass eye until the end of his career with the Brotherhood, when he is forced to recognize that Jack is blind to the truth. He allows himself to be mislead by Dr. Bledsoe by accepting the letters of “recommendation” without question, and fails to see the way he is manipulated throughout the novel. Both the Invisible Man and Jay Gatsby seem oblivious to others’ intentions and unable to see the truth often.
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