Course Hero. "Nausea Study Guide." Course Hero. 1 Mar. 2019. Web. 24 July 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Nausea/>.
Course Hero. (2019, March 1). Nausea Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 24, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Nausea/
(Course Hero, 2019)
Course Hero. "Nausea Study Guide." March 1, 2019. Accessed July 24, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Nausea/.
Course Hero, "Nausea Study Guide," March 1, 2019, accessed July 24, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Nausea/.
In the stairwell at the hotel where he lives, Antoine Roquentin overhears a woman named Lucie talking to the landlady. They both look slovenly; the landlady is not wearing her dentures, and Lucie is dirty and disheveled. Forty-year-old Lucie is complaining about her handsome young husband, a factory worker who perhaps married her for her savings. "She has an unhappy home life," remarks Roquentin. Her husband drinks, and she wishes he would go with other women.
Something "gnaws at" Lucie, Roquentin thinks. She can't take the upper hand with her husband, and she can't "abandon herself to her suffering." Roquentin thinks she is also a miser, and that she "must be miserly with her pleasures, as well." Maybe she wishes she were free, Roquentin thinks. However, wishing for freedom is no use: "She is bound."
The entry begins with a long quotation from a history book Roquentin consults. The passage gives a brief version of the life of the Marquis de Rollebon. An ugly man who nonetheless had many girlfriends, the Marquis de Rollebon was a favorite at the court of Marie-Antoinette (1755–93), queen consort of King Louis XVI of France (1774–93). The Marquis de Rollebon spent time in Russia, where "he attempt[ed] to assassinate Paul I," who was the czar. After Russia, the Marquis de Rollebon spent a dozen years traveling "to the farthest countries; the Indies, China, Turkestan." In 1813 he returned to Paris, where at age 70 he married the 18-year-old Mademoiselle de Roquelaure. He was "at the apogee of his life." Not long after he was arrested for treason, and he died after five years in prison.
Roquentin copied down the quotation years ago, back when he was enthralled with the Marquis de Rollebon. Most of the documents about the Marquis de Rollebon are in Bouville, which is why Roquentin settled there rather than in Paris or elsewhere. "Was I happy!" writes Roquentin, thinking of his early passion for the Marquis de Rollebon. Now his vision of the Marquis de Rollebon "has paled considerably." For one thing, he doesn't understand the Marquis de Rollebon's life after 1801, which is the year of the death of Czar Paul I by assassination. He can't make sense of the Marquis de Rollebon's actions after that. Also, he used to be more interested in the Marquis de Rollebon than in the book he would write about him. Now he finds "the man begins to bore me," and he is much more interested in the book he wants to write.
There are plenty of hypotheses about the Marquis de Rollebon; he probably did participate in the assassination of Paul I. But nothing can be proven, thinks Roquentin. Worse, the facts about the Marquis de Rollebon cohere when only Roquentin makes them cohere; all the energy comes from Roquentin. In writing history he has "the feeling of doing a work of pure imagination." A novel's characters would "have a more genuine appearance" and "be more agreeable."
Friday finds Roquentin mulling over the hour of the day and the quality of the light. It is three o'clock: "too late or too early for anything you want to do." Roquentin feels "I know in advance the day is lost." He takes note of the "dirty white wisps of fog" and the oddly unpleasant sunlight: "When the sun begins shining like that the best thing to do is go to bed." He thinks fondly of yesterday's sky, which he liked: "a narrow sky, black with rain."
The Marquis de Rollebon's involvement in the assassination of Paul I is no clearer to Roquentin today. He summarizes the arguments of a historian named Tcherkoff, who believes the Marquis de Rollebon did participate in the assassination. "But I suspect Tcherkoff," Roquentin writes, adding Tcherkoff is "a half-mad, sadistic magician." A contemporary of the Marquis de Rollebon writes, "I dare confess he bored me beyond all possible limits." This contradicts the image of the Marquis de Rollebon the ladies' man. Another historian tells an anecdote in which the Marquis de Rollebon converted an atheist on his deathbed, purely because he had bet a priest he could. After puzzling over other anecdotes, Roquentin declares, "M. de Rollebon bores me to tears."
The light disgusts Roquentin. He then looks in a mirror, where a "grey thing" appears. The gray thing is Roquentin's own face, which he finds doesn't cohere as a face. Other people's faces "have some sense, some direction." People have told Roquentin he is ugly, but what he finds more troubling about his face is its blankness. He "cannot understand" his face. Only his red hair pleases him.
Still puzzling over his face, Roquentin continues gazing in the mirror. A relative used to warn him against looking too long into a mirror, saying it would turn him into "a monkey." Roquentin thinks he has slipped many phyla below that; he has looked at his own face so long it is "on the fringe of the vegetable world, at the level of jellyfish." He gazes into the mirror so long he falls asleep, only waking when he loses his balance.
Are other people as similarly baffled by their own faces? wonders Roquentin. He is aware of his own face with the kind of "dumb, organic" sense with which he perceives his own body. He recalls Roquentin also once fell asleep while gazing in a mirror. People see themselves in what others reflect back to them, thinks Roquentin. "I have no friends," he remarks, and that is why his own flesh appears "so naked" to him. Unable to work, Roquentin waits for night to put an end to the sunlight.
"Things are bad!" announces Roquentin at the start of the entry. He adds, "I have it, the filth, the Nausea." It overcame him while he was at the Railwaymen's Rendezvous. He had wanted to meet Francoise for sex, but as soon as he walked in the waitress told him Francoise wasn't there. When the waitress, Madeleine, asked Roquentin for his order, he was overcome with nausea; colors swam before his eyes and he wanted to vomit. "And since that time, the Nausea has not left me; it holds me," writes Roquentin.
