“Hell is other people” is a quote from “No Exit,” a play by the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
In its broader context, the quote is a reflection of Sartre’s existentialist philosophy, specifically his ideas about freedom, identity, and the gaze of the “Other.” For Sartre, our identity is heavily influenced by the perceptions of others.
We often judge ourselves through the eyes of others, and this judgment shapes our behavior and our self-perception. This constant awareness and fear of judgment can lead to a kind of psychological hell, hence “Hell is other people.” Sartre suggests that we can become so engrossed in how others perceive us that we begin to view ourselves as objects in the world rather than free, subjective individuals. This can create feelings of alienation, discomfort, and despair. It’s worth noting that Sartre himself later clarified that the quote is often misinterpreted.
He explained that what he meant was not that other people are inherently awful or that we should avoid them, but rather that hell is the version of ourselves and the world that we can become trapped in when we only see ourselves through the eyes of others, instead of affirming our own freedom and subjectivity. So, in essence, “Hell is other people” is a commentary on the human condition, our struggle for authenticity, and the power dynamics involved in human relationships.