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Nausea Themes

(Novels for Students)

Change, Transformation, Metamorphosis, Rebirth
Roquentin begins writing his diary because he has noticed a subtle change in his perceptions of himself and the world around him. He hopes that by recording his daily perceptions, he will be able to make sense of the nature of this change, which he describes as “an abstract change without object.” He realizes that, at various points in his life, he has been “subject to these sudden transformations,” in which “a crowd of small metamorphoses accumulate in me without my noticing it, and then one fine day, a veritable revolution takes place.” Roquentin expresses that he is terrified of this “new overthrow in my life” because “I’m afraid of what will be born and take possession of me.” Nausea describes the process of transformation that Roquentin experiences. Images of metamorphosis and rebirth throughout the narrative emphasize the centrality of this theme to the novel as a whole.

Consciousness and Self-Reflection
The narrative of Nausea is motivated by Roquentin’s extreme consciousness of his own perceptions of himself and others. His diary is an exercise in self-reflection, an attempt to express and record the details of this extreme selfconsciousness. On several occasions, Roquentin examines his face in the mirror for long periods of time. He seems to be trying to evaluate the physical features of his face, but this exercise serves as a metaphor for Roquentin’s struggle to make sense of his own humanity. This motif of gazing at his reflection in the mirror symbolizes his process of self-reflection, as recorded in his diary. At a point of crisis in the story, Roquentin is overwhelmed by his consciousness of his own existence, to the extent that he feels plagued by his own thought processes. “If I could keep myself from thinking!” he cries. Roquentin eventually comes to the conclusion that his constant thinking and his consciousness of himself constantly thinking are precisely what define his existence. Because he exists, he can’t help but think. He asserts, “My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think . . . and I can’t stop myself from thinking.” Later, he states:

I am. I am, I exist, I think, therefore I am; I am because I think, why do I think? I don’t want to think any more, I am because I think that I don’t want to be, I think that I . . . because . . . ugh!

Roquentin’s experience of extreme loneliness, and his perception of the people around him as lonely, is a significant element of Nausea . Roquentin lives an extremely lonely life. He has no family, no friends, no girlfriend, and few acquaintances. He explains, “I live alone, entirely alone. I never speak to anyone, never; I receive nothing, I give nothing.” Although he has been essentially alone for the past three years, Roquentin realizes, “For the first time I am disturbed at being alone.” Because he himself is so alone, he is keenly aware of the loneliness of other people around him. Roquentin tries to cure his loneliness with the idea that perhaps he and Anny may get back together again. When Anny once again...

(The entire section is 802 words.)