Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea: plot and analysis

Sartre’s Nausea: Plot

Published in 1938, la nausée [nausea] is Jean-Paul Sartre's first novel. It consists of the diary of Antoine Roquentin, a young man of thirty who, after a series of adventurous travels, settles in a provincial town, Bouville, with the intention of completing a historical research on an eighteenth-century libertine, the Marquis of Rollebon. After three years in Bouville he begins to write a personal diary, the first dated piece of which dates back to Monday 29 January 1932.

The decision to publish these writings is not the author's: the notebooks were later found among his papers and published without any retouching. Roquentin lives in a hotel room near the station and spends his evenings at the "Meeting of the railway workers". For his research he spends hours in the municipal library, where he meets the self-taught, a strange scholar who reads all the books owned by the library in alphabetical order. In the flow of everyday life, disturbing signs infiltrate: he picks up a pebble to make it bounce on the water and inexplicably throws it; he feels in his own hands a new way of taking objects; he feels another man's hand as a "big white worm". He does not feel "bourgeois" at ease in the world.

Existential Nausea

He is convinced that he has contracted a disease. It is called "The Nausea". It consists in the inability to give an order to things: the perception of the subject is altered and the story proceeds by hallucinations. Until, in front of the root of a chestnut tree in a garden, the "contingency" of existence is revealed to him: Roquentin feels reduced to a passive object, he does not succeed in distinguishing himself from the magma of things and the awareness of living from the given in fact to live. Thus everything, including its own existence, becomes in his eyes "too much", that is, unjustifiable and senseless. Understanding that "everything is free" causes "Nausea": "the stomach turns and everything starts to float". The regular and reassuring life of the Bouville provincials (whose Sunday walk is given a fiercely ironic description) is nothing more than an attempt to hide the senselessness of existence. Before leaving Bouville, Roquentin enters for the last time the "Meeting of the railway workers", where, listening to jazz music, he suddenly sees the possibility of giving meaning to life through writing.

Sartre's Nausea: Analysis

Sartre has transferred his philosophical thought into the form of the fictional novel and has inserted a note of suspense in the story, according to the model of the detective novel. The speculative nature of these diary notes requires the compression of the action in favor of the inner monologue. Speaking of the fictitious character of the "adventure" (the opposite of "Nausea") which presupposes the transformation of life into sequences linked to a connection of chance, it is the protagonist himself who explains the reasons for the inadequacy of his experiences with respect to the structure of the traditional novel; in this sense the NAUSEA is an example of non-conformism.