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Nausea | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Nausea | Plot Summary

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Nausea is set in January and February 1932, in the fictional port town of Bouville, France. (The novel is set in 1932, but the days of the week match the calendar for 1934.) After years of traveling the world, Antoine Roquentin, a man of independent means, settles in Bouville to write a book about an 18th-century French aristocrat, the Marquis de Rollebon.

Roquentin Experiences the Nausea

In January Antoine Roquentin has several unsettling experiences. He picks up a stone, and its wet surface gives him a feeling of "sweetish sickness." He bends down to pick up a piece of paper, but he finds he cannot. He decides to keep a diary to better understand these experiences. Soon after, in a café, Roquentin feels overcome by what he calls "the Nausea." He realizes the Nausea is out there, in the world, not just in himself.

An ex-lover, Anny, writes to Roquentin, asking him to come visit her in Paris. Roquentin decides he will go visit her soon. He spends his days in the library, working on his book on Rollebon. He also talks to an acquaintance, the Self-Taught Man, who is reading his way through the library in alphabetical order. Another semiregular feature of Roquentin's life is his casual affair with Francoise, manager of a café in Bouville. One day Roquentin realizes his book on Rollebon is pointless. The past is dead, and things are meaningless. His real aim in writing the Rollebon book, he realizes, was to insulate himself from existence, to avoid realizing he was alone in a world without meaning. Now that the veil has fallen from his eyes, the book project is useless, and so he quits.

Roquentin Rejects Humanism

Over lunch, the Self-Taught Man tells Roquentin he believes in socialism and humanism, a system of thought where humans, their values, and interests are most important. Socialism is an economic theory, which includes structuring society so that material goods, means of production, and wealth are shared and controlled by the community. The Self-Taught Man tries to persuade Roquentin these are his ideas, too. Roquentin rejects the Self-Taught Man's ideas as vague abstractions. They only serve to deceive the Self-Taught Man into ignoring the meaninglessness of his existence. The Self-Taught Man mentions a book called Is Life Worth Living? The author of that book says life has only the meaning we give it. The Self-Taught Man thinks the author's ideas are close to Roquentin's, but Roquentin thinks they are so far apart it's not even worth explaining.

After the lunch, Roquentin takes a tram, and he has what seems like a revelation. He realizes he exists. Later he sits under a chestnut tree and has a vision of existence. That night he decides he will move to Paris. After his visit to Anny, he will come back to Bouville just one more time to settle his affairs, and then he will move to Paris.

Roquentin Visits Anny

Several days later, Roquentin visits Anny at her hotel in Paris. She has grown old and fat, he thinks. She used to act in stage plays, as a way of realizing what she called "perfect moments." Now, she has given up searching for perfect moments. She tells Roquentin she is now a "kept" woman, living off her lover. She also says, "I outlive myself." Anny leaves for London with her new lover the next day, and Roquentin returns to Bouville.

Roquentin Listens to "Some of These Days"

During Roquentin's last days in Bouville, the Self-Taught Man is involved in a scandal. A security guard at the library, who is known as the Corsican, sees the Self-Taught Man stroking a schoolboy's hand in a suggestive way. The irate guard punches the Self-Taught Man and bans him from the library. Roquentin isn't all that fond of the Self-Taught Man, but he feels outraged on behalf of him, whom he regards as harmless. Later that day Roquentin goes to one of his old haunts, the Railwaymen's Rendezvous, to say goodbye to Francoise. They were never exclusive, and their goodbye is unemotional. A waitress offers to play Roquentin his favorite record, a ragtime version of "Some of These Days." The record is scratched, and Roquentin realizes the song exists apart from the material recording of it. Roquentin wonders if he could create something like the song but in another medium. He decides to abandon his research and instead write a novel.

Nausea Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Roquentin realizes he is done traveling.

Rising Action

2 Settling in Bouville, Roquentin works on his book.

3 He picks up a stone one day and feels "a sweetish sickness."

4 Roquentin decides to keep a diary.

5 In a café, Roquentin is overcome by "the Nausea."

6 In the museum Roquentin feels he has no right to exist.

7 Roquentin quits writing his book on Rollebon.

8 Roquentin feels penetrated by existence.


9 Roquentin has a vision of existence.

Falling Action

10 Roquentin decides to move to Paris.

11 Roquentin visits Anny and sees they have no future together.


12 Roquentin decides to write a novel.

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