Study Guide

Nausea Memory and the Past

By Jean-Paul Sartre

Memory and the Past

Antoine spills a whole lot of ink thinking about the past. A (hopelessly inadequate) summary of Nausea could be: "Dear Diary, Stuff Happened. Am Sad. Xoxo, Antoine."

Antoine takes no comfort at all from his good memories. In his mind, there is only existence and non-existence. Everyday objects like forks, tables, and toiles exist; but memories don't. People spend their whole lives trying to build up good memories with the thought that these memories will comfort them in their old age. But for Antoine, memory is for the birds. There is only what exists in the here and now, and memory is just something that people use to distract themselves from the fact that there is nothing meaningful about the present.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. Do you agree with Antoine's opinion about memory not "existing," or do you think that the past can actually live on in our memories? Why?
  2. Does Antoine actually take more comfort from the past than he's willing to let on? Use specific evidence from the text to support your answer.
  3. How will writing a novel help Antoine cope with the past? How will it help him learn to "accept himself" according to the end of the book?
  4. What specific memory has caused Antoine to start keeping a diary? Why do you think the memory has had this effect?

Chew on This

In Nausea, Sartre shows us that memory is just one of the many distractions we use to avoid thinking about the emptiness of human life.

In Nausea, Antoine ultimately decides that the only way to be fulfilled is to make the past meaningful through art.