Study Guide


Nausea Summary

One day, a guy named Antoine Roquentin decides to start writing a diary because he's worried that he's going crazy. For that reason, he wants to record all of his thought in order to understand how he might be changing—changing, perhaps, into a total nutbag.

He claims that a sort of mental sickness or "nausea" is starting to take over his brain and body, although he doesn't know where it has come from—it's not like he's eaten bad shellfish lately. He spends most of his time trying to distract himself from this feeling by having casual sex and working on a personal history project. But no matter how hard he tries his feelings of dread keep coming back. Whoops.

While leaving his apartment one day, Antoine gets a note from his ex lover Anny saying that she'll be in town soon and she wants to see him. Antoine feels like looking forward to this meeting is the only thing that gets him through the days, especially since he's becoming more and more bored with his history project. When Anny finally does show up, though, she tells him that she's with a new man and it's too late for him to get her back. Whoops again.

Toward the end of the book, Antoine realizes that his "nausea" isn't a mental illness, but just a side effect of him figuring out the truth of human existence. And what is this truth, you ask? Nothing… other than the fact that the universe is completely indifferent to human life. Humans are completely free to do whatever they want, Antoine thinks, because there's no God and human life does not have any higher purpose. There are only individuals who find meaning in their own unique ways.

On the one hand, this truth is good because it means individuals are totally free. On the other hand, it's sad because life doesn't have any intrinsic meaning, only the meaning that we choose to give it.

  • Chapter 1

    Editors' Note and Undated Pages

    • In order to make his fictional diary sound real, Sartre goes so far as to create some fictional editors to tell us that we're about to read the diary of a man named Antoine Roquentin.
    • We also learn that the first thing we're going to read is a sheet that hasn't been dated, but which seems to have been written a few weeks before the rest of the diary.
    • Just to fill out our background info, the editors tell us that Antoine spent a long time travelling around the world to places like North Africa, the Far East, and Central Europe before he settled in a French town named Bouville for three years.
    • It seems that while he was there, he was trying to write a history of some 18th-century political guy named the Marquis de Rollebon. And during that same time, he decided to start writing a diary.
    • So here we go, snooping in some dude's diary like a mom who's worried her teenage son is shoplifting.
    • Antoine Roquentin has decided that he wants to keep a diary so that he'll be able to remember what he's thinking and feeling as each day slips past him.
    • He is especially concerned with how specific objects (like his ink well), look one way to him one minute and a different way the next.
    • He starts to wonder early on if he's falling into some sort of madness, since his feelings about the world keep changing drastically from one minute to the next.
    • He listens outside his window for people waiting for a train. He expects the man in a neighboring apartment to be home soon. When the man arrives on schedule, Antoine feels a thrill that makes him think he's been cured of any madness.
    • He closes these opening passages by saying that there's only one case in which keeping a diary would be interesting, but doesn't tell us what it is. Thanks, Antoine.
  • Chapter 2

    Monday, 29 January, 1932

    • Antoine talks a bit about trying to write an objective history about his subject, the Marquis de Rollebon. He notices, though, that strange things are happening to his mind. For starters, there's something going on with his hands. They're clumsy and their movements don't feel familiar to him anymore.
    • He mentions another person in his life named the Self-Taught Man, who came to say good morning to him that day. We find out from a footnote that the STM's real name is Ogier P.
    • As time passes, Antoine realizes that some kind of change is happening to him and the things around him, but he has a tough time describing it in words.
    • As he wonders, he reminisces about travelling around the world on business with a guy named Mercier. During his travels, he snapped and decided that he was bored with travelling and bored with life in general, which led him back to Bouville, France.
    • Antoine seems to think that the world is preparing him for some sort of huge transformation in his life. He would like to know whether the change will be good or bad before it's too late.
  • Chapter 3

    Tuesday, 30 January

    • The entry starts with the phrase, "Nothing new." But it ironically continues for several pages, which is a lot of description for something that's not new.
    • He has worked on his book about Rollebon.
    • Then he's in a place called the Café Mably eating a sandwich. He reflects on how he lives alone and is always alone, if not physically than mentally. He doesn't connect with other human beings.
    • He does connect with delicious, delicious sandwiches, though.
    • He does admit that he hangs out with the "Self-Taught Man" (or STM) now and then, but the guy isn't really a friend. He also cavorts with a woman named Francoise who runs a bar. Basically, he asks her to sleep with him when he wants sex, and she always agrees after closing the bar for the night. He knows, though, that she sleeps with many men besides him. He barely ever speaks to her, though.
    • He used to think a lot about a girl named Anny whom he used to go out with. But she left him and now he's all alone.
    • He has trouble looking at physical objects for some reason. They fill him with a sense of dread.
    • He feels himself slipping towards fear. But again, he's not sure why. He remembers a crazy person he saw when he was younger and worries that this is the future that awaits him.
    • Earlier in the day, he saw a piece of paper lying on the ground and couldn't bring himself to bend down and pick it up. He has no clue why, but for some reason, he no longer felt like he was in control of his actions.
    • It's surprising, since he's a really big fan of picking up things he finds in the street.
    • His ex-lover Anny used to get mad at him for picking up dirty things and looking like a homeless person.
    • The reason he couldn't pick up the paper is because lately, he's been feeling as though objects are touching him rather than the other way around.
    • He remembers picking up a pebble at the beach a few days before and feeling like the stone was transmitting a weird feeling into his hand. Like a sort of… nausea.
    • Title alert. Wee-ooo, wee-ooo, wee-ooo (that's our title alert siren).
  • Chapter 4

    Thursday morning in the library

    • He hears a woman named Lucie in his apartment building gabbing with the landlady.
    • Lucie, it seems, has decided at age forty to start having an affair with a younger man. Her husband comes home to her drunk every night, and she's had enough of it.
    • She says everything would be better if he started seeing another woman, too.
    • Antoine, though, knows that Lucie is overwhelmed by guilt and will do almost anything to avoid thinking about what she's doing.
  • Chapter 5

