Nausea Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Corsican (Allegory)

The Corsican’s actions can be seen as an allegory of the effects of Napoleon and his Napoleonic code on France. On a small scale, the Corsican polices the library, commits violence against the Self-Taught Man, and censors books. Like Napoleon or the French government, he exercises unjust power on the people he is meant to guard. This is further supported by the fact that "the Corsican" was Napoleon's nickname.

The Root (Symbol)

The root that Antoine observes is a symbol for the absurdity of the world. Accompanied by Antoine’s definition of absurdity, the root appears totally unexplainable. Although there may be a structure of roots under the surface, even these cannot be explained.

Theatre (Motif)

Theatricality and theatre appear everywhere in Nausea. This motif helps to develop the theme of the power of fiction in people’s lives. Anny, for example, is an actor both on and off the stage: she works to create emotionally meaningful situations, even though there is nothing inherently meaningful in them. She “performs” even when she seems to be acting authentically.

Animals (Motif)

Animals and animal imagery recur in Nausea. This is likely in part a response to French artists' interest in the “primal” in human beings during the first half of the twentieth century. Many of Antoine’s grotesque images involve humans with animal body parts or other alien-seeming creatures. These images serve to suggest to a reader that behind intellectual concepts and social organization, humans still live animal existences and are intimately connected to animal life.

Travel (Allegory)

During Antoine and the Self-Taught Man’s conversation about travel, the Self-Taught Man states that he’s “read that there are travellers who have changed physically and morally to such an extent that even their closest relatives did not recognize them.” Here we can see how Sartre is using travel as an allegory for the transformation which occurs to Antoine during the novel. Although he stays in Bouville, he is totally changed (one might even say unrecognizable) at the novel’s end.