Nausea Essays and Criticism
by Jean-Paul Sartre

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Essays and Criticism

(Novels for Students)

At the very end of Nausea, Roquentin comes to the conclusion that he wants to write a novel and that this process will serve as a solution to the problem of existence that he has been grappling with. During the course of Nausea, Roquentin’s thinking about the concepts of adventure, heroes, and storytelling gradually develop to the point at which he comes to conceive of the process of writing a novel as an adventure and the role of novel-writer as that of a hero.

During the many hours Roquentin spends sitting in cafés and overhearing the conversations of the people around him, he is aware of people’s tendency to tell one another stories. However, he realizes that because he is always alone and has no one to talk to, his ability to tell stories to others has deteriorated. He says, “When you live alone you no longer know what it is to tell something. . . . [Y]ou plunge into stories without beginning or end.”

On the other hand, he feels that being so alone has made him more observant of the stories he sees taking place in the world around him, through his observations of people interacting with one another in cafés and on the streets.

Roquentin has recently gotten the urge to tell someone about the changes he is experiencing, which is why he decides to start writing the diary. In the beginning of the diary, he feels somewhat uncomfortable trying to write down what happens to him. He comments, “I am not in the habit of telling myself what happens to me, so I cannot quite recapture the succession of events. I cannot distinguish what is important.”

Meanwhile, as Roquentin has been conducting research and writing his biography of the Marquis de Rollebon, he is in the process of writing the story of the Marquis’s life. Yet he feels that the distinction between a factual history and a fictional novel has begun to blur in his own writing:

I have a feeling of doing a work of pure imagination. And I am certain that the characters in a novel would have a more genuine appearance, or in any case would be more agreeable.

He briefly toys with the idea of writing a novel about the Marquis de Rollebon, instead of a history, but quickly dismisses the notion.

Roquentin begins to think about the concept of adventure and what it means to him. He knows that he has certainly experienced many “adventures” in the conventional sense of the term. He has traveled all over the world, had strange and exciting experiences, and met many different kinds of men and women. “I have had real adventures,” he says. But then he wonders where all of these adventures have led him and if he has really learned or gained anything from these exciting experiences. He admits, “I am generally proud of having had so many adventures.” But he suddenly begins to think that these were not truly adventures at all, and he starts to feel as if “I have never had the slightest adventure in my life, or rather, that I don’t even know what the word means any more.” He then comes to the conclusion, “No, I haven’t had any adventures.”

Roquentin makes a connection between the concept of adventure and the act of storytelling. Because he has had so many adventures during his world travels, he knows that he has many stories to tell that others would find quite interesting. However, he begins to question the value of such adventures and of the stories that can be made of them. He thus begins to wonder what the concept of “adventure” truly means to him.

Roquentin comes to feel that adventures are not so much a matter of traveling to exotic places and meeting interesting people, but that an adventure can be something that happens internally, such as a change in one’s state of mind. He comes to the conclusion, “This feeling of adventure definitely does not come from events.” Roquentin wants very much to experience this sense of adventure in his life, but he realizes that it is not something he has any control over:

Perhaps there is nothing in the world I cling to...

(The entire section is 1,312 words.)