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Literature Study GuidesNauseaFebruary 13 Shrove Tuesday February 17 Saturday Morning Summary

Nausea | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Nausea | February 13, Shrove Tuesday–February 17, Saturday Morning | Summary



February 13, Shrove Tuesday

Antoine Roquentin says he has been remembering his dreams lately. He dreams he is a soldier and he "gave Maurice Barrès [1862–1923] a spanking." In real life, Barrès was a right-wing French nationalist writer and politician. Soldiers joined in on humiliating Barrès, and they "drew the face of [French writer and politician Paul] Déroulède [1846–1914] on his backside."

The landlady gives Roquentin a letter. It's from Anny, Roquentin's ex. In the letter, Anny tells him she will be passing through Paris soon; she invites him to come see her at her hotel on February 20. "I must see you," she writes. Roquentin recalls Anny leaving notes for him when they were in Morocco, notes that said, "I want to see you right away." Roquentin would rush to see her, and Anny would greet him with indifference or annoyance. This time might be the same; he might go to Paris and find she's not there, or she might write again and cancel the visit. Nonetheless, Roquentin will go, although "the idea" doesn't make him "exactly joyous." The letter has made him feel désoeuvré, he says, a French word meaning "idle or aimless."

It is noon, and to pass the time, Roquentin goes to Camille's, a café. He tries to remember Anny's letter, which is sitting in his bag. He remembers she liked to seek out "perfect moments." When she wasn't having a perfect moment, "her eyes became lifeless, she dragged along lazily like a great awkward girl." The other thing she did was pick quarrels with Roquentin. He decides it's best not to answer her letter yet and to just wait.

Roquentin tries to figure out what it means "to think of someone in the past." He and Anny were together three years. When they broke up, "The three years crumbled into the past." Now his past "is nothing more than an enormous vacuum," Roquentin thinks. He has "learned all I know of life from books," it seems to him.

A strange little man, Monsieur Achille, has entered the café and stares at Roquentin, annoying him. He feels the man is about to speak to him. "There is no sympathy between us," Roquentin thinks, though they are both men on their own in a café. "He must be waiting for his own Nausea," thinks Roquentin.

Dr. Rogé enters the café and orders brandy. He catches sight of Achille and speaks to him angrily, asking him, "Aren't you dead yet?" He complains to the waitress about letting "people like that" in the café. The doctor declares Achille is "as crazy as a loon," and this satisfies Roquentin and Achille. Now the strange little man has a category for himself. Dr. Rogé looks at Roquentin, and he feels sized up. Dr. Rogé wants to put him in a category too, such as "crazy loon" or "tramp." Roquentin feels the strange little man shouldn't have accepted Dr. Rogé's way of categorizing him. He should have held on to his own experience, but he went over to their side, accepting Dr. Rogé's experience of him as valid. Roquentin notices the way people "explain the new by the old."

Dr. Rogé relaxes, and Roquentin looks at him, noticing the "horrid pink color" of his cheeks. He realizes "this man is going to die soon." He thinks Dr. Rogé must know he's about to die: "Each day he looks a little more like the corpse he will become." At the same time, he thinks the doctor hides from "the stark reality." Roquentin smiles at the doctor, and he would like his smile to let the doctor know he knows. Dr. Rogé falls asleep, and Roquentin leaves the café.

Wednesday (February 14)

Roquentin writes just one line, italicized: "I must not be afraid."

Thursday (February 15)

Roquentin notes he has written four pages of his study of the Marquis de Rollebon. He exhorts himself to remember the book is now his "only justification for ... existence." In a week, he will see Anny.

Friday (February 16)

A thick fog covers the town. As Roquentin walks in it, he hears people's footsteps, but he sees no one. He enters the Café Mably. Someone telephones, and the waiter answers, saying the boss isn't in. A couple leaves, and the waiter tells Roquentin they perform a mind-reading act during intermissions at the movie theater. An old woman enters and asks for Monsieur Fasquelle, the café's boss. The waiter says he's upstairs. The old woman says, "Suppose he's dead." Roquentin wonders if Monsieur Fasquelle is lying upstairs dead, his face "the colour of eggplant with his tongue hanging out." As Roquentin settles his bill, he tells the waiter he heard a noise from upstairs "like choking, and then there was a thud." The waiter declines to go upstairs and check, and Roquentin leaves.