    Thursday afternoon

    • According to Antoine's notes, the man he is researching (M. Rollebon) was "quite ugly" (5.1). But that didn't stop the dude from having lots of sexual partners. Like Antoine, the guy also did a lot of travelling in his career.
    • Starting at a certain point in the Marquis' life, Antoine understands almost nothing about him. There is plenty of info, but it doesn't come together into any sort of clear picture of the man. He wonders how other historians do such a good job of making their information form a coherent picture of the past. He seems unable to do it.
    • He feels like he'd be able to write something more truthful if he just wrote a fictional story, since he thinks it's pretty much impossible to speak the truth when writing about the past.
  • Chapter 6


    • Antoine spends much of his time wondering if Rollebon (the subject of his history book) was involved in the assassination of Paul I of Russia.
    • But the historian who claims this, a guy named Tcherkoff, is unreliable in Antoine's eyes.
    • He follows by telling a few more anecdotes about Rollebon, all of which seem to contradict one another.
    • After thinking and reading for a while more, Antoine decides that Rollebon "bores [him] to tears" (6.15).
    • Catching himself in a mirror, Antoine decides that he dislikes his own face. He thinks that other people have a look of purpose and meaning in their faces, but he doesn't. He also think his face is ugly, but is happy about his red hair, which makes him different from everyone else.
    • Um, Antoine. Allow us to introduce you to our friends Merida, Joan and Ron.
    • Staring at himself, he begins to nod off to sleep. But he catches himself when he loses his balance.
  • Chapter 7


    • Now all Antoine is telling us is that things are very bad for him. He is suffering from what he calls "the Nausea," which apparently struck him without warning while he was hanging out in a café. He had been in the café looking for sex with Francoise, but the waitress said the woman was shopping in town.
    • The Nausea took over as soon as the waitress asked for his order. He dropped into his seat and just saw colors swirling around him. He even wanted to throw up.
    • His neck feels like rubber and he finds that he can only move his eyes but not his head. The bartender is wearing colors that clash (blue and purple), and the visual is enough to make Antoine sick.
    • What is especially strange about this scene, though, is that Antoine says that the Nausea he feels isn't something coming from inside himself. Rather, he says, "The Nausea is not inside me: I feel it out there in the wall, in the suspenders, everywhere around me" (7.10). The Nausea comes from the world, not him.
    • While he's suffering, he hears people near him playing a game of cards. He calls out to the waitress to play one of his favorite records, hoping that it will help calm him down. It's an old ragtime song that he remembers American soldiers singing during the First World War.
    • As he listens to the record, he begins to feel warm and happy.
    • He goes into a trance, thinking about all the traveling he's done and how it has led him into a little café to spend the evening with old men playing cards. He plans to go to the movie theatre later that night.
    • He goes out into the street to kill time until the show. He loves how cold it is, feeling like the night is somehow purer with no one else on the streets and with everything so cold.
    • But right on cue, a couple appears in the street in front of him to ruin his solitude. It's a man and woman arguing, with the man commanding his wife to keep her mouth shut.
    • He realizes when he gets closer that the woman arguing with the man is Lucie, the woman in his building who is having an affair. The dude is no doubt her younger mistress (or man-stress). The woman is miserable because the guy wants to walk out on her.
    • Even though he realizes how miserable she is, Antoine just turns and walks away, feeling what he calls, "a little empty purity" (7.66).
  • Chapter 8

    Thursday, 11.30

    • Antoine is back in the library working on his book. He mentions that he has been down to a town square to smoke a pipe and he hung out by the statue of a guy named Gustave Impétraz. He feels like some sort of power is coming from this statue, even though Impétraz has been dead for a while. He feels like the statue wants to chase him out of the town square.
    • As he stares at the statue, Antoine is suddenly surprised by the Self-Taught Man. It turns out that he has gotten the day off from work and has decided to spend it at the library.
    • Back inside, he asks the Self-Taught Man what he's reading. The man looks embarrassed, then shows him two books: one by a guy named Larbalétrier and one by Lastex. He doesn't know why the STM is so ashamed, since the books look good to him.
    • For his own part, Antoine glances at a book someone has left open and starts reading from that point on.
  • Chapter 9


    • Antoine has given up reading his novel and has started working again, although he's pretty half-hearted about it. He sees that the Self-Taught Man has just gotten another book from the shelves, this one by a guy named Lavergne. He doesn't know why, but the STM's reading choices have begun to bother him.
    • Then all of a sudden, he figures out the STM's secret. The dude is reading through the entire library alphabetically! How weird is that? And the guy has already made it to "L."
    • When he realizes this, Antoine feels a rush of admiration for the STM. He wonders what the guy will do, though, if he actually gets through the library. What will he do then?
  • Chapter 10

    Friday, 3.00pm

    • Bored, Antoine looks out of his apartment window and yawns so hard that tears come to his eyes. Yup, that's what you call symbolism. Boredom = sadness.
    • Looking out the window, he remembers a time in his life when he was capable of feeling joy. Those were the days when he travelled a lot and felt like the world was always filled with new and exciting things to do.
    • As he looks to the past, though, he finds his memories disappearing. All that's left are words, and he talks about the past as if he's never been there.
    • He looks over some of his old photos and finds one of his ex-lover Anny.
    • There is a knock at the apartment door, and Antoine realizes that he has invited the Self-Taught Man over to show him photographs from all his travels. He thinks for the moment that the STM should just go away.
    • Nonetheless, he offers the dude a seat and sits with him to look at the photos.
    • The STM claims that if he ever went travelling, he'd take notes of who he was before and after the trip to see how he'd changed. The STM has gotten all of his education from books, while Antoine has gotten his from travelling.
    • As he looks through the photos, he thinks about how different people's customs are depending on different countries and continents. He asks Antoine if customs are second nature. He also goes crazy whenever he sees a photo from a place he's read a book about.
    • During their conversation, Antoine reveals that he knows about the STM's efforts to read through the entire town library. The man looks ashamed again and lowers his eyes.
    • After a sad moment, the STM claims that he will take a cruise once he's finished his reading through the library. He says that he would like to have some adventures in life, rather than spending all of it in a library.
    • He asks Antoine if he has had any adventures in his life. Antoine replies that he's had a few.
    • Eventually, Antoine manages to shoo the STM out of his apartment.
    • When the man is gone, Antoine reminisces about one of his trips in which a person from Morocco jumped on him and tried to stab him. But Antoine punched him in the temple and laid him flat.
    • Looking back on what the STM asked him, Antoine realizes that he has never had adventures: it's just that a bunch of stuff that's happened to him.
    • As time passes, Antoine realizes that his life will only make sense once he's dead. Every moment that passes is bringing him toward death, and he can't stop thinking about it.
    • He thinks about spending a night with a woman and realizing that he'll never again experience that exact same thing in the exact same way. Everything is always slipping away.
    • He wishes he could do it all over again the exact same way, but knows he can't. He ends the diary entry wondering why life is so good at making people yearn for things they can't have.
  • Chapter 11

