On Monday, Antoine notes that he has decided to stop writing his book on Rollebon. Earlier in the day, as he was looking at a letter he stole from Moscow, he suddenly felt unable to “hold to [his] own past,” much less Rollebon’s. Even the simple act of writing forces Antoine to reflect that his written words, once set down on paper, “belonged to the past.” The words on the page feel unrecognizable and alien to him, and though he tries to continue writing, he becomes nauseous yet again. It is as if Rollebon has died a second time, within him, and overcome with a sense of the nothingness of the past, Antoine is totally paralyzed. He cannot write any longer. It is like the end of a love affair.
Suddenly he thinks of Mercier again; of how Rollebon and himself were in a sort of relationship in which Antoine gave the Marquis existence while the Marquis gave Antoine a reason for existing. At the question, “What shall I do now?” Antoine senses that he himself is “the Thing. Existence, liberated, detached, floods over” him. He observes his hands and imagines them as animals. He returns again and again to the fact of his existence and criticizes thoughts as “the dullest things.” Cutting his hand with a knife, he lets it bleed onto the paper on which he has been writing. The blood stops flowing, and without much forewarning, Antoine leaves the library. He does this, he says, because he has “no reason not to.”
It’s now 5:30 pm, and Antoine is walking outside. He picks up a newspaper and reads that a small girl has been raped and murdered. The news makes Antoine’s thoughts even more convoluted: his sentences tangle and twist; he thinks about rape, existence, right, violated bodies, and his own body. Soon enough Antoine is thinking in the third person. He enters a bar, and a woman sings on the gramophone; he thinks about how the record and the air struck by the voice exists, but the singer no longer exists. He senses that “existence [is] everywhere, heavy and sweet,” and yet a “rigour” exists beyond the sweetness. On that note, the entry ends.
Tuesday is perhaps the shortest (and most comical) entry in Nausea. It simply reads “Nothing. Existed.” Wednesday begins with Antoine about to squash a fly sitting in a sunbeam. The Self-Taught Man attempts to stop him, but it’s too late; “I did it a favour,” Antoine says. There are four days until he sees Anny. The Self-Taught Man’s inquiries suggest that Antoine looks sickly. We realize the two are at the lunch to which the Self-Taught Man had invited Antoine days before. There’s some fuss as they order; although Antoine prefers the cheaper options, the Self-Taught Man insists on buying the more expensive options for Antoine (but not for himself).
As the meal gets underway, the Self-Taught Man reveals that he was a prisoner of war. Antoine tries to question him about it but gets no response. A young couple enters, and the Self-Taught Man quickly brings up that he saw Antoine leaving the museum. The Self-Taught Man brings up a sculpture made by an insurgent from the Paris Commune. He, with some reservation, pivots towards asking Antoine if he can read some of his own maxims. He reads one, which states asks “Why should we still take pleasure in works [of the eighteenth century] because they thought them beautiful?’” In his thoughts, Antoine criticizes people’s self-centered belief that they have special talents or purposes. When asked by the Self-Taught Man, he laughs and says, still laughing, that they are eating to preserve their existence, and all the while “there is nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing.’”
In response, the Self-Taught Man brings up an American book which proposes a theory of “voluntary optimism,” in which a person can give life meaning by “throw[ing] one’s self into some enterprise” and as such giving life a meaning that doesn’t lie implicitly in existence. Antoine sees this as a bit of self-deception; soon the conversation devolves into a heated debate about the worth of human beings. The Self-Taught Man expounds his humanist views, stating how his experience as a prisoner of war made him value the love of others. He remembers being locked in a dark, overstuffed room by the Germans and feeling “an overwhelming joy” and “ecstasy” at the presence of the other men.
Antoine feels sick. Finally the Self-Taught Man reveals that he’s “a registered member of the Socialist Party.” Antoine replies coldly and thinks harshly about such beliefs. He believes humanism only veils a deep hatred of actual individuals, and soon Antoine becomes more aggressive, attempting to get the Self-Taught Man to admit that he does not love the young couple who entered the restaurant earlier. The Self-Taught Man fumbles over Antoine’s challenge, but he never stops defending his beliefs.
Thinking about the phrase “You must love people. Men are admirable,” Antoine becomes overcome with nausea. He grabs a knife in a haze and recalls all the times he’s felt “Nauseas” recently, from the stone-skipping at the beginning to more recent instances. He considers stabbing the Self-Taught Man but decides against it. Realizing everyone is watching him, he decides to leave. He forgets to put the knife back and, remembering it, throws the knife back to his plate. After saying goodbye and leaving, he feels as if he’s appeared to the diners as some sort of animal.
