Nausea Book Summary – Jean Paul Sartre

Nausea Book Summary - Jean Paul Sartre
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Nausea is the first literary work by Jean-Paul Sartre, published in 1938. The novel is considered one of the most important works of the 20th century.

Summary Of Nausea Book

Antoine Roquentin is a historian living in the French town of Bouville. For the past few days, he has been grappling with disturbing and nauseating feelings. He doesn’t fully understand what’s happening and constantly doubts whether it’s worth keeping a diary. However, a few days later, he becomes so affected by these feelings, which he calls “Nausea,” that he begins to rapidly list every trivial fact, detail, sensation, and impression occurring within and around him. He holds a stone in his hand, examines a glass of beer, and tries to touch a wet piece of paper in the street—each time, he feels an unsettling and overwhelming sense of existence.

Roquentin has been researching Marquis de Rollebon, who lived during the French Revolution, for the past ten years. Since Rollebon was originally from Bouville, Roquentin moved there to complete his research and write a book about him. However, the feelings of Nausea soon permeate his research as well. When he looks in the mirror, he is unsure if he sees his own face or Rollebon’s. He loses interest in his work, realizing that it’s impossible to understand Rollebon as if he were still alive. Roquentin becomes disturbed by the constraints of the past and decides to live his life in the present.

Roquentin begins to understand that his feelings of Nausea are related to the question of existence. He realizes that he has been using Rollebon and the past in general to justify his own existence. He bravely defends his own existence and asserts that everyone around him is afraid to acknowledge their own existence. By focusing on the existence of objects and people, Roquentin concludes that “existence precedes essence.”

While looking at the root of a chestnut tree, he realizes that the essence of the root—its physical properties—actually hides the reality of the object’s existence. The comforting surface made up of tastes, colors, smells, weights, and appearances is, in fact, a creation of the observer. When looking beyond the essence of objects, Roquentin confronts their naked existence and thus encounters the source of his Nausea.

Roquentin visits his former lover, Anny, in Paris, hoping to reconnect with her, but finds that they can no longer communicate well. He tries to explain his feelings of Nausea to Anny, but she does not understand. They part ways, knowing they will never see each other again. Upon returning to Bouville, Roquentin decides to free himself from the past and embrace existence in the present.

He tries to explain his thoughts to a lonely café acquaintance, “The Self-Taught Man,” but cannot convince him that human love is merely an essence and that existence has no purpose—only “nothingness.” Despite his despair and having abandoned his research, Roquentin decides to move to Paris and write a novel.

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