    Saturday noon

    • Antoine goes to the library reading room and sees the STM smiling at a young student. The student notices the staring and sticks his tongue out at the STM, making the dude look with embarrassment back down at his book.
    • Coming into the library, Antoine realizes that there are two ways to go about life: live or tell. You can either live out amazing stories in your life, or tell stories you've heard about others. The STM is an example of someone who tells stories, since he only lives life through books.
    • Antoine remembers some more stories from his days of travelling. Romantic relationships and the like. But he still doesn't think he's had proper adventures.
    • Antoine finally comes to the depressing conclusion that "Nothing happens while you live. The scenery changes, people come in and go out, that's all" (11.5).
    • He also says that life only seems to be meaningful when we tell stories that have a beginning, middle, and end. But it's impossible to tell a "true" story, since the meaning we give to stories isn't there in your day-to-day life, which is meaningless.
    • In reality, life is just one day after another. They're all the same and all empty.
  • Chapter 12


    • Antoine goes for a Sunday walk, taking with him the copy of Eugénie Grandet by Balzac (the book he found opened in the library one day).
    • The town is calm for the time being, but he knows that soon enough, the streets will be filled with people looking in shop windows and hanging out after church.
    • Once the people come out of mass, he likes blending in with them and watching them raise their hats to one another.
    • The road he walks on is called the Rue Tournebride. He knows that the road has only recently gained importance because it's not even mentioned on earlier maps of Bouville. For the next while, he lays out the history of how the town decided to build its main church at the head of this street, thus making it the busiest and most important street in the city on Sundays.
    • In short, the street got totally gentrified and all of the old lower class stores and houses got pushed out by newer, fancier ones.
    • He realizes that he's standing next to the head of the town's Chamber of Commerce, and everyone tries to speak to the guy nicely because he's powerful and intimidating. He can hear people whispering about the man as he walks away.
    • Slowly but surely, the Sunday crowd starts to die down. Antoine ducks into a restaurant to kill some more time.
    • Some of the old men in the bar exchange some jokes with the waitress. Antoine recognizes most of the restaurant's customers, since he spends most of his time wandering around the town.
    • He decides to sit down and start reading some of his novel. We get a bit of the passage he's reading before he's distracted by one of the men talking nearby.
    • The young husband is talking to his wife about a friend named Suzanne who went to see a guy named Victor. Then the guy gets sidetracked and talks about how the restaurant has gone downhill in recent years.
    • The two of them talk at each other without really understanding each other. Finally, they get back to the topic of Suzanne, with the woman saying that she's a "respectable woman." The insinuation seems to be that Suzanne has slept with this Victor character.
    • To convince his wife, the man whispers a story into her ear. She seems scandalized and covers her mouth.
    • After a few more attempts at reading, Antoine closes his book and gets up to leave. He rejoins the Sunday crowds milling around outside and gives some nice poetic descriptions of his surroundings.
    • While starting out at the sea and listening to people talk, he suddenly feels his heart swelling with a sense of adventure.
    • Something interesting is going to happen to him. He can just feel it. But after walking around for a long time, he begins to doubt whether something will happen to him.
    • He enters the Café Mably and looks toward the cashier. He feels like she has been waiting for him. For a moment, he feels totally happy.
    • But before we know it, he's back on the streets and feeling nothing but bitter regret. Looking around, he can see everyone dispersing. Sunday has ended, and now he has to return all alone to his apartment.
  • Chapter 13


    • Antoine starts this diary entry by criticizing himself for writing some ridiculous, egotistical stuff the day before.
    • He feels guilty for being so happy the night before. He remembers his younger days, when he would get drunk and think he was king of the world. But he's always ashamed by this thought.
    • He thinks about how time is irreversible and how his ex lover Anny always used to make the most of her time.
    • But he admits that he was always a little bit cold and removed from her because he always knew he'd eventually have to part ways with her.
  • Chapter 14


    • Work seems to be going decently for Antoine. He has written six pages and felt pretty good about it.
    • He keeps wondering, though, about the subject of his work, the Marquis de Rollebon. He feels that this guy keeps eluding him, refusing to become a flesh-and-blood person. (It's kind of hard to do that when you've been dead for hundreds of years.)
    • Once again, he thinks that he'd do a better job if he wrote a novel about Rollebon.
  • Chapter 15


    • Antoine talks about going to the restaurant near his apartment and kissing the owner (whom he's been sleeping with). He didn't want to kiss her, but did it out of politeness. He even took a moment to touch her under her skirt while they hugged, but his heart wasn't in it.
    • All he thinks about it Rollebon and how futile his whole project is.
    • Next thing you know, Antoine is waking up in the woman's bed. How's that for a meaningful relationship with another human being?
  • Chapter 16

