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Scholars, religious leaders and ordinary people have long debated the issue of free will versus fate. Free will proponents strongly believe that individual actions are the result of one’s own conscious decision making. People are fully aware of what they do and the expected consequences. According to whether the result is praiseworthy or blameworthy, the person will be rewarded or punished, since it was the person, who made the choice. As for those believing in fate, they argue that an individual’s destiny determines his or her outcome in life choices. There is an ultimate unseen force, such as God, which monitors how decisions and actions play out. In the book, “Lolita” and the play, “No Exit”, concepts of both free will and fate are explored and each of the books plays an important part in the event turnout along with character and plot development.
It does not matter whether one strictly supports or denies free will or fate. The truth plays an important role in the final results of any single action or a series of life-long actions. In Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit,” there is a constant search for the driving force of the individual’s actions and where they ultimately end up. Throughout the play, all the characters try to figure out whether it was their actions or destiny, which brought them to their respective ends. As for Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”, the tragedy of events seem to follow a pattern, and the reader is left to decide whether the pattern was because of fate’s guidance or the characters’ own doing. After exploring these two literary masterpieces, it can be safely claimed that there comes a point of no return in an individual’s life, or the climax. At this climax, one looks back and ultimately realizes that even though fate has a hand in controlling events, there is always another choice, which a person may make, despite denying the contrary.
Firstly, the characters in “No Exit” were three people sharing a common destination- Hell. Joseph Garcin, Inez Serrano, and Estelle Rigault are the three dead souls, who have been brought to hell, because of the sins they committed in their lives. Garcin is guilty of openly cheating on his wife, breaking her heart and emotions, and being a coward, since he ran away from the battlefield during the war. Inez is meant spirited and openly talks about her crimes of seducing her cousin’s wife to have an extramarital affair with her, causing her cousin to die at the hands of his wife, and causing her lover to kill both herself and Inez through a gas leak, because she was overwhelmed by guilt. As for Estelle, she is guilty of cheating on her husband with a younger man, giving birth to their illegitimate child, drowning the baby, and causing her lover to commit suicide, because of her hurtful actions. Another character, the Valet represents the devil and he is the one, who brings the three souls to hell, which is a living room area devoid of any windows or mirrors.
At first, the three characters expect torturers to come in through the door and start punishing them for their past crimes. However, they soon realize that they are already being punished by being each other’s torturers. While contemplating their ultimate fate and the reason for this choice of setting, they conclude, with the help of Inez’s practical mind, that this was not a coincidence or a mistake, much to Estelle’s objections. The room was in fact, set exactly with them in mind and fate had nothing to do with it as it was their own actions that brought them to this end. When Garcin and Estelle objected and made claims that they did not have any other choices, they were in fact covering up their sins and mistakes and providing justifications to get away with them one more time.
Written during the height of the existentialist movement, Jean-Paul Sartre chose to show, what the purpose of the movement was through this play. Since existentialists focus on and study humans in their individual circles, free from any outer forces, such as rules and families, this play was perfectly set up as it placed three individual beings in an environment, in which they would have the least influence from any outer sources. In fact, the lack of mirrors and windows also proves Sartre’s diligent effort of trying to completely understand the self by itself- without even its own influence. Through this existentialist perspective, there is an ultimate goal that each character must determine independently: to work through free will and find out, who they are or to rely on fate and let the other two people in the room make that determination.
The division between characters is clearly seen as they take opposing sides on this issue. Estelle strongly believes that it was fate’s hand that led her to this demise as she had died of pneumonia, and it was fate that had her triggered her actions. Inez, on the other hand, strongly supports free will as the cause of their end destination. She stated that she knew exactly what she had been doing at each step of the way and was fully responsible for her actions. Her no-nonsense attitude challenges other attitude and forces other characters to reexamine their thinking processes. As for Garcin, he is often found caught in between as he wants to believe that fate had a strong influence on him, but he often ends up wanting to take responsibility for his actions and, therefore, get rid of the coward in him.
Furthermore, upon realizing that Inez is correct in making the conclusion about them being each other’s punishment, Garcin’s cowardice rises again and he suggests that they find a peaceful resolution, instead of having to face the harsh reality. He proposes that the three individuals ignore each other or try to get along. This is where the true clash between choosing free will and choosing fate is seen in the play. In response to Garcin, Inez insists that she will not follow his lead, as she is fully capable of making her own decisions and is free to do what she desires. Choosing to live in the present, she insists that the other two also forget about their past lives, be honest with each other and control the present circumstances, since that is the only option, which is left. She vigorously objects to Estelle and Garcin’s blameworthy claims about fate and that Garcin’s “fate is in their hands.”
Secondly, “Lolita” explores the fate versus free will concept through a series of tragic events. In contrast to Sartre, Nabokov seems to favor fate over free will through Humbert, the protagonist’s voice. Humbert Humbert is a literary intellectual writer, who comes to New England and lives with Charlotte Haze and her 12 years old daughter, Lolita. Humbert is attracted to and falls in love with Lolita and marries her mother to remain close. Fate’s first tragedy, or help for Humbert, is when Haze is killed by a car. The timing could not have been more perfect for Humbert, since she died right after finding out his true intentions and threatened to expose him. Even though Humbert decided to kill her, he was spared the sin, because fate had other plans.
Fate favors Humbert yet again, as he now has Lolita, physically and emotionally. As for her, she is forced into a life with her step-father, which she finds out after willingly engaging in physical favors with him. Had she known earlier that her mother was dead; she might have made another choice. Humbert uses this guilt to continue his relationship with Lolita and makes justifications for his actions saying that it was fate’s plan as what he was doing was completely natural. He even went as far as to site other cultures and providing excuses those girls of Lolita’s age are considered adults elsewhere and that Lolita’s character was already tainted. However, he does not realize his own hypocrisies, as he takes responsibility for other actions such as keeping Lolita under restrictions and forcing her to stay with him.
Moreover, the character clashes with fate, when fate goes against him by having Lolita escape him from the hospital. He shows his guilt to the reader by admitting that he has not let Lolita away from him for years and this is the point, where the reader realizes the difference between fate and free will. It was fate that brought him back together with Lolita two years later, when she made the choice to contact him for help. Lolita’s marriage and pregnancy also show her free will of running off and refusing to work for Quilty. She also exercised her choice by refusing to go back to Humbert and he in turn left her alone after pursuing Quilty. His confrontation with Quilty and Quilty’s murder were deliberate, but it was fate that caused him to be arrested- for another, seemingly trivial reason. The book ends with Humbert taking fate into his own hands and choosing to publicize his sins to the whole world for eternity.
Both literary works challenge the human concept of free will and fate, but the authors favor one side over the other, which can be seen through their hidden examples. Sartre believes that free will play an essential role in people’s lives and one can see his point of view through the character Inez’s dialogue. As for Nabokov, he is a proponent of fate, even though he gives free choice its due credit. In both works, the audience is left to dwell on the meaning of these concepts and answer truthfully to themselves about the human condition and whether people fall victim to their own deeds or should they be able to blame destiny as a scapegoat.