Study Guide

Nothing Dissatisfaction

By Janne Teller


"Nothing matters. I have known that for a long time. So nothing is worth doing. I just realized that." (1.1)

If "nothing matters" is as close as we get to a absolute truth in existentialist philosophy, Pierre Anthon is speaking only for himself, based on his own life experience, in saying that nothing is worth doing.

Pierre Anthon left the door ajar like a grinning abyss that would swallow me up into the outside with him if only I let myself go. (2.12)

Is Agnes's allegiance to her classmates' demands based solely in fear of admitting Pierre Anthon is right? And even if she does admit she thinks he's spot on, what exactly is she so afraid is going to happen?

"If something's worth getting upset about, then there must be something worth getting happy about. And if something's worth getting happy about, then there must be something that matters. But there isn't!" (2.31)

Uh, is anyone else totally confused? Pierre seems to be arguing that meaning only comes from emotions. But Existentialists would disagree that only objects, events, or situations that make you feel a certain emotion can hold meaning.

The school was so gray and ugly and angular that I almost couldn't catch my breath, and all of a sudden it was as if the school were life itself, and it wasn't how life was supposed to look but did anyway. (3.5)

Agnes's perception of her school changes once Pierre Anthon says nothing matters, as if his dissatisfaction is infectious. His perceptions color hers, which is yet another example of how this girl is inauthentic.

Jon-Johan threw up his arms, and we imagined all the experts, the educators and psychologists who would come and observe us and talk to us and reason with us until eventually we would give in and again start pretending that things really did matter. Jon-Johan was right: It was a waste of time that would get us nowhere. (3.28)

Jon-Johan presumes that the only thing a psychologist can do is annoy you until you start pretending to see things their way just to shut them up. But if Pierre Anthon's dissatisfaction can evoke similar dissatisfaction in his peers, why couldn't someone else's satisfaction authentically do the same?

"It doesn't matter," she began. "Or rather, it matters a lot. But that's the whole idea, isn't it? Otherwise the heap of meaning has no meaning at all, and then Pierre Anthon will be right about nothing meaning anything." (7.28)

What do you think are the essential characteristics that give a thing meaning? No seriously—we're asking. Shmoop hasn't got a clue.

"Meaning." She nodded, as if to herself. "None of you has taught us any. So now we've found it ourselves." (18.15)

Given that several of the students have career goals based on things they've learned about in school (Maiken's astronomy, for example), Sofie is somewhat inaccurate in telling the adults they haven't taught the children any meaning. They understand language, mathematics, science—aren't all those things packed with meaning all their own?

"It's all been seen before!" Pierre Anthon hollered, a cloud of frosty white breath issuing from the mouth of his dark blue balaclava. "It's news now, and the eyes of the world are on Taering. In a month's time Taering will be forgotten and the world will be someplace else." (20.1)

Existentialists would argue that a thing becomes meaningful the minute one individual perceives it as meaningful, but that doesn't give it meaning in and of itself. In other words, just because it has meaning to one person doesn't mean anyone else will care, which is why no one is interested in seeing your stamp collection. Sorry, bud.

Each day was like the next. And even though we looked forward all week to the weekend, the weekend was always still a disappointment, and then it was Monday again and everything started over, and that was how life was, and there was nothing else. (22.9)

This is, in a way, a rewording of the sentiment, "Variety is the spice of life." But we have to point out that plenty of people have meaningful lives that are in some way repetitive. Just because you go to the same school every day doesn't mean there's nothing meaningful there.

Spring, summer, fall winter, joy, sorrow, love, hate, birth, life, death.

It was all the same.

The same. One. Nothing.

It wasn't just me who understood.

And with that revelation, it was like the devil himself took hold of us. (23.17-21)

When the whole class accepts that Pierre Anthon is right, they start beating each other up. Do you think we need meaning to prevent violence? Do we only restrain ourselves from violent acts when we have something to lose?

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