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Literature Study GuidesNauseaWednesday February 21 600 Pm Saturday February 24 Summary

Nausea | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Nausea | Wednesday, February 21, 6:00 p.m.–Saturday, February 24 | Summary



Wednesday, February 21, 6:00 p.m.

Antoine Roquentin has another revelation, or the revelation he had as he jumped off the tram continues. He has now "understood all that has happened to me since January." The knowledge brings him no satisfaction; he is "crushed" by it. He also thinks the Nausea is not an illness or "passing fit." Instead, the Nausea "is I." Roquentin then recounts his latest experience.

After getting off the tram, Roquentin goes to a park. Sitting on a bench under a chestnut tree, he looks at an exposed root of the tree. The word root does not occur to him; instead he sees a "black, knotty mass." All words seem to have vanished from him, "and with them the significance of things."

"Then I had this vision," says Roquentin. He used to be like everyone else, saying the things they said, such as "The ocean is green" or "There is a seagull." He never asked himself about the meaning of the word is in the statement "The ocean is green." He never noticed the seagull was "an 'existing seagull.'" Or he thought of beings in terms of the categories they belonged to; the sea belonged to "the class of green objects." However, classification hid existence from him. He also perceives now the individual things are "an appearance, a veneer." With his newfound clarity, he sees all separate things melt, leaving behind "soft, monstrous masses ... a frightful, obscene nakedness."

In the park, he experiences things as "in the way." He, who is "soft, weak, obscene ... juggling with dismal thoughts," is also "in the way." He considers suicide, but he realizes his corpse would also be in the way.

Now, writing about the experience, Roquentin uses the word absurdity. In the park, though, he was thinking without words, he says. He "had found the key to Existence," he says. Explanations have nothing to do with it, he says. "This root ... was ... below all explanation," Roquentin says. The root is black, and yet the word black doesn't capture it. The root is more than its qualities.

In the park, Roquentin also feels he has "understood the Nausea." He says, "The essential thing is contingency." There is no way to "define existence as necessity." Instead, existence exists without reason. "To exist is simply to be there," says Roquentin. The bourgeois town leaders in the portrait were hiding from the bare truth of existence when they talked about "rights." He also claims existence is not something one can theorize about. Instead, "It must invade you suddenly, master you, weigh heavily on your heart like a great motionless beast."

Roquentin looks around the park, noticing the tree is an existing tree. In fact, there are "existence[s] " everywhere he looks. "Existence everywhere, infinitely, in excess, for ever and everywhere." The excess of this "universal burgeoning" stuns him and even disgusts him. The will to exist does not explain it, thinks Roquentin. Evolution and the "struggle for life" do not explain this burgeoning, growing existence. Things don't even want to exist, thinks Roquentin; they just do. "Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance," he thinks.

Roquentin falls asleep in the park and dreams of a man and a woman he saw in a café. He wakes and feels "The World, the naked World [is] suddenly revealing itself." He shouts, "Filth! what rotten filth!" Then "the World disappeared ... or else I woke up." He leaves the park, feeling "I had learned all I could know about existence." He returns to the hotel to write about what he experienced.


The experience at the chestnut tree has changed things for Roquentin. He has come to a decision: "I'm going to live in Paris." The only thing tying him to Bouville was the book on Rollebon, and now that's over. He will go visit Anny in Paris, come back to Bouville to settle his accounts, and then move to Paris.

Friday (February 23)

Twenty minutes before his train leaves for Paris, Roquentin is in the Railwaymen's Rendezvous. He has a "strong feeling of adventure."

Saturday, February 24

Anny, wearing a long black dress, invites Roquentin in to her hotel room. He notices she has gained weight. Her hotel room doesn't look like her kind of place; he remembers she used to set out a huge collection of shawls and photos and knickknacks, making any place her own. Anny tells him he hasn't changed. She also tells him she no longer acts in the theater. "I'm being kept," she announces; a man pays her bills. Roquentin asks whether the man is English, but Anny declines to answer.

Roquentin tells Anny he lives in Bouville and is working on a book about the Marquis de Rollebon. He does not announce his plans to move to Paris or his decision to stop writing the book. Anny accuses him of not noticing how she's changed. Roquentin replies he's changing too. Anny tells him, "I feel there are no more perfect moments." She adds, "I outlive myself."

