Roquentin ultimately discovers at least the possibility of a way out of the emptiness that consumes him. He has decided to leave Bouville and return to Paris, and, sitting in a café, he is moved by the sublime melody of a jazz recording. Roquentin the historian, a recorder of deadness, pledges to write a novel. Art, perhaps, is the way to transcend the nauseating predicament of human nothingness in the face of pure existence. As Sartre emphasizes time and again, the human condition is that of complete freedom: we are our own maker. Through creatively exercising the freedom that man is condemned to, Roquentin can perhaps find a cure for his nausea.
Along with the short story “The Wall” (1939), which details the psychological battles of a prisoner of war facing imminent execution, Nausea is considered an essential example of early Sartrean existentialism. Nausea, Sartre’s earliest substantial work, serves as an introduction to many of the philosophical themes he contemplates in later works, particularly in Being and Nothingness. Nausea also contains many allusions to phenomenology, the study of objects as we consciously experience them, a philosophy that influenced Sartre greatly, particularly in the earlier stages of his career. Today, Nausea endures as one of the most significant works of “philosophical fiction” produced in the twentieth century.
Although it was only his first novel and not meant as a philosophical tract, Nausea is remarkable for the degree to which it contains many key tenets of Sartre’s mature existentialist philosophy. Most important are the concepts of pour-soi, or being-for-itself, and en-soi, or being-in-itself. Being-for-itself, represented by Roquentin, is conscious and aware of its own selfhood and existence. Being-in-itself, represented by the stone on the shore and the entire nonhuman world, is that form of being that has a definable and complete essence yet does not possess consciousness and cannot be cognizant of its own existence. In Nausea, when being-for-itself is confronted by being-in-itself, the former is nauseated by the latter. Being-in-itself suffocates being-for-itself. Pure being is an undifferentiated, amorphous whole that knows no lack and no emptiness. Pure being sucks everything into itself, a fact that causes the being-for-itself to experience the feeling of nausea. For Roquentin, the world external to his body is meaningless, and world within him is nothingness. The way out of this sickening feeling of despair is a mystery, but Sartre alludes to the potential of art, both in its consumption and creation, to provide a place of respite at least.