Literature Study GuidesNauseaFebruary 10 Saturday Noon Monday February 12 1100 Pm Summary

Nausea | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Nausea | February 10, Saturday noon–Monday, February 12, 11:00 p.m. | Summary

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Summary

February 10, Saturday noon

At the library, Antoine Roquentin sees the Self-Taught Man "smiling at a seedy-looking student." The student sticks his tongue out at the Self-Taught Man, causing the Self-Taught Man to blush and look away.

Still mulling over yesterday's thoughts on adventure, Roquentin realizes "you have to choose: live or tell." Either one lives life or one tells stories about it. He thinks about his experiences abroad in "Shanghai, Moscow, Algiers." The stories people tell about their lives have a meaningful beginning and ending, but life isn't like that: "There are no beginnings. Days are tacked on to days without rhyme or reason." Roquentin realizes he wanted his life to be meaningful the way a narrative, "a life remembered," is meaningful. However, imposing narrative order on life is hopeless: "You might as well try and catch time by the tail."

Sunday (February 11)

Roquentin goes for a Sunday stroll in the park, bringing along the novel from the library, Eugénie Grandet. The park is empty and seems strange to him. He knows the Sunday crowd will be out soon, and he goes to join them, walking in a street called the Rue Tournebride. It was once a "dark, stinking bowel" of a street, but in 1873 the wife of the mayor of Bouville had a vision telling her to construct a church there. The church brought the Rue Tournebride to new prominence, but first the street had to be rebuilt, making it into "the meeting place of elegant and distinguished people."

There is a large crowd of strolling people on the street. Since Roquentin is a head taller than them, he looks down at "hats, a sea of hats," with the occasional bald head glinting here and there. He notices groups forming around various prominent individuals, such as Coffier, president of the Chamber of Commerce. Others try to chat up the prominent people, currying favor.

By one o'clock, the crowd has thinned, and Roquentin goes to eat in the Brasserie Vézelise. He listens to old men gossiping. There are businessmen eating there too since "Sunday is their maids' day off." Two of Roquentin's neighbors sit nearby, a husband and wife. Roquentin starts reading his novel, quoting a scene in which a mother warns her daughter away from the man she loves. The neighbors' discussion distracts Roquentin from his novel. They talk about two people named Suzanne and Victor, discussing whether Suzanne has slept with him. The woman claims Suzanne is "respectable"; the husband whispers something to her, to convince her otherwise.

Roquentin gives up on reading and leaves the restaurant, taking another walk. He feels the weight of the coming afternoon in his body, but what he feels is "their" afternoon, the crowd's afternoon: "The [afternoon] a hundred thousand Bouvillois [townspeople of Bouville] were going to live in common." They look forward to a movie, "the hour when the screen ... would speak and dream for them." All the townspeople look forward to Sundays, and they're always disappointed. "Soon, as on every Sunday," notes Roquentin, "small, mute rages would grow in the darkened hall [of the cinema]."

In the afternoon Roquentin joins a crowd walking at the shore on the Jetty Promenade. There is less hubbub than with the Sunday morning walk; people are relaxed now, taking their last bit of rest before the work week starts again. The crowd of walkers seems dead to Roquentin, and "only their breathing ... still testified that they were alive." Roquentin feels out of place with his "hard, vigorous body in the midst of this tragic, relaxed crowd." A nearby couple chats, and Roquentin listens in. For moment he wonders "if I were not going to love humanity." However, he does not: "It was their Sunday, not mine." For Roquentin, "There are days which pass in disorder."

Evening comes, and Roquentin is suddenly overcome by "a great feeling of adventure." He walks back to the Rue Tournebride, now nearly empty. He has a feeling something is different; it's "like the Nausea and yet it's just the opposite." He realizes "that I am myself and that I am here." He feels "as happy as the hero of a novel." An adventure is about to begin, he feels. In the Rue Basse-de-Vielle, he decides the adventure is waiting for him elsewhere, "at the end of the Place Ducoton." But there too nothing happens, and he goes to Café Mably to eat.

The café is full. Roquentin notices the cashier, who "is rotting quietly under her skirts." He thinks, "She is the one who was waiting for me." Afterward having sex with her, he feels "nothing ... but bitter regret." When the feeling of adventure leaves him, as it always does, he feels "empty."