In the display window of a butcher shop, Roquentin notices a drop of blood on a deviled egg, and "this red on the yellow made me sick at my stomach." Walking across the park on his way to the library, Roquentin notices a man in "a great blue cape." In the library he runs into the Self-Taught Man, who says, "Something abominable has happened to me." Rather than discuss it then, he asks Roquentin to have lunch with him on Wednesday. Roquentin accepts, even though "I had as much desire to eat with him as I had to hang myself."

Although he should be concentrating, Roquentin can only think about Monsieur Fasquelle and whether he's dead. The orderliness of the library is usually a comfort to him, but not today. Instead he senses, "The world was waiting ... for its convulsion, its Nausea." Going out and crossing the park, Roquentin sees the man in the blue cape again. He hurries on to Café Mably to find out what has happened to Fasquelle, but no one is there.

Now in a state of panic, Roquentin goes out again. He sees two men walking, and he wonders, "Were they like me? were they, too, afraid?" Back in the park, Roquentin sees the man in the cape with a little girl. It dawns on Roquentin what the man is up to; he is going to expose himself to the girl. The girl looks frightened, and yet Roquentin also sees "something powerful and wicked on [the girl's] rat-like face." Roquentin wants to stop the man and yet he feels "impotent." However, the girl suddenly runs off. Apparently, the man in the cape saw Roquentin see him, and that is what stopped him. Roquentin shouts "Hey!" at the man, but he follows it up with something puzzling. "A great menace weighs over the city," Roquentin tells him and moves on.

Back in the library, Roquentin tries reading a novel, The Chartreuse de Parme by French novelist Stendhal (1783–1842). Also in the library are an old man, a young blond man, and a young woman. At 10 minutes to 7, the Corsican man, who acts as the library's security guard, tells them it's almost closing time. No one is in a hurry to go.

February 17, Saturday morning

On Saturday morning, Roquentin eats breakfast at the Café Mably. He feels happy "for the first time" about his impending visit with Anny. She hates it when he offers her his hand in greeting, so Roquentin reminds himself not to do that. He wonders how many days they'll spend together and whether he can bring her back to Bouville with him. Her presence there, even for just a few hours, would make Bouville more tolerable for him, he thinks.


The spanking of Maurice Barrés is initially presented as a memory of something that really happened. It is only after the anecdote has been told that Roquentin says he has been remembering his dreams lately. Additionally, one of the soldiers in the story has "a hole in the middle of his face." That can be explained in connection with World War I as it did result in some horrific wounds. However, after Roquentin mentions dreams, this detail reveals itself as surreal. In real life, the communist Sartre despised Barrés, the right-wing nationalist, and he seems to have included this dream merely to mock Barrés.

A similar mischief making seems to posses Roquentin in these diary entries. Like Sartre insulting Barrés, Roquentin messes with people for the fun of it. He lies to the waiter when he says he heard a choking noise and a thump. It is also possible that Roquentin is joking about being anxious. However, later, he becomes panicked over his inability to determine whether Fasquelle is dead or alive.

Other events in these diary entries demonstrate Sartre's ethical philosophy. Human beings are defined primarily by their ability to "not be." Human beings will die. However, because they are not yet what they will be in the future and also no longer what they were in the past, they are free. For Sartre, it is unethical to deny one's own freedom and treat oneself as a fixed, finished, categorized thing. Thus when Dr. Rogé labels the strange little man, Monsieur Achille, as a "crazy old loon," the unethical part is not the insult. The unethical part is that he has become a "fixed" thing. Monsieur Achille is strange, but the label allows Dr. Rogé to dispense with Monsieur Achille. Even Roquentin and Monsieur Achille himself feel relieved by the label; Monsieur Achille "feels protected against himself," and Roquentin feels reassured. They feel relieved because Monsieur Achille's freedom has been denied, and a thing is more knowable than a free human being. However, later Roquentin changes his mind and feels it was wrong to accept this reassurance.

The man in the blue cape is the first of several sexual predators in Nausea. Later in the novel, there is also the unnamed assailant Roquentin reads about in the newspaper; this man rapes and murders a young girl named Lucienne. Finally, there is the Self-Taught Man who attempts to seduce a schoolboy. Readers would assume that these predators are wrong. However, Sartre muddies the issue by having Roquentin observe signs of interest in the girl. There is "something powerful and wicked on [the girl's] rat-like face," and she awaits what will happen with "a sort of assured expectation."
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