Nausea Study Guide

Nausea

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Nausea is a novel by the French Existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. The novel's protagonist, a historian named Antoine Roquentin, arrives in Brunville to do research. As the novel progresses, Roquentin is overcome by a sense of nausea and anxiety when encountering inanimate objects. Roquentin's disgust towards physical being becomes an inescapable struggle with the relationship between his consciousness and the outside world, nearly driving him to insanity. In the end, Roquentin reaches an epiphany while listening to music, finding a sense of wonder that is the flip-side of his nausea.

Antoine is a former adventurer who has been living in Bouville for three years. Antoine does not keep in touch with family, and has no friends. He is a loner at heart and often likes to listen to other people's conversations and examine their actions. He settles in the fictional French seaport town of Bouville to finish his research on the life of an 18th-century political figure. But during the winter of 1932 a "sweetish sickness," as he calls nausea, increasingly impinges on almost everything he does or enjoys: his research project, the company of an autodidact who is reading all the books in the local library alphabetically, a physical relationship with a café owner named Françoise, his memories of Anny, an English girl he once loved, even his own hands and the beauty of nature. Even though he at times admits to trying to find some sort of solace in the presence of others, he also exhibits signs of boredom and lack of interest when interacting with people. His relationship with Françoise is mostly hygienic in nature, for the two hardly exchange words and, when invited by the Self-Taught Man to accompany him for lunch, he agrees only to write in his diary later that: "I had as much desire to eat with him as I had to hang myself." He can afford not to work, but spends a lot of his time writing a book about a French politician of the eighteenth century. Antoine does not think highly of himself: "The faces of others have some sense, some direction. Not mine. I cannot even decide whether it is handsome or ugly. I think it is ugly because I have been told so." When he starts suffering from the Nausea he feels the need to talk to Anny, but when he finally does, it makes no difference to his condition. He eventually starts to think he does not even exist: "My existence was beginning to cause me some concern. Was I a mere figment of the imagination?"

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