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Nausea | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Nausea | Themes


Profound Boredom

In Nausea the experience of boredom prepares the narrator, Antoine Roquentin, to see the truth of existence. Roquentin is often bored: while he is in Vietnam the statuette that he looks at bores him. In Bouville the Marquis de Rollebon bores him "beyond all possible limits." During his final days in Bouville, he experiences a "profound boredom." Boredom is a sludgy, dull, heavy mood; from the perspective of boredom, all projects look useless. For Sartre, this is what is illuminating about boredom. In boredom people give up the projects, titles, and status with which they fled from the truth of existence. Each of Roquentin's experiences of boredom precedes a decision in which he exercises his freedom. Bored while looking at the statuette in Vietnam, Roquentin realizes his adventure seeking is pointless, and he resolves to return to France. Bored "beyond all possible limits" by the Marquis de Rollebon, Roquentin realizes writing a history book is pointless. Together these decisions lead him to the place where he can realize the truth of existence during his vision in the park.

Palpable Disgust

Antoine Roquentin's (the narrator's) experience of "the Nausea" seems like a migraine aura or a seizure aura: an altering of perception that precedes an intense experience. Much of "the Nausea" is described in visual or tactile terms, such as the "soft, sticky ... jelly" of existence that pervades the park. However, the primary metaphor for Roquentin's experience of the truth of existence is, precisely, nausea, the dizzy revulsion that precedes vomiting. Just as vomiting is a violent ejection, Roquentin's experience of "the Nausea" seems burdened by the world, suffocated or drowned by sensory details. Even Roquentin's sexual encounters revolve around disgust. Francoise's genitals are depicted as a garden with "ants ... running everywhere, centipedes and ringworm ... horrible animals." However, disgust helps distance Roquentin from the world, and, in this mood of violently rejecting the world, Roquentin is able to then see the truth of existence.

Herd Mentality

For the narrator, Antoine Roquentin, most people, most of the time, are in flight from the truth. Once in a while, Roquentin turns toward someone with the hope they too share these experiences. Walking down the street, he wonders about passersby: "Were they like me? were they, too, afraid?" When he visits Anny and she expresses disgust, he wonders if he has found a compatriot: "She is as solitary as I," Roquentin thinks. However, for the most part, he has an arrogant certainty of his uniqueness, which expresses itself in contempt for the "herd" of common people. "Idiots," Roquentin says with scorn when he looks at the people of Bouville. They all follow and do not "see" for themselves the nature of existence.

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