Now closer to the sea, Antoine observes those walking on the shore. The “true” sea, he thinks, is “cold and black, full of animals.” He enters a tram and suddenly feels acutely that the word “seat” and the tram seat he’s sitting in have become “divorced.” Feeling too acutely the closeness of everything, Antoine jumps from the tram before it’s been able to stop. He feels as if “existence penetrates [him] everywhere through the eyes, the nose, the mouth….” Antoine concludes that this has been a moment of understanding.
It’s now 6:00 pm, and Antoine feels as if he’s found the source of the nausea. He’s been in the park, looking at the roots of a chestnut tree. “The words had vanished and with them the significance of things…”; and then, Antoine states, he “had this vision.” He sees that “the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance.” He feels that this appearance has been torn away, and now he can see the nakedness and disorder of the world. He suddenly senses a comic side to all of this. Yet he also feels that particular objects—and even his own self—are “In the way.” He considers suicide but decides even his dead body would be “In the way."
But at the same time, he writes that “[t]he word absurdity is coming to life under [his] pen.” He returns to the root and writes that it is totally unexplainable. One could not comprehend it in terms of its function, nor could one do so through language. Even the description of its color, "black," seems inadequate. He remembers the color of the purple suspenders he’d observed nights ago and decides even they were not really "purple." He is overcome with the wealth of content in even simple things, and feels “plunged in a horrible ecstasy.” At this moment, Antoine writes, “I understood the Nausea, I possessed it.” Yet he also recognizes that one cannot think of existence at a distance: “it must invade you suddenly…” A wind in the trees makes Antoine think that even the shudder of the branches is “a thing; a shudder-thing.”
Antoine reflects on the quick disappearance of the shudder and writes, “existence is without memory; of the vanished it retains nothing…” His reflections continue. He states that “strains of music alone can proudly carry their own death within themselves like an internal necessity: only they don’t exist.” He thinks again of the couple he saw last Sunday. He remembers once again that they exist. “[T]he naked World” appears to reveal itself to him. It feels total, absolute, and feeling weary, Antoine leaves the park. Once again, the park seems to smile at him. He feels as if he has learned all he could, returns to the hotel, and writes. That night, he decides to move out of Bouville and go to Paris by March 1st.
In this portion of the novel, Antoine’s nausea and the philosophical considerations accompanying it reach a climax. When he abandons his work on Rollebon, the already grim and cold tone of the novel becomes even more intense. His alienation from the world is brought into stark relief as Sartre’s tone remains detached even while Antoine cuts his own hand and bleeds on his papers in public. The juxtaposition between the violence of the action and the distant, cold narration emphasizes Antoine's gloomy mood, and the novel begins to feel claustrophobic. Without a sense of his own past or Rollebon’s past, Antoine struggles, and the reader is also made to feel his despair.
Antoine’s self-alienation becomes most pronounced when he begins to refer to himself in the third person. This shift in narrative point of view makes clear that, rather than situating himself in his consciousness, Antoine is looking at himself as a “he” outside of himself. Evoked in visceral detail, his submergence in existence becomes complete as he sees himself as a thing—“the Thing.” Yet even at this point, when the tone is most oppressive, Antoine acknowledges a sweetness to his submergence in existence after hearing music in a café.
This pessimism continues in the next scene in the novel, where the Self-Taught Man and Antoine have lunch. This scene takes the form of a philosophical dialogue, a form used frequently in the history of philosophy. Writers like Plato or Diderot set positions against one another through two speakers, allowing conversation to bring out the strengths and weaknesses of each position. Antoine’s pessimism is countered by the Self-Taught Man’s humanistic socialism, and we importantly receive a perspective which is outside of Antoine’s mind; at the nadir of his pessimism, the Self-Taught Man reveals the possibility of an optimistic, if slightly naïve, worldview. Indeed, even the Self-Taught Man’s reference to “voluntary optimism” has similarities with Antoine’s views at the end of the book, where he sees the possibilities for free action through art.
Still, the Self-Taught Man’s views seem to fall too easily in placing essential and unquestionable features in forces like humanity or history, both of which Sartre has complicated and challenged in Nausea. The lack of essential features or ways of explaining existence is made particularly pronounced in the scenes following, where Antoine comes to fully acknowledge the absurdity of existence. Looking at a large root, he realizes that it is inexplicable, either through language or through its function. This revelation, though overwhelming, is importantly accompanied by a sort of change in Antoine. Breaking from the gloom and dissociation of recent events, he feels a “sort of ecstasy,” and the tone of the passage suggests he finds a strange optimism in writing about the absurdity of the world. Writing, like music, opens up ways to acknowledge and contend with an absurd world.