In the grip of the Nausea, Roquentin has strange perceptions of his own body. He feels he cannot turn his head, and his hand appears to him as a foreign object. The barman's purple suspenders and blue shirt induce nausea in Roquentin, as does the contrast of the blue shirt and the brown wall. Roquentin notes the Nausea does not originate in himself: "The Nausea is not inside me: I feel it out there ... everywhere around me."
To soothe himself, he asks the waitress to play one of his favorite songs, a ragtime tune called "Some of These Days." Listening to the song does please him, but the Nausea remains his central experience. "It is a small happiness of Nausea," he notes. At the end of the song, his feeling changes: "I felt my body harden and the Nausea vanish." He thinks back on his travels: "I have had real adventures," he says, even though "I can recapture no detail." All his wandering has led him here, where he sits in a café listening to a song.
Planning to go to a movie, Roquentin leaves the café and walks the streets. Walking along the Boulevard Noir (Black Boulevard), Roquentin ends up in a very dark spot, out of range of the street lamps. "Here there is nothing but blackness," he says. He experiences the darkness as "purity." Then two people walk up: Roquentin's neighbor Lucie and a man named Charles, presumably her husband. The man tells Lucie to "shut your trap." Roquentin can see Lucie is suffering, and he envies her. "She is lucky," he thinks; he himself feels nothing but "a little empty purity."
Roquentin's neighbor Lucie is an example of the Sartrean concept of "bad faith," which is another name for self-deception. She denies she has the freedom to act; she stays with the man who makes her unhappy, and she pretends she cannot do anything about it. Sartre's existential philosophy counseled people to realize they are free—not limitlessly free, like gods or superheroes, but free to choose otherwise, within the limits of their situation. An authentic choice for Lucie might be to leave and start a new life. It might be equally authentic for her to stay with her husband and "abandon herself to her suffering," as Roquentin says. However, she does not do either one. Instead, she hypocritically enjoys and avoids her own freedom by wishing for freedom, as if freedom were some distant, unrealizable thing. At this point in the novel, Roquentin does not have a fully developed existentialist philosophy. He may very well be sincere when he says Lucie is "lucky." She does not have to face the reality of bare existence or the Nausea, as Roquentin does.
The short biography of the Marquis de Rollebon reveals he is almost Roquentin's double. Like Roquentin, he has traveled and had adventures. Also, according to one source, the Marquis de Rollebon is an ugly man who enjoys great success with women. People have said Roquentin is ugly, and he also avidly pursues women. This last character trait may be something of a self-portrait of Sartre. He was far from handsome, and yet he became something of a celebrity in the postwar years. As a biographer of Sartre, Sarah Bakewell reports, in 1945 the caption under a photo of Sartre in Time magazine read "Philosopher Sartre. Women swooned."
It could be said all the characters Roquentin has a semi-close relationship with reflect in amplified form some aspect of Roquentin's personality. Anny is disillusioned like Roquentin. The Self-Taught Man doggedly pursues his own intellectual project, like Roquentin; and the Marquis de Rollebon is an ugly man popular with women. Perhaps this reflects Sartre's limitations as a novelist. He has invented the same character over and over. It could also be Sartre's understanding of social life and that people see themselves in others. In fact, Roquentin is aware he does not have any close friends or lovers. He says young people can tell clear, plausible narratives because they have friends to tell them to; thus, having friends gives their lives sense. For friendless Roquentin, "The plausible disappears at the same time as the friends."
A mirror, of course, is also a source of reflection and self-knowledge. "People who live in society have learned how to see themselves in mirrors as they appear to their friends," says Roquentin. However, just as he has no real friends, Roquentin is also incapable of seeing himself in the mirror. When he looks in the mirror, he does not see a man with certain traits and a certain personality. As Roquentin says of the faces of others, they have a sense, a direction. Looking in the mirror, Roquentin sees instead a "grey thing," and he notices ugly, irregular, fleshy details: "swelled lips, crevices, mole holes." However, the novel also suggests Roquentin is seeing his face as it really is, flesh undisguised by customs and narratives: "nature without humanity," as Roquentin says of his face.
On the Boulevard Noir, or Black Boulevard, Roquentin wanders into a dark spot, and he experiences the darkness as "purity." Perhaps in the darkness, without sight or the company of people, he can perceive what existence is. The use of the significant name "Boulevard Noir" resonates with the fictional town name, Bouville, which means "Mudville." Blackness and mud are significant features of the world of nature in the way Roquentin encounters it, particularly later in the novel. His "vision" of existence is occasioned by the black root of a chestnut tree. Roquentin in the grip of the Nausea often perceives the world as wet, viscous, and amorphous, like mud.
In the diary entry titled "5:30" Roquentin has his worst bout of the Nausea yet. Roquentin feels unsettled as he thinks experiencing the Nausea in a café means he has passed a new threshold. He used to think "cafés were my only refuge because they were full of people and well lighted." However, now he realizes he can experience the intense solitude of the Nausea even in a busy and well-lit place, surrounded by people. His experience of the Nausea at the Railwaymen's Rendezvous is also a turning point because he no longer views himself as the origin of the Nausea. At the outset of the diary, he had speculated, "I'm the one who has changed." Now he is emphatic he is not the one who has changed: "The Nausea is not inside me: I feel it out there ... everywhere around me."
Roquentin still has a ways to go in his ideas about the Nausea's origin. At the beginning of the diary, he had told himself, "I must choose." He felt he had to assign the Nausea's origin either to himself or to "this room, this city and this nature." After his experience at the Railwaymen's Rendezvous, he simply takes the opposite position: the Nausea is "out there." By the end of the novel, he might see this as a false choice, between consciousness and world. "Consciousness and the world are given at one stroke," as Sartre writes in 1939 in a paper on Husserl.