Nausea Summary and Analysis of Wednesday - Tuesday


Wednesday’s entry is made up of only a single sentence: “I must not be afraid.” In Thursday's entry, which is not much longer, he remarks that he has completed four pages of his history, reminds himself that he "[m]ust not forget that de Rollebon now represents the only justification for [his] existence,” and looks forward to seeing Anny in a week. The next day, the fog is extremely thick; although Antoine can barely see anything except for vague forms before him, he enters the Café Mably rather than return to his hotel.

The café is largely empty. A man and woman are sitting and eating brioche, acting strangely. When the man and woman leave, the waiter reveals that they perform on stage ”at the Cine-Palace.” An old woman enters looking for M. Fasquelle, who owns the café. Uncharacteristically, he has yet to come downstairs, and the old woman says “‘Suppose he’s dead….’” in response. The old woman leaves, but the possibility of Fasquelle’s death sticks with Antoine. He panics and imagines finding Fasquelle upstairs, having committed suicide. Antoine tries to get the waiter to check on Fasquelle but fails. He leaves to go to the library. On the way, he’s disturbed by the blood he sees on an egg in the butcher’s window. His imagination runs wild, and he tries but largely fails to “pull [himself] together.”

At the library, the Self-Taught Man asks Antoine to lunch. He accepts. Thoughts of Fasquelle’s possible death still disturb him as he works. After 1 pm, he reflects on how the structure of the library normally “fix[es] the limits of probability.” Yet today he feels the whole thing is only a stage set; he feels as if “Anything can happen, anything.” Antoine returns to the Café Mably. It is empty. He’s uneasy but remembers that there are usually no customers at this time of day. The sight of the Café disgusts him, and he leaves in a panic, wandering through the fog. Coming to the Quai des Bassins du Nord, he wonders what could be “under the water”; he moves and decides to return to the library.

Now at the park near the library, Antoine sees a man that he noticed earlier in the day. The man is staring at a young girl as she stares back. For a moment it seems as if the man will expose himself to the girl, but Antoine’s presence prevents him. The girl runs off. Antoine enters the library and reads Stendhal’s Chartreuse de Parme for hours. He watches the others in the library, and at closing time, the Corsican (who is a sort of security guard at the library) forces Antoine and the three others to leave.

Saturday morning’s entry begins with the “charming sun”; Antoine has learned that Fasquelle simply had the flu and that his daughter is coming to care for him. Antoine is excited to see Anny again. He wonders how their interaction will go and hopes he’ll get one night with her at his hotel. In the afternoon, he mentions that a portrait of Olivier Blévigne had struck him strangely the last time he saw it. After seeing something in “an old collection of the Satireque Bouvillois,” he “caught a glimpse of the truth” of what was wrong, and he leaves the library to go have another look at the portrait in the Bouville museum.

After arriving at the museum, he sees a new painting entitled "The Bachelor’s Death" which depicts, appropriately, the lonely death of a bachelor. Other figures in the painting, like a cat, are indifferent to his death. What follows is a long set of reflections on the portraits of business leaders of Bouville’s past. Antoine observes the portraits and imagines the men’s lives and attitudes. Some seem to judge Antoine himself, putting into question his “very right to exist.” A professor, Rémy Parrotin, is imagined as having the ability to dissuade young students from their revolutionary views; all the men seem extremely self-assured in their political rights; all of “their countenances had been stripped of the mysterious weakness of men’s faces.”

A couple soon enters the gallery and comments on the portraits, comically stating about one, “[t]hat’s History!” In his mind, Antoine lampoons them and thinks about his own knowledge of these figures, even quoting from an encyclopedia the entire entry of Blévigne, whose portrait served as the catalyst for the museum visit. We learn that he founded the “Club d’Ordre” (Club of Order) to maintain the power of the elite. Finally Antoine reveals what he realized at the beginning of the day: using perspectival tricks, the painter had made Blévigne seem much taller than he was. The satirical paper had “mocked his small stature and squeaking voice…” After thinking about Blévigne’s son, who died young, Antoine leaves the gallery, listing the historical leaders and ending with a flourish: “good-bye you bastards!”


As the novel continues, we begin to see how Sartre uses things like the weather to symbolize Antoine’s existential predicament. The heavy fog over Bouville mirrors the ambiguity Antoine is now immersed in, and his anxious wandering replicates the instability and confusion caused by the nausea. Even the prose works to emphasizes confusion and disorientation, as Sartre mixes imaginative sections with real events, never quite clarifying which is which. As Antoine’s anxiety peaks, the reader’s does too, and taken in combination with the physical wandering, the stream-of-consciousness style, veering from topic to topic, is able to make even the reader feel a little nauseous.

One of the most pressing issues in this portion of Nausea is Antoine’s fear of death. The presence of death and the need to address it was a theme for many existentialists. Antoine’s fear, while seemingly out of proportion, dramatizes the confrontation with a death that is final. Sartre’s imagery, like the blood in the butcher shop or the imagined suicide, brings out the sheer thingness, and thus the mortality, of the human body. Sartre, whose work was to the core atheistic, seems to attempt to make readers consider their mortality as Antoine does, showing how death, as something final, is a real and present possibility.

With the gallery scene, we see Antoine’s fear of death dissipate as the novel turns to focus on Sartre’s political concerns. The scene in the gallery demonstrates a highly critical attitude towards the bourgeois business leaders and those visiting the museum. Sartre uses verbal irony across this scene, and he adopts a satirical and biting tone that sharpens his political criticisms. This scene also builds on Nausea’s explorations of history, showing how art can manipulate history. When he used perspectival tricks to make Blévigne seem taller than he was, the painter was producing the same sort of distortions Antoine has discussed regarding history and memory earlier in the novel. People in positions of power then seem particularly able to create false histories by using their resources, money, and prestige.

Yet the scene in the gallery also allows for Sartre to develop the philosophical aspects of the book. When Antoine feels judged by Blevigne, he realized that “it was true, [he] had always realized it; [he] hadn’t the right to exist. [He] had appeared by chance… existed like a stone…” Here we see how Antoine’s confrontation with the image of Blevigne allows him to understand another aspect of existentialist philosophy. Sartre believed no existent was able to be justified by another existent, and as such one has to justify itself. Instead of believing his existence is inherently justified by an external concept (like the concept of political rights), Antoine comes to see himself as a being as “like a stone.” Rather than have a special place in the world of things, Antoine now seems himself as like inanimate things, his consciousness being the primary difference between him and a rock.

But just as he seems to lose a sense of his political rights, Antoine also seems to recognize the possibility of freedom. Earlier in the section, he repeats “Anything can happen.” The repetition allows Sartre to bring out the dual response we might have to such a phrase: it is nauseating for anything to be possible, while at the same time, the possibility for anything to happen opens a freedom not afforded by the conservative politics of Bouville’s leaders. Even in the face of the possibility of death, Antoine begins to find something like freedom.