Nowhere is this more evident that in his one-act play, "Huis Clos." A dialogical exposition of the hellish nothingness which pervades three characters, "Huis Clos" does not simply emanate from within Sartrian existentialism but, may be defined as an enactment of it, with each of the characters therein personifying a particular aspect of this complex philosophical construct. Understanding "Huis Clos" and appreciating it as an enactment of, and metaphor for, Sartrian existentialism, necessitates identifying and defining Sartre's existentialist concerns and conceptualisations.
Sartre' existentialist concerns and his perception of the human condition are, according to some critics, most concisely and precisely expressed in his Being versus Nothingness treatise.3 In L'Etre et le Nant, Sartre explicates his philosophical conceptualisation of human existence and the relation between man and himself, man and others and man and the environment within which he exists.4 Within the context of these relationships, man wavers between being and nothingness. Assuming that life has meaning, that the universe has some grand design, man is forever striving for meaning, convinced that he will attain being-hood once he has found meaning to his life. This quest is erroneously predicated on the belief that meaning, thus, being, is attained through others. Man believes his life acquires meaning, that he attains being-hood, from the positive perceptions and opinions that others may have of him. However, within Sartrian philosophy, this definition of being is nothing.5
Man's overwhelming predilection to define himself through the perception and opinion of others and his unwavering tendency to assume that he, accordingly, acquires being-hood, is inherently false. From the Sartrian existentialist perspective, it is false insofar as it assumes that life has meaning and creation has a noble purpose. Life, however, has no meaning and can only be defined as a void, as nothingness.6 Furthermore, the attempt to derive meaning, identity from the perception of others is a form of self-annihilation or a determined attempt to suppress the consciousness, or the authentic self. It is only when man accepts his authentic self, embraces nothingness, and realises that meaning emerges from within him, that he can acquire being-hood.7
Sartre's conceptualisation of being and nothingness is remarkably complex and if misunderstood, would seem self-negating. On the one hand, he claims that man lives in a void and that nothingness is the definitive feature of the human condition. He further maintains that the quest for being from without the self is futile.8 On the other hand, Sartre contends that the embrace of nothingness and the realisation of the void within which we live and which defines the human condition can lead to something. Not only that but he further asserts that once man realises that meaning cannot be imposed from without but, resides within the self, man can aspire towards being-hood. In this case, being is an outcome of the conscious realisation, and