Study Guide

Nausea Appearances

By Jean-Paul Sartre

Appearances

I can understand nothing of [my] face. 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. (6.16)

Antoine's opinion of his own face is pretty much the same as his opinion of his life. Other people's faces have direction just as other people have direction. Antoine, though, lacks all sense of direction, which he thinks is something that also appears in his face. When it comes time to judge his face (and his life), he ultimately decides it might be ugly because other people have said so. Not exactly a great thought to start your day.

Perhaps it is impossible to understand one's own face. Or perhaps it is because I am a single man? People who live in society have learned how to see themselves as they appear to their friends. (6.22)

Antoine wonders if it's even possible for him to judge his own face, since other people spend way more time looking at it than he does. Ultimately, he thinks that he'd have a better understanding of his appearance (and maybe his life) if he spent more time around other people.

I looked at her large cheeks which never stopped rushing towards the ears. In the hollow of the cheeks, beneath the cheekbones, there were two pink stains which seemed weary on this poor flesh. (7.4)

As with just about anyone he meets, Antoine sizes up the waitress named Madeleine in less than five seconds. He sees that her flesh is "weary," which is kind of funny, considering that there's really no one in this book who isn't weary according to Antoine's judgment. At this point, we might start to wonder if he's just putting his weariness onto the rest of the world.

Cousin Adolphe has no eyes: his swollen, retracted eyelids open only on a little of the whites. He smiles sleepily; from time to time he snorts, yelps and writhes feebly, like a dreaming dog. (7.8)

Like almost everyone he meets, Antoine also thinks that the man running a bar named Adolphe is weary. The whole world is weary, Antoine. Tell us something we don't know. Imagine how amazing it would be if he suddenly said, "So and so is happy without question. The happiest person ever." Not gonna happen, though.

His blue cotton shirt stands out joyfully against a chocolate-coloured wall. That too brings on the Nausea […] I feel it out there in the wall, in the suspenders, everywhere around me. (7.9)

It's not just people's appearances that can stop Antoine dead in his tracks, but also the appearances of everyday objects like suspenders or wallpaper. When two things seem to clash, like the color of suspenders and the wall behind them, Antoine can feel his sense of "Nausea" start to overwhelm him. He begins to realize that underneath his regular ideas about the world lies a realm of brute, silent existence that doesn't care at all about human concepts or human forms of meaning. It just is, and it doesn't care.

She can stroll along the Rue Tournebride as much as she likes, no one will mistake her for a lady; she is betrayed by the cynical sparkle of her eyes, by her sophisticated look. (12.22)

In keeping with his keen eye, Antoine spots a young woman walking in a crowd of rich people, but he can tell from the cynical look in her eyes that she is not an upper class "lady." Her cynical look comes from a lifetime of trying to survive, of worrying about money and always putting practical things first.

[Jean Parrottin's] dazzling eyes devoured his whole face. Behind this glow I noticed the thin, tight lips of a mystic. (21.32)

Even with people who have been dead for decades, Antoine feels like he can tell everything he needs to know about them by looking at their faces. In this case, he feels that beneath a pair of dazzling eyes, he can see that this man was a mystic at heart. This observation is kind of ironic, though, since Antoine has absolutely no way of checking whether or not this is true.

I give them a good look at my face so they can engrave it in their memory. (24.288)

When he notices that a bunch of people in a restaurant are staring at him, Antoine gets up to leave. Before going, though, he makes sure to give them one long look at his face so they won't forget him. After all, he wants them to remember the face of the person who figured out the truth of existence— the one and only Antoine Roquentin!

It's really she. She lets her arms hang, she has the morose face which made her look like an awkward adolescent girl. But she doesn't look like a little girl anymore. She is fat, her breasts are heavy. (28.3)

When he meets Anny for the first time in nearly ten years, Antoine realizes that she has gained weight. He also finds that she still has the same look on her face that makes her seem like an adolescent girl. But she's not a girl anymore; she's gotten older, and Antoine's impressions of her appearance will eventually prove true for her personality, since her experiences in the past ten years have made her very "old" and jaded.

"That hair can't stand anything, it swears with hats, chair cushions, even at a wallpaper background." (29.49).

Anny seems to see the truth of Antoine's personality just by looking at his hair. She says that his hair basically swears or clashes with everything that's put near it. The same could be said of what's beneath Antoine's hair—his brain—because his thoughts seem to clash with everything around him, too. By seeing so much about Antoine in just his hair, Anny shows that maybe there's something to the idea that people's appearances reveal a lot about themselves.

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