    Shrove Tuesday

    • Antoine reminisces about a strange time in his life when he was a soldier and when he gave one of his fellow soldiers a spanking. The soldier had insulted someone else for having a hole in his face, and everyone decided on the spot that this deserved a spanking.
    • We're not sure why Antoine remembers this, but it makes just as much sense as any of the other random stuff going on in his life.
    • While he's walking through his building, his landlady tells him there's a letter for him. He takes it and finds out that it's from his ex Anny. She is coming to town soon and wants to see him.
    • Anny has done this to him before and not shown up, so he's a little suspicious.
    • Thinking over the whole thing, he goes to another restaurant. He orders some food and sits with his letter, too ashamed to read it again. So he sits there trying to remember its exact wording.
    • He remembers leaving Anny when he went to Tokyo. He remembers not really loving her anymore.
    • He remembers how Anny was always obsessed with having "perfect moments," whatever that meant. She was always frustrated with Antoine for not making an effort to have perfect moments with her. In other words, she wants certain parts of her life to be like scenes from a movie or book.
    • While he flounders, a strange man walks into the bar and orders a beer. Antoine puts away the letter and thinks again about how passionately he once loved (and still loves) Anny.
    • The strange man starts to stare at Antoine. When the waitress brings him his beer, he tells her that his name is Monsieur Achille.
    • He says something that annoys the waitress, calling her a "poor girl," but then won't explain why he said it. The man seems pretty eccentric.
    • As the man keeps staring at Antoine, Antoine fears that the man will try to strike up a conversation. Just as the strange man is about to speak, someone named Dr. Rogé enters the bar.
    • The doctor orders something called calvados, while the strange man shifts on his seat and tries to catch the doctor's eye.
    • As his drink arrives, the doctor catches sight of the strange man and recognizes him. He asks the man why he's still alive, then demands the waitress to explain why she'd let a "guy like that" into the bar.
    • The doctor swears that the strange man is downright crazy. The strange man, though, takes this as a joke.
    • Antoine thinks about how he respects M. Achille, the crazy man, more than the doctor. He has no respect for people who just go through life exactly as they're supposed to: getting good jobs, marrying, and having kids.
    • It's all so predictable and boring to him.
    • He then reflects for a while on how stupid people are when they think they've gained wisdom from their experience.
    • Experience, in his mind, doesn't make you any smarter or wiser. It's just a bunch of stuff that happens with no meaning attached to it.
    • Thinking more, though, Antoine realizes that Dr. Rogé hasn't wasted his life the way other people in the bar have. He's gone out and made something of himself.
    • Staring at the doctor, though, Antoine can also tell from looks alone that the man is going to die soon. Then what will his life have meant?
    • Antoine wishes he could somehow communicate to the doctor that he (Antoine) knows the doctor is going to die. That would be interesting, at least.
  • Chapter 17


    • The diary entry has only one line, which is "I must not be afraid." It looks like good ol' Antoine is trying to summon up some courage.
  • Chapter 18


    • Antoine feels decent because he's written four pages for his book on Rollebon. This writing is followed by a "long moment of happiness." Antoine, though, is wary about happiness, since it comes and goes so quickly.
    • He realizes now that his book on Rollebon is the only legitimate reason he's still alive.
    • A week from today, he plans on seeing his ex lover Anny.
  • Chapter 19


    • Antoine heads back into the Café Mably. There is no one around and the waiter forces him back into a dim corner because he's cleaning up.
    • The waiter picks up the phone and tells someone the café's owner hasn't come down from his apartment yet.
    • Antoine notices a couple sitting nearby. The woman asks the man to do up her shoelaces, even though they're already tired. The man makes a meaningless gesture under the table and touches her foot, satisfying her.
    • The couple leaves and an old woman enters, looking for the owner of the café. The waiter says that the owner hasn't come down yet.
    • The old woman looks up at the ceiling and wonders out loud if the café owner might be dead. The waiter thinks she's rude and tells her so. Still though, he seems half convinced by her guess and looks up at the ceiling himself.
    • After the waiter disappears, Antoine takes some time to wonder about what the owner would look like if he were lying dead up in his room, with a purple face and his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Creepy.
    • When the waiter returns, Antoine decides to be mischievous and tells him he heard choking and a thump. He thinks it's a good idea if the waiter checks on his boss, but the waiter is too scared to disturb the man—or maybe he thinks the guy is actually dead.
    • The waiter wants more info, but Antoine just walks out of the café and leaves him stressing out.
    • As he walks the streets, he finds that everything he looks at reminds him of death. He tells himself not to be silly and decides to head back to the town library.
    • As he enters the library, he runs into the Self-Taught Man, who seems really agitated. The head librarian walks nearby, and the STM doesn't seem to like him. He thanks Antoine for lending him the pictures from his many travels, then asks Antoine if he'll have lunch with him the coming Wednesday. Antoine accepts, though he doesn't have much interest in hanging out with the guy.
    • As he looks through his books, Antoine can only wonder about whether the owner of the Café Mably is alive or dead.
    • When he looks up from his reading after a while, he finds that the world doesn't look quite real. He feels like it's all made out of cardboard, like the set from a cheap TV show.
    • After trying to read for a while, he realizes that he won't be able to do anything until he finds out whether the owner of the café is dead or alive. He returns to the café but no one is there—not even the waiter.
    • He continues walking around and eventually sees a man in a cloak who has been hanging around the streets all day. From a distance, he sees this man approach a little girl with a smile and grab the edges of his cloak.
    • At this moment, Antoine realizes that the man is some sort of flasher. But the girl runs away before he can do anything.
    • Antoine comes up behind the man and shouts, "Hey!" at him. The man is scared, but Antoine just tells him that there's something evil in their city and walks away. It seems like Antoine gets a real kick out of leaving people with a lot of questions.
    • Back at the library, Antoine reads a novel until closing time. At seven o'clock, the librarian dude tells him and the three other people in the library they have to leave. No one gets up for the next while, though, because none of them have anywhere to go.
  • Chapter 20

    Saturday morning

    • Back at the Café Mably, Antoine asks the owner's wife if he (the owner) has been sick. Sure enough, the guy has the flu and will be in bed for a while. At least that answers Antoine's question about whether the dude is still alive.
    • For the first time since getting Anny's letter, Antoine really looks forward to seeing her. He thinks for a while about what they'll do together and how things will be, hoping that he doesn't say anything to make a fool of himself.
  • Chapter 21


