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“Nausea” by Jean-Paul Sartre: Main Topic and Key Elements


The novel Nausea, written by Jean-Paul Sartre, is a philosophical masterpiece that addresses the topic of existentialism. The given close reading analysis will focus on the following statement: “the Nausea has stayed down there, in the yellow light. I am happy: this cold is so pure, this night so pure: am I myself not a wave of icy air? With neither blood, nor lymph, nor flesh. Flowing down this long canal towards the pallor down there. To be nothing but coldness.” It uses a damp, muddy street as a metaphor for nothingness in human existence, where the façade of yellow light is a mere distraction from existence. However, in the context of the selected passage, the image of yellow light functions as a zone of comfort and dismissal of emptiness and coldness of reality.

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The key elements of strange language focus on are yellow light, cold, and Nausea. It is important to note that yellow light is representative of the light’s distractive nature. Sartre was deeply interested in human existence and how people lead their lives in a way in order to avoid facing the nothingness of life. Existence is inherently comprised of nothingness and meaninglessness, which means that humans are free to do whatever they want. This is a form of absolute freedom, which is nauseating and scary to a person, which is why people adhere to the façade of light to be blinded from the truth of existence. In other words, observing the context of the passage alone, it is evident that the light is not coming from the sun since it is nighttime. Therefore, the source of the yellow light is a street lamp, where the color is used to symbolize the feeling of Nausea. The text illustrates an image of a person standing under the street lamp and realizing that outside the illuminated place, there is coldness and darkness. This symbolizes a core essence of existentialism, where humans are born into this light of family, happiness, and disillusion with society. People are born and raised believing that human lives have meaning and purpose, whereas the reality is rather cold and empty. The yellow light and coldness can be directly applied to the Earth and vastly empty space. Life exists in the comfort zone of the sun’s warmth and Earth’s habitable environment, but this tiny island is located in the endless emptiness of cold space. A similar analogy can be applied to the contextual meaning of human existence, where every person exists hiding behind the veil of the yellow light of distraction and abstract goals self-constructed to forget about the emptiness and purposelessness of existence. It is evident that what humans do and accomplish is mostly meaningless since, in the grand scheme of time and space, these meticulous efforts have no real impact. For the most part, human life is perishable, quick, and insignificant in the context of the physical world, biological life, and human history. Therefore, people tend to cling to the yellow light in order to seek comfort and avoidance of the coldness of existence and reality.

Nausea is another term that requires a thorough investigation. The passage uses this word because it is the only feeling which resembles a sense of discomfort when one looks beyond the veil of yellow light and sees the darkness and coldness of existence. In other words, it describes a feeling we feel when we start to contemplate our lives, purpose, and meaning of existence. It is a nauseating feeling of discomfort and disorientation when we realize what the real world is like. Humans tend to lose sight of the arbitrary and abstract goals of their lives when they realize that nothing truly matters and their existence will soon come to an end. Such a feeling is closely associated with the emotions of loneliness and sadness, but they are less intense and stark. These feelings are always looming around the corner, and we mostly ignore the coldness and emptiness of existence by staying within the comfort of our artificially built yellow light source. The imagery of the passage clearly reveals the fact that Nausea stays down in the yellow light, but the narrator achieved some form of a higher level of awareness by embracing the true nature of existence with its coldness, darkness, and emptiness. Thus, Nausea is the result of purposely avoidant true reality, but one is capable of seeing the beauty of the vast and cold nature of existence without feeling Nausea. It is important to understand that we, human beings, are not separate agents or observers of reality because we are a core part of it. Although the yellow light is necessary to provide us with some degree of sanity, functionality, and comfort, we, ultimately, need to achieve the required level of philosophical maturity in order to be comfortable with our purposeless and meaningless existence. By achieving this higher state of awareness of our existence, we can be truly happy since it establishes the fundamental basis for our freedom. Reality and existence are an empty and cold playground of ours, but the game of joy and happiness is ours to design. The purity of existence’s coldness and darkness should not be avoided and hidden from but rather embraced and cherished because it means that humans are the ones who bring meaning and purpose into it. By looking at objects, one can come to a realization that their existence has a purpose, but more importantly, their existence precedes their essence. The latter term refers to various characteristics and features of an object, which emerge from our experience, perception, and sensual limitations. Therefore, an object exists irrespective of its essence since the latter is the result of the observer’s observations. Thus, the statement “With neither blood, nor lymph, nor flesh” is illustrative of the fact that these are mere artifacts of perception, which exist on their own, but a person to whom these things belong is a separate entity.

Lastly, the term cold and coldness is a manifestation of nothingness. The latter is at the core of existence, which is inherently meaningless, purposeless, and empty. Cold describes the objective nature of existence and life, which is hidden behind a façade of light. The passage creates some form of revelation of how a person is not entirely separate from his or her environment since all is comprised of nothingness. There is no borderline or boundary that precisely separates where one’s body and existence end and another begins. These are imposed by the human mind and perception. This is the prime reason why the author writes, “cold is so pure, this night so pure: am I myself not a wave of icy air.” In other words, one can achieve oneness with other objects since all of nothing is behind the façade of the illusion of perception. The artificial light of the passage provides the distracting light, like the sun, but does not provide the warmth of the true sun. Therefore, coldness is still felt even if we stay under the light and avoid the true nature of reality. Human life cannot achieve the true level of happiness without realizing the fact that we are surrounded by coldness and darkness, which are not inherently bad. It is our perception that dictates our attitudes towards such characteristics of the nature of reality. The term “wave” illustrates the importance of our fleeting separateness from reality since the wave is not a solid object which can be clearly identified and held. We are part of a larger existence, which is as vaguely separable as a wave from the air.


In conclusion, the selected statement by Sartre in his novel Nausea is one of the key epiphanies of the thought process. It directly questions the perceptive aspect of existence, which comprises its essence. By understanding that behind such a façade of light is coldness and nothingness, one can be disillusioned but at the same time feel oneness with his or her surroundings. Nausea is a feeling which is felt when a person looks behind the veil of artificial light or comfort zone since he or she is not philosophically mature enough to realize his or her vague separateness from true reality. The passage is a perfect illustration of an existentialist view of human life and its relationship with reality itself.

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