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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Bouville (boo-VEEL). Dark, cold, rainy, and foggy coastal city, which, in its ambience, stimulates the historian Antoine Roquentin’s growing despair and anger. Bouville is Sartre’s fictional version of the western French port Le Havre. However, Sartre makes an immediately bitter satirical point by setting Nausea in “Bouville.” In French, “la boue” is “mud”—Nausea therefore takes place in gloomy, viscous “Mudville.”

Nausea is essentially Roquentin’s journal of his experiences in Bouville. As Roquentin sees the city, it is dominated by a narrow-minded, self-satisfied, intolerant, oppressive bourgeoisie devoid of culture. Bouville and its people create, then, an appropriate backdrop for Roquentin’s effort to move out of figurative as well as literal darkness into the light of personal truth.

Bouville train station

Bouville train station. The first passages in Roquentin’s diary concern his experience in the city’s railroad station. The trains and their schedules, exercises in strict regularity and predictability, save Roquentin during one of his first crises of contingency. At the beginning of this opening passage, Roquentin is terrified that there is no security in the universe—that anything can happen at any time. This fear is driving him crazy, he thinks. However, when he later considers, from the perspective of the window of his nearby room, the arrival in the station and the departure of the same trains at the same time every day, carrying and delivering the same people, he puts his anxiety to rest—temporarily. Life, he now thinks, is orderly, something one can count on.


Café. Unnamed neighborhood café (known only as “the café”) that Roquentin often frequents. A dull, shabby, working-class milieu, the place is thoroughly typical, with its smoke, mirrors, booths, friendly female proprietress, and men playing cards. What is most important about the café is that it contains a jukebox, which in turn contains a recording of “Some of These Days,” sung by an anonymous African American woman. The recording offers yet another example of new ideas that attract Roquentin’s attention. Like the trains that always run on time, Roquentin observes, the notes of the song follow each other predictably and coherently. The song is always the same, one always knows what to expect; there are no surprises. Indeed, the café is the scene of Roquentin’s definitive enlightenment, and the numerous exemplary qualities of the recording provide a model for his future.

Bouville museum

Bouville museum. Museum containing a portrait gallery that glorifies great citizens of Bouville’s past and their way of life. Roquentin tours the museum occasionally and bitterly comments on the subjects of the portraits. He imagines biographies that seem to match the expressions of the portraits he sees of doctors, businessmen, generals. Such men are Roquentin’s enemies—smug, satisfied, powerful, merciless, anti-Semitic people with only one idea, as Roquentin thinks, by which he means that they were as dead and like things as their portraits are now—and, confident and complacent as they were, they had no sense of contingency. People who never think, in Roquentin’s eyes, believe that Nature is composed of inalterable laws. Roquentin knows better; he knows not to take life for granted.


Park. Roquentin’s final existential crisis takes place in a Bouville park. Before this point in his story, he has had a number of hints regarding the true state of Nature—that things are never what they seem, that people cannot control things any more than they can control events. In the park, Roquentin is stunned by what he calls a vision.

He contemplates the root of a chestnut tree. It is black and ugly, just as the faces in the museum portraits are ugly, as Bouville itself is dark and hideous; brutal, deceptive reality is not pretty. Roquentin sees that he cannot affect the root, that it exists on its own, independent of him...

(The entire section is 2,654 words.)