Antoine’s way out in Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre, is an opened ended question with the potential to have many answers, or no answer at all. Existentialism is the root of these many answers because it has many definitions. It would be misleading to assign it a concrete definition because as Hayden Carruth says, “Existentialism is not a produce of antecedent intellectual determinations, but a free transmutation of living experience, it cannot be defined.”i The definition can only be determined by the individual and cannot be based upon “antecedent intellectual determinations” because it is an experience, and experiences cannot be defined, until experienced. The individual conjures his or her own definition from these experiences, and in Antoine’s case, is disgusted by life. Antoine visualizes life as bare existence without meaning or purpose. As he says, “I cannot even conceive of anything around me being other than what it is.”ii In other words, life has no meaning or essence and just “is”. The lack of essence and the bare existence is the root of Antoine’s nausea and problems and from what he must find an escape. Unfortunately, he never finds this “way out” but does find a means of survival by the end of the novel. The nausea Antoine suffers during the novel is sourced from his lack of ability to understand how existence developed. As Sartre says,
The World was everywhere, in front, behind. There has been nothing before it. Nothing. There has never been a moment in which it could not have existed. That was what worried me: of course there was no reason for this flowing larva to exist.iii
Antoine woke up and realized the veil was pulled away and only existence remained. The world was “in front, behind” for no apparent reason. He was thrown into this situation, the situation of life without control or choice. Antoine feels this way because when he looks at an object he only sees it as an empty structure without a reason to be, or nothingness. Man defines his own essence after he has been thrown into existence, as Sartre explains, “Existence precedes essence.”iv Antoine realizes that “existence precedes essence” and is disgusted by the bare existence. The only way to escape the nausea produced by this reality is to find his own essence and bring meaning to his life. He first looks to adventure as a way to gain his own essence but then rejects that idea and says, “This feeling of adventure definitely does not come from events.”v The shift from his previous thought occurs while he is looking at the cashier in the Café Mably. Antoine says,
A shudder goes through me: she…she is the one who was waiting for me. She was there, standing erect above the counter, smiling. From the far end of the café something returns which helps to link the scattered moments of that Sunday and solder them together and which gives them a meaning.vi
For it is the “linking” of these events that bring about adventure and not the events alone. All of a sudden, that Sunday had a meaning; the woman had a reason to be there, she was “waiting for me,” according to Antoine. The whole café also had rationale and not just pure existence because the “air is blue with cigarette smoke and steam rising from damp clothing.”vii The essence was the blue air with cigarette smoke that caught
Antoine’s attention as opposed to the previously seen nothingness. Even though Antoine does discover an essence in this, it is not the way out because the essence leaves as quickly as it comes. He describes adventure as the “irreversibility of time”viii and it is not always there because sometimes the “links” disappear. The Self-Taught Man believes in a theory of humanity and this seems like a possible way out for Antoine because it designates an essence to humanity. However, Antoine is disgusted by this notion because it is a fake impression to cover up the existence that is lying...