    • After hanging in the library for a bit, Antoine goes to the Bouville museum and passes a painting called "The Bachelor's Death."
    • The main point of the poem is that bachelors are selfish people who don't get mourned when they die because they've never learned to live for others.
    • Next, he goes into a room filled with portraits of all the elite members of Bouville society from the years 1875 to 1910. At this point, he gives us a little rundown of all the men who helped build the town of Bouville.
    • While staring at one of the paintings, Antoine feels like the man in the painting is judging him. He suddenly feels like there's no reason he should be alive. He is like a worm or a microbe, putting out vague feelers and trying to find some sort of pleasure. But he can't.
    • The longer he stares at the portraits of the leaders on the walls, the more Antoine tries to figure out what their lives might have been like based on their appearances in their portraits.
    • One portrait that especially catches his eye is the portrait of someone named Rémy Parrottin. Antoine likes the look of this man and feels like the man is watching him with compassion and trying to figure out a cure for his spiritual nausea.
    • Eventually, a woman and man come into the same room of the museum. They look at a portrait of a guy who was supposed to be a great man. But Antoine knows from the library that the man they're looking at was only five feet tall in real life. The painter painted him with miniature furniture to make him look just as big as anyone in the other pictures.
    • Antoine finds it funny that this man is talked about with so much admiration, because people don't realize how badly he was mocked when he was alive.
    • When he's had enough of the paintings, Antoine turns and leaves the room.
  • Chapter 22


    • Antoine has apparently decided to stop working on his Rollebon book. But that just begs the question of what he's going to do with the rest of his life.
    • Staring down at stuff that was written by Rollebon himself, Antoine realizes that none of the words mean anything. They don't succeed in preserving Rollebon as a person. He's dead now, which means he might as well have never existed.
    • With his decision made, Antoine feels like he's going through a bad breakup. He and Rollebon have needed each other for the last while. Antoine needed Rollebon to give him a sense of purpose; Rollebon needed Antoine to help him continue to exist, albeit in history. With his Rollebon project abandoned, Antoine feels that there is nothing left to justify his life.
    • He lays his hand on the table, palm up, and feels like it's a dying crab.
    • He suddenly wishes he could turn off his thinking. But he realizes that his thoughts are him… whether he likes it or not. He has no existence outside his thoughts.
    • Glancing at a knife on a table, he starts fantasizing about stabbing himself and doing himself general harm. It's around this time that you might think he should call the existential crisis hotline.
    • He goes ahead and stabs his hand, making a small cut. His blood trickles onto the paper of his diary.
    • He picks up a newspaper and reads about a missing local girl whose body has finally been found. It sounds like the person who killed her has gotten away. He also finds out that the murderer raped her before killing her. All that Antoine can think about while reading this, though, is how Lucienne no longer exists and he does.
    • He goes for another one of his walks and wonders for a while more about his right to exist. While walking, he thinks about little Lucienne and how she's gone now but he still exists. He also starts thinking about a lot of sexual images, trying to figure out how sex and birth is connected to existence like normal objects are, like chairs and tables.
    • To calm himself down, he thinks about some lines from a song called, "I dream my little dream." But the woman he remembers from the record of this song doesn't exist, he tells himself. All that exists are sound waves being produced by a record. There is no "woman" behind the voice he hears, because that woman doesn't exist anymore.
    • He feels that the only thing he has going for him is his mind, which is very specific in determining what exists and what doesn't.
  • Chapter 23


    • The chapter has only two words, and it reads as follows: "Nothing. Existed."
    • This is a pretty dense claim, because is Antoine saying that nothing existed on Tuesday, or is he saying that nothing happened to him; he simply existed? Your call, Shmooper. Your call.
  • Chapter 24