Anny explains her theory of perfect moments. When she was young, she read a history book in which there were very few illustrations. She decided these represented "privileged situations," which could crystallize into "perfect moments." She no longer believes in them. Roquentin thinks to himself they "have lost the same illusions." Anny no longer believes in perfect moments, and he no longer believes in adventures. "She thinks as I do," writes Roquentin.

Because he senses they are so alike, Roquentin tells her his ideas about existence, "perhaps at too great length." When he finishes, she denies they are alike. He is self-centered, and she is "a man of action," says Anny. Roquentin tries to tell her his ideas are about action, but she doesn't believe him. Once again, she says she "outlives" herself, and then she tells him about her travels with the man who keeps her. Roquentin tells her about the Railwaymen's Rendezvous and his favorite record.

The topic of perfect moments recurs. Anny became an actress so she could put such perfect moments on the stage. But in the end, she says, that attempt was a failure. No one was really carried by the magic of theater, not the actors nor the audience. Roquentin tries to tell her about his book, but Anny interrupts him to talk about herself and the spiritual exercises she does from a book by the Spanish saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556).

Then Anny hustles Roquentin out, saying she expects another visitor—not the mystery man who keeps her, but a German painter. He gives her his Bouville address so she can write to him, and he thinks about the fact he might see her again in 10 years, if ever. They kiss briefly; Roquentin tries to pull her into an embrace, but Annie says, "No. That doesn't interest me any more. You can't begin again." They part.


Roquentin describes his experience in the park as a "vision." At times, it is a very nonvisual vision, a cerebral vision. In part, this is because "the words had vanished." Roquentin points out he is reconstructing the vision afterward in writing the diary. The vision is also nonvisual because some of the time Roquentin is realizing things Sartre learned from reading the works of German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976). Heidegger's central theme was that philosophy had obscured the question of the meaning of being. It is as if the meaning of being hides itself. This is what happens to Roquentin in the park. He says, "Existence hides itself. It is there ... it is us ... but you can never touch it." Like a philosopher who has forgotten how to ask the question of the meaning of being, Roquentin tries to think of being and finds instead he is "thinking of belonging," of the way beings can be categorized. His bleak revelation, too, is not depicted in sensory detail: "Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance." With this, Roquentin is finished with the Nausea it seems, or at least he has learned from it all he can.

However, Roquentin's vision in the park also has startling imagery; it is sometimes a wordless, perplexing vision of burgeoning, overwhelming matter. "Existence had suddenly unveiled itself," writes Roquentin. It no longer looks like "an abstract category." Instead, existence is "the very paste of things." Looking around the park, Roquentin no longer sees "the veneer" of "the diversity of things." Instead, existence is revealed in "soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder—naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness." His vision in the park is similar to the dream he fell into in Francoise's bed. There he had woken from a dream shouting, "This park smells of vomit." Here beneath the chestnut tree, Roquentin dreams again, and once again there is something gendered and sexual to existence's "obscene nakedness." Awake again, Roquentin feels an "enormous presence" he thinks he has dreamed into existence. This enormous presence is "soft, sticky, soiling everything, all thick, a jelly." As in Francoise's bed, Roquentin in the park recoils and shouts: "Filth! What rotten filth!" The revelation in the park has been a kind of trial, a dark night of the soul. Roquentin emerges from it dispassionate, like a lover no longer fascinated: "I had learned all I could know about existence." However, the strategy of fictionalizing phenomenology is only partly successful. Roquentin may have learned all he could know, but readers are left with a lot to puzzle over.

Roquentin anticipates his meeting with Anny with a "strong feeling of adventure." It is somewhat anticlimactic from the outset, though, since the novel's climax is the vision in the park. Sartre nonetheless creates tension in the scene with Anny by presenting the possibility Anny shares Roquentin's vision. She does seem to have had similar experiences. Like Roquentin, she is now disillusioned; he has ceased chasing adventures, and she has ceased chasing perfect moments. "She is as solitary as I," Roquentin thinks, but he realizes that is the very reason he "can do nothing for her."

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