“Nausea”, analysis of the novel by Jean-Paul Sartre

“Nausea” was written by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1938 during author`s stay in Gavres. Genre of the work is philosophical novel. In it, author performs the analysis of classical problems of existentialism as literary school: apprehension of the notion of existence and, as the result of this apprehension, theses of the absurdity of human life, its senselessness and life being a burden for the intellectual mind.

In its shape, “Nausea” is a diary of the thirty years old historian Antoine Roquentin. In it, the hero carefully and in detail describes his revelation of the notion of existence of the surrounding world and himself as part of it. Living on a rent and doing historical studies, the main character is spared the necessity to work and, as a result, to be connected to the society.

Antoine Roquentin lives alone. He had a great love in the past with Anny – an actress, obsessed with creation of “perfect moments”. In the present, the hero only comes close to the understanding of what those are. Time for Roquentin is an important part of existence. He feels it as a succession of moments, every one of which dragging the next one. He feels the imminence of time as a “feeling of adventure” and sees himself as a “hero of a novel” in these moments. Sometimes Roquentin feels the time as a volumetric substance, in which the surrounding reality gets stuck. Observing the events that happen in the present, the hero understands that there is nothing but the present and nothing can there be: the past is long gone and the future is meaningless for nothing important is happening there. But the surrounding things and his own body – that`s what scares Roquentin the most. With each new record, he comprehends the essence of the things more and more and he understands that they do not differ from one another – red seat in the tram can as well be a dead donkey and his own hand – a crab, moving his legs. As soon as items start losing their names, the hero gets crushed by the sheer burden of knowledge. The approaching Nausea is a “striking obviousness”, that is hard to come to terms with.

The composition of the novel features logically built literary episodes that grow towards the finale into classical philosophical arguments about existence. The style of “Nausea” is closely bound with the course of the narration: at first, it resembles the diary records of a regular person, then it turns into historic journalism, then it takes features of the regular literary style (bright and metaphorical) and then it ends with precise philosophical theses, that describe main conclusions of the main character:

  • He feels that he is redundant and understands that even his death will not change that, for his dead flesh will be just as redundant.
  • The existence of both man and world has no reasons and, therefore, sense.
  • The whole terror of existence is that everything already exists – even something, that does not want to exist, does so, because it simply “cannot not exist”.

Comprehension of these truths by the hero is finished with understanding of his loneliness, freedom, and, as a result, a spiritual death. Roquentin does not believe in God, does not belong to the society and love, represented by Anny, is lost for him forever, because she has long since come to the conclusion that there are no “perfect moments” in the world and she is a regular “living dead”. Loners just like Roquentin cannot help him. People like this get bored with each other. And loners like Self-taught-man have different ways with the hero, for he is indifferent to the people: he doesn’t love them, but he doesn’t hate them either. People for Roquentin are just another substance of the existence.

Exit from the state of Nausea the hero finds in art. While listening throughout the novel to the record with the song of Negress, Roquentin seems to transcend the time. In his opinion, music does not belong to the general existence. It is separate, like a feeling, like an emotion, like a rush of the soul. And thanks to music the hero arrives at the idea, that it is possible to overcome the weight of the world by writing a book, that will show the beautiful part of existence to the people.

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