    • Antoine watches a fly crawl along a table and crushes it. The Self-Taught Man is next to him, asking him not to kill it. But Antoine goes ahead and kills it anyway, saying that he did the bug a favor. How's that for pessimism?
    • There are four days left until he sees Anny. It is noon, but he already feels himself killing time until bed. He hopes that Anny will come back to him.
    • The STM seems to realize that there's something wrong with Antoine. He asks him if he's all right.
    • He is sitting at lunch with the STM, who mentions how happy he is for them to be dining together. They order their food and get to talking. The STM mentions that he was a prisoner of war during World War One. That's where he apparently got his iron stomach, since he boasts that he can eat almost anything.
    • Antoine thinks about how the STM has gone through real hardship, while his own hardship is just a product of his mind. He has all the money he'll ever need, but still can't help but feel empty.
    • He can feel the STM trying to get to know him more intimately, but he draws back from it. He doesn't want to become good buddies with the guy.
    • Antoine asks him if he has straightened out his troubles with the librarian. The STM blushes at this and says it was nothing. It's just that the librarian is a jerk to him.
    • A young man and woman come into the restaurant. The STM stares at them for a while before declaring that they're wonderful. Antoine thinks about the times when he and Anny would go out to restaurants just to be stared at.
    • The STM tells Antoine that he saw him coming out of the Bouville museum a few days before. The STM wants to know what he looked at, and Antoine tells him about looking at the paintings of all the community leaders from Bouville.
    • The STM admits that he wishes he knew more about painting. Then he draws out a little notebook that he has used to write down any thoughts that have struck him as being important.
    • He reads out a statement about painting and then asks if Antoine has heard anything like it before. In his mind, the statement can only be true if someone has thought of it before.
    • Antoine says no at first, then yes when he sees the STM's face falling.
    • The STM mentions how nice it is to be talking to someone.
    • Nearby, the young man and woman are talking. The young man is trying to get the woman to do something that she doesn't want to do. We can only assume that there's something sexual about it. But the question gets murkier when they start talking about a mutual friend named Jeanette and how her life got better after she did "it," whatever that means.
    • Antoine, for his part, knows that the two young people are going to sleep together. But like everything in life, the most important part of having sex is killing tons of time with anticipation. After all, how else are you going to get through life while keeping yourself distracted from the fact that everything is empty.
    • Antoine thinks about telling everyone in the bar about the absurdity of their existences. He bursts out laughing when he thinks about how they would respond. The Self-Taught Man eyes him with concern.
    • He finally spills the beans and tells the Self-Taught Man that he's laughing at how absurd their lives are. No one in the bar has any reason for existing.
    • The Self-Taught Man accuses Antoine of being a pessimist, since he seems to be arguing that life doesn't have any purpose or goal.
    • Antoine disagrees. He's not wondering about whether or not life is worth living. But he doesn't want to take the time to explain to the STM what he really does mean.
    • The STM continues on about the virtues of "voluntary optimism," which is another way of saying that life has meaning as long as we choose to give it one. He asks Antoine what he thinks of this idea, and Antoine says he thinks nothing of it. In reality, he thinks that this is a silly lie people tell themselves to help them get by.
    • The STM says he doesn't believe the idea of voluntary optimism, either. He thinks the goal of life is "humanity." He is a humanist, as it turns out, which means that he thinks that the goal of life is to improve the state of humanity in general.
    • Antoine, though, thinks that the STM isn't very intelligent. He finds the man's love for humanity to be "naïve and barbaric" (24.152), meaning that it's intellectually clumsy and not properly thought through.
    • Antoine asks the STM how he can care about people so much when he spends his entire life with his face in a book.
    • The STM suddenly decides that he wants to tell Antoine his life story. He claims that before fighting in the war, he lived with his parents and didn't get along with them. He was very lonely, and to put it more bluntly, he was emotionally dead inside.
    • He claims that while he was a prisoner of war, many of his comrades learned to believe in God again. But he learned to believe in men.
    • He says that toward the end of the war, the enemies would force him and 200 other soldiers into a cramped building whenever it rained. The STM had some sort of epiphany in that building, as he came to love the feeling of being pressed up against so many other bodies. Sometimes he would even sneak back into the building when his guards weren't around. He came to love his fellow humans that way.
    • While the STM talks, Antoine feels a terrible rage building up inside himself. Suddenly, the feeling vanishes and he clues back in to what the STM is saying.
    • The STM continues on about how he goes to church mass even though he doesn't believe in God. He goes because he likes standing in a crowd of people. If you think back, there's actually a parallel here with the way Antoine likes to mill around in the crowds outside the church, although Antoine himself wouldn't want to admit to having the same human needs as the STM.
    • He asks the STM if he misses being a prisoner of war, and the STM admits that when he was freed from the prison, he went through a long period of sadness.
    • The only way he got over the sadness was to dedicate himself to the project of reading through the library alphabetically.
    • At this point, the STM leans in more closely and tells Antoine that he is a registered member of the French Socialist Party. As you can imagine, he doesn't want everyone around to hear him say this, for fear that he'll be insulted.
    • Antoine, though, says that it's totally fine if the guy wants to be a socialist. The STM appreciates his acceptance, since he was apparently thinking about committing suicide before he committed himself to Socialism.
    • He claims that the most important thing is that he no longer feels lonely.
    • Antoine thinks to himself that in reality, humanists actually hate their fellow human beings as individuals. They like the idea of loving humanity, but as individuals, they can't get along at all. He doesn't have the heart to tell the STM this, though.
    • The STM says that he feels like Antoine is similar to him, since he has his books and his library research to keep him company.
    • Antoine argues that he's not writing for the same reasons as the STM. He claims that he's not writing for an audience, or for the sake of connecting with other people. With surprise, the STM then asks him why he writes at all. Antoine claims that he writes simply for the sake of writing and nothing else.
    • Smiling, the STM asks Antoine whether he would still be writing if he were stuck on a desert island or if he, for example, were the last person on earth. Doesn't a person always write with the thought that they'll be read?
    • The STM thinks that he has cornered Antoine in the argument. He then asks if Antoine is actually a "misanthrope," meaning that he is a loner who doesn't like people. Antoine, though, is becoming annoyed with the STM. The guy basically wants to pin Antoine down and get him to accept some kind of label.
    • He is determined, though, to deny all of the labels that the STM tries to put onto him.
    • The STM tells Antoine that he must love everyone around him. Antoine, though, points to the young couple nearby and says he doesn't love them.
    • He also argues that the STM doesn't love the people, either. He just loves the idea of them. The truth is that he knows absolutely nothing about them. They might be total jerks, but he doesn't know. The STM, rather, is just in love with the idea of loving all people at all times. But it's not real.
    • The STM starts to get flustered and sad, but Antoine carries on. He claims that love for humanity is impossible since humanity with a capital "H" doesn't exist. There are only individuals, and we can never actually love these individuals because all we ever know about them are our ideas about them.
    • So therefore, there's no such thing as love. There is only existence and non-existence. The same rules apply to humans that apply to chairs, rocks, and tables. They either exist or they don't, and that's the only question you can answer about life.
    • Antoine feels a little bit bad for the STM. The guy has been looking forward to this lunch all week, but now it's turning sour and making him sad. He also feels sorry for the STM, because the guy doesn't realize that no one in the world cares about him.
    • Finally, the STM leans in and tells Antoine that he (Antoine) loves all of humanity just as much as the STM does. He'll never believe otherwise. So that's that. Nothing Antoine says will ever shake the STM's beliefs.
    • Suddenly, Antoine feels "The Nausea" coming over him, and he wants to vomit.
    • The STM keeps rambling on. Antoine starts to feel as though he is completely free to do anything he wants. For example, he could pick up his cheese knife and stab it into the STM's eye. Sure, people would attack him and he'd go to jail, but he could still do it.
    • When he looks around the restaurant, Antoine realizes that everyone is staring at him. He gets up to leave. The STM asks him where he's going, implying that he (the STM) has won their philosophical debate. Antoine just gets up and leaves. He knows that something about the sight of him has disturbed everyone in the restaurant.
    • He thinks of himself as a crab scuttling along the streets. It's like he's a different species than the rest of humanity.
    • The longer he wanders around, the more he thinks about the objects around him. They have names, like "bus" and "seat," but he knows that the words are just inventions of humans. In reality, there is only existence and non-existence. Words aren't real; only things are—nameless things that simply exist and don't care about humanity. Feeling confused yet? Well so is Antoine, it seems.
    • He gets onto a streetcar, and then jumps back off while it's moving. He can't stand in one place for too long or he feels sick.
    • He feels like "existence" is closing in around him from all sides, entering through his eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • And then, all of a sudden, he claims that, "the veil is torn away, I have understood, I have seen" (24.299).
    • We don't know exactly what he's seen, and before he tells us, the diary entry cuts off.
  • Chapter 25