Monday (February 12)

A sentence Roquentin wrote the day before seems ridiculous to him today: "I was alone but I marched like a regiment descending on a city." He warns himself not to write in an exaggerated way: "Beware of literature." When he was young he would drink a lot, "inflating [him]self with heroism." Both excesses make him feel sick now, looking back.

"This feeling of adventure" suddenly becomes clear to Roquentin. When you have that feeling, "you suddenly feel that time is passing, that each instant leads to another." Instead of piling up like nonsense, the moments are propelled forward. This is "the irreversibility of time," Roquentin thinks.

"Anny made the most of time," Roquentin thinks. He seems to mean she would cause a lot of confusion and misunderstandings, so when he had just 24 hours to spend with her, he could "feel the seconds passing one by one." He recalls watching a movie with her. At one point, the screen was just blank, and in its white light he saw Anny crying.

7:00 pm (February 12)

"I wrote six pages with a certain amount of pleasure," Roquentin remarks of his morning's work in the library. However, he is annoyed with the Marquis de Rollebon as the actions of the marquis are mysterious. Roquentin calls him a "lying little fop." Everyone is a bit of a rascal, says Roquentin, but the question about the Marquis de Rollebon is whether he is "a big or little rascal." Roquentin feels he cannot write about the Marquis de Rollebon if he turns out to be someone "whose hand, if he were alive, I would not deign to touch." The question of the Marquis de Rollebon is hard to answer. He's a dead man who left behind two minor written works: "A Treatise on Strategy" and "Reflections on Virtue." If Roquentin "let himself go," he could easily imagine the Marquis de Rollebon's character, and he gives a little sketch of the man, filling in character traits he can't really know: "His rascality is candid, spontaneous, generous." However, if he's going to imagine the Marquis de Rollebon's character, Roquentin thinks, "I'd be better off writing a novel on the Marquis de Rollebon."

Monday, February 12, 11:00 pm

Roquentin dines at a restaurant called Rendezvous des Cheminots, or the Railwaymen's Rendezvous. Out of politeness, he kisses the manager, but "she disgusts me a little," says Roquentin, and "she smells like a newborn child." At some point, they go upstairs. She presses him to her bosom, and he "play[s] distractedly with her sex under the cover" until his arm goes to sleep. He too falls asleep and dreams of a garden festooned with "immense hairy leaves" and crawling with insects. "This park smells of vomit," shouts Roquentin on waking. The manager says she must return to her customers.

Analysis

In the diary entry for "Saturday noon," Roquentin criticizes the artificiality of narrative order. Unlike in novels and other narratives, in real life "there are no beginnings." However, this same diary entry is part of a novel written by Sartre, and Sartre has arranged the story with an eye toward narrative order. For example, Roquentin notices the Self-Taught Man smiling at a student, a detail that makes sense only later, when the Self-Taught Man is unmasked as a man who preys on students, albeit ineffectually.

Roquentin also falls victim to an illusion of narrative order. On Sunday, he has a "feeling of adventure." He feels as "happy as the hero of a novel," and he senses something is about to begin, something is waiting for him. However, at every corner he turns, the adventure still eludes him, and he finds only more black, empty street. When he decides the woman at the bar is the adventure that was waiting for him, this is a resigned, pessimistic choice. She is "rotting quietly under her skirts." Sex is also mixed with revulsion in Roquentin's encounter with Francoise, who is the unnamed "patronne" or bar manager in the diary entry for 11:00 p.m. Roquentin falls asleep during a desultory sexual encounter, and he dreams of a garden with "immense hairy leaves" and crawling with insects. The woman is a symbol and, for Roquentin, she is nature: blind, breeding, and decaying life.

Before getting caught up in his illusion of adventure, Roquentin spends Sunday walking the streets and observing the citizens of Bouville promenade, showing off their status. Now Roquentin is walking in the Rue Tournebride, and, being tall, he looks down on "a sea of hats." Within this sea he occasionally glimpses a bald head, which he describes here as "the soft glint of a skull."

Like Heidegger's "the they," the middle-class citizens of Bouville are fleeing the fact of their impending death, symbolized by the glint of a skull. The combination of the flowing crowd and the presence of death recalls T.S. Eliot's modernist poem of 1922, The Waste Land. The speaker looks at people walking over London Bridge and observes, "A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many." The speaker of Eliot's poem is looking at people who have perhaps "outlived themselves," to put it in Anny's words. They are unaware they are spiritually dead. Roquentin also is aware of death, but the Sunday crowd he observes is not. They engage in their rituals of status in order to fend off the knowledge of their death.
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