    • Antoine starts this entry by saying that he has finally reached his goal. But he doesn't feel satisfied by it. On the contrary, he feels crushed by his newfound knowledge. The truth he has realized is that his Nausea isn't some disease in his brain. It is him. There is no Antoine without the Nausea. It's part of who he is.
    • He suddenly looks at the world of things around him and doesn't think of words when he looks at things. He forgets, for example, that a tree root is called a root. Instead, he just sees "naked existence" in terms of what it looks like beyond human words.
    • Then he had a powerful vision. Every time he began to think about the world in terms of human concepts and categories, pure existence would bust through his thoughts and confront him again with its nakedness. Picturing naked existence is like trying to picture the world after the last of humanity is gone. Existence still exists whether humans are around to see it or not.
    • In other words, if a tree falls in the woods and no one's around to hear it, it does still make a sound.
    • When it comes time to describe his relationship to things, Antoine can only say that things are "in the way." He can't describe it any more specifically than this. On top of that, he feels like he is also "in the way."
    • His final conclusion in his vision is that "Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance" (25.12).
    • With this, Antoine feels like he has learned all he will ever know about existence, so he goes back to his hotel to write about his visions in his diary.
  • Chapter 26


    • Antoine decides that he is going to leave Bouville to live in Paris. There's no reason for him to be in Bouville if he's not working on his book anymore.
  • Chapter 27


    • Antoine waits in the bar at the Bouville train station, feeling like he's about to set out on an adventure.
  • Chapter 28


    • Antoine talks about his ex lover Anny opening her hotel door to him. She is wearing a long black dress and invites him in without saying hello. Antoine notices that she has gotten a lot heavier since they last met.
    • She starts laughing because of the wide smile she's seen on Antoine's face ever since he arrived.
    • Antoine looks around the room and sees that it doesn't have the characteristic decorations of a room Anny would be living in.
    • Anny asks him why he has had such a strange look on his face since arriving. He says it's because her room doesn't look as if she's been living in it.
    • He says he's happy to see her. Anny says that he (Antoine) is her milestone. She feels like she keeps changing as she gets older, but he stays the exact same
    • That's why she feels like she'll always be able to gauge how far she's come by measuring herself against him. Even when they're not around each other, she's happy to know that he's out there somewhere in the world, unchanging.
    • As you can imagine, Antoine kind of resents this.
    • He says that he has thought about her often over the years. But she accuses him of having a terrible memory. She says he wouldn't even have known her if he'd seen her in the street. He more or less admits that this is true, but says it isn't his fault. She also makes fun of his red hair and sense of style. She makes fun of a hat he used to wear.
    • Antoine is stunned by how well Anny can remember the past. He can barely remember any details.
    • Suddenly, Anny mentions that she's getting old and fat, probably fishing for a compliment.
    • She also tells Antoine that she has given up her job as an actress and is now travelling around as a "kept" woman. In other words, she dates some old man who pays for all of her hotels, meals, and general living expenses.
    • Antoine wants to know whether the old man is English, but Anny says it's none of his business and offers him some tea. When she comes back, she asks Antoine to tell her a little bit about how he's been doing.
    • He tells her that he's living in Bouville and is still single. He mentions his book project, but doesn't mention that he's given up on it.
    • He wants her to probe deeper so he can tell her everything about his theory of existence. But she doesn't ask any more questions and he doesn't give any more answers.
    • She suddenly tells him that she has changed over the years. She asks him whether he has seen any change in her.
    • She says that the main thing that has changed in her is that she no longer looks for "perfect moments" in life.
    • She no longer tries to make her life into a movie, because she doesn't believe it's possible to have a perfect moment. She mentions again how happy she is that Antoine has never changed.
    • He argues that he has changed, though. After all, he has figured out the secret of existence, though he doesn't get a chance to tell her that.
    • As they talk, he admits to himself that he still loves Anny.
    • Anny suddenly hits him with the strange statement, "I outlive myself." She seems to mean that she has continued to live long after she has given up on finding happiness in life. Her body lives on, but her soul has died.
    • She says she used to love Antoine passionately, but that is all over now. She claims she'll never feel a strong passion for anything again.
    • She talks about how she doesn't like to look at things for too long because they start to disgust her. At this point, Antoine starts to wonder if she feels the same way he does about existence.
    • He asks her what a "perfect moment" actually is, according to her definition. She tells him a story about when she was young and she had a big history book.
    • In the entire book, there were pictures of only a handful of historical scenes. She figured that these scenes must have been the most important ones, and then applied that idea to her whole life. She figured that by the time she died, there would be three or four moments that stood out as the most important ones of her life.
    • Antoine apologizes for never making an effort to understand her when they were lovers. She tells him not to expect any credit for realizing this so late in the game.
    • They talk for a moment about the first time they kissed.
    • Finally, Antoine tells her about his recent experiences and his theory of existence, saying that he and she have reached the same conclusions about life.
    • She says they don't think the same way at all. Antoine's point of view is basically selfish. He wants the universe to care about what he does with his life, and he doesn't care about whether or not the lives of other people have any meaning.
    • He tells her about the old song he likes to hear on the record player at the train station bar in Bouville. He wonders out loud if this record is able to give him a perfect moment.
    • But perfect moments, Anny says, can only exist in the past. They can only be perfect when we can no longer experience them. It's impossible to know a perfect moment while it's happening. You can only know it through your memory. That's why people always feel so nostalgic about the past and not the present.
    • The conversation dies and Anny tells Antoine that he needs to go. He asks when he'll see her again, but she says she doesn't know, since she's leaving for London the next evening. Antoine realizes that it'll be another ten years before he sees her again, and that's if he ever sees her at all.
    • As he leaves, she kisses him on the mouth. He grabs her and pulls her toward him, but she refuses to return his embrace.
    • She finds it sad and ironic that he has learned to care properly for her only after he's found out that it's too late. And with that, she shuts the door on him.
  • Chapter 30


    • Antoine looks at the train schedule and finds that Anny will be leaving at 5.38 in the evening. He obviously feels like there's still some outside chance of getting her to stay with him. The more he thinks about her body and face, the more he feels an icy chill in his hands.
    • He goes to the train platform and spots Anny getting on a train with her old English lover. Anny sees him through the train's window but doesn't show any sort of reaction.
    • She just looks at him with no expression on her face as the train pulls away. Pretty anti-climactic, eh? The dude doesn't even run after the train.
    • He walks back to a café and falls asleep. A while later, the waiter wakes him up.
    • When he's awake again, he thinks about moving to Paris and wonders whether the change will do him any good. After all, Paris is just another place that exists, just like any other.
  • Chapter 31

    Tuesday, in Bouville

    • Antoine realizes that he is completely free, which means that there is absolutely no more reason for living.
    • This might sound like a contradiction. But what it means is that there are no larger forces affecting what he does. The universe is totally indifferent to what he does, which means he's totally free. But total freedom actually makes life pretty meaningless, since there's nothing larger than himself to make the world have meaning.
    • He also realizes that all of his previous reasons for living are gone, Anny, his book, his past travels. There's nothing left for him to do or experience.
    • He suddenly has a crazy, trippy vision about what would happen if nature suddenly ran amuck and took over the everyday world that people are familiar with. What if eyes grew out of people's chins? What if trees started bleeding red blood when they were cut? What if a person's mouth was suddenly replaced by a centipede?
    • What if for one hour of one day, everyone in the world saw the universe for what it truly is: meaningless and naked? Antoine thinks that for that one hour, there would be hundreds of suicides.
    • And with that in mind, Antoine continues on one of his walks.
    • Sheesh. This guy either knows something we don't or he's going crazy. Or maybe both…
  • Chapter 32

    Wednesday, My last day in Bouville

    • Antoine claims that he has spent the entire day looking for the Self-Taught Man. He can't find him anywhere, though. He then drops a reference out of nowhere about the Self-Taught Man having a strong affection for "young boys" (32.1).
    • Wait… what?
    • Antoine goes on to say that the STM's dreams of connecting with other people and teaching himself everything in the library has crumbled.
    • All he can think about is the STM's face and his bloodstained collar. Something has obviously happened to this dude that we need to learn more about.
    • Earlier in the afternoon, he decided to go to the Bouville library one last time. He returns a few books and hangs around for a while.
    • He sits down and a woman sits down next to him. Later in the afternoon, the Self-Taught Man comes into the library. Antoine thinks about shaking hands and saying goodbye to him, but doesn't because he feels like their last meeting didn't end so well.
    • A bit later, two boys from the local high school with book bags come into the room and sit down. They grab a dictionary and go to sit down directly beside the Self-Taught Man. The STM seems to ignore them at first, but Antoine can tell that something bad is about to happen.
    • He looks up from his newspaper a bit later and sees the STM staring at the boy beside him and talking. But he looks around nervously every few seconds. The boy seems to be completely engrossed in whatever the STM is saying.
    • Antoine can see what's coming and knows that he can stop it before it does. But he just stays where he is.
    • Antoine notices that the woman beside him and the librarian are both staring at the STM. Fifteen minutes later, the STM sticks out his finger and starts stroking the palm of the boy beside him.
    • Antoine tries to cough loudly to warn the STM that he's being watched. But the STM can't help himself anymore. He closes his eyes and gives in to his enjoyment. His free hand disappears under the table.
    • Suddenly, the librarian starts shouting. He calls the STM a sicko and says he's going to have the guy thrown in jail. The STM argues back that he's been coming to the library for a long time, as if that somehow entitled him to hit on high school boys. As the argument escalates, the woman beside Antoine also turns on the STM and calls him sick.
    • Finally, the librarian punches the STM in the face and gives him a bloody nose. It turns out the librarian has seen the STM doing this sort of thing before, which explains why we heard earlier in the book about the two of them having problems with each other.
    • Antoine gets up and grabs the librarian, wanting to break him in two. But he eventually lets him go. He doesn't know why.
    • The librarian banishes the STM from the library, thus ending his attempt to read through everything alphabetically.
  • Chapter 33

    One hour later

    • Antoine's train leaves in two hours. He feels like his brain has fallen into total oblivion and he loves it.
    • Now, whenever he uses the word "I," he feels like it's hollow. He doesn't know what he means when he says "I."
    • He thinks about the STM walking around the same city, banished and humiliated because of who he is. He wonders if the guy is going to kill himself… but doesn't seem to care much one way or the other.
    • He walks into the bar at the train station and tells the female owner (his casual sex partner) that he's leaving Bouville. She offers him a drink on the house and says goodbye. Just like that. It's not a ringing endorsement for the depth of human connections in this book. Antoine, though, lies and says he'll come back to see her.
    • At the back of the room, a heavy man who's been sleeping with Francoise most recently calls her back to him.
    • He remembers that once he's in Paris, he'll need to find some new way of giving meaning to his life.
    • In the bar, he asks the waitress named Madeleine to play his favorite record one last time before he goes. She puts it on. While listening to the song, he thinks about the person who wrote it, and how that person doesn't exist anymore. He wonders about his own life and how little it will mean once he has stopped existing (i.e. died).
    • The chorus of the song kicks in, and he listens as the singer sings, "Some of these days/ You'll miss me, honey" (33.49).
    • When the song ends, he asks Madeleine to play it again. Listening to the music, he feels a feeling of joy brush up against him. He won't move because he's afraid of ruining the moment.
    • He wonders if he might try to do something artistic that will create the same feeling that this song creates for him. It needs to be a book, but not a history book, since there's no point in talking about people who don't exist anymore.
    • He doesn't like the thought of writing the book, but he likes the thought of having it finished. He even hopes that the book—a fiction, an adventure—could shed some sort of light on his past. Then, he might be able to look back on his life without feeling sick about it.
    • And then, maybe then, he feels he might be able to accept himself for who and what he is.
    • With that, he looks up to his former home—the hotel Printania—and sees lights go on in two rooms.
    • He can tells from the smells around him that it'll rain the next day.
    • And that's the note he ends on. It's about as hopeful as Antoine is going to get, so we'll have to take it. The guy has decided that life is meaningless, but he also thinks that by writing a novel, he'll be able to give some sort of shape to his past that will make it easier to live with. In this case, the meaningless of life is actually a positive thing because it motivates Antoine to create art.