The Literature of Existentialism Essay Sample

Jean Paul Sartre’s novel Nausea portrays the experience of a direct meeting with the existence; when a suspicious waiter in a café, a beer mug, a tree root in the park, or a stone at the bank corner are just what they are, and, thus, they are manifestations of the existence of a process in itself. The things tend to lose their definitions, purposes, functions, and their everyday type which is assigned to them as being-in-itself. A thing (which Sartre refers to as existence) begins to manifest itself without regard to other things, hopelessly losing any “utility” when it communicates with the world.

The past and the future things are merely a tool of vision, while the time of the thing itself is the momentary present. It is obvious that the interpretation of the things is given in accordance with the spirit of all philosophy introduced by Sartre; however, if the novel Being and Nothingness occurs as a pure speculation, then the novel Nausea is the experience of a collision with a net of “in-itself.” This paper will describe the level to which literature of existentialism is privileged and how the main character of Nausea handles the philosophic oppression he encounters.

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How the Literature Is Privileged

To understand the extent to which the literature is favored, it is significant to analyze Sartre’s vision of this issue. One of the paramount reasons why this field of knowledge is privileged is the interest it is based on and the interest it stimulates in readers. Hence, such lack of Roquentin’s enthusiasm in what he should write about is a sign of two essential things in relation to the literature’s advantages. On the one hand, the literature has certain privileges, as Sartre (2012) states, in case when it is written with a particular purpose and arouses interest both in a writer and in a reader. This is because the existence of literature work continues till the moment it is written or unless it has been read (McBride 2013). On the other hand, the privilege of literature becomes apparent due to its ability to exist even if it is not read by anybody. However, Sartre (2012) mentions that, in this case literature is limited and cannot be fully characterized as an existing notion. The same approach can be fairly applied to the other forms of art. For example, if the piece of music is being recorded or performed, it exists; however, as soon as no one considers it, the existence of such music product becomes restricted and difficult to be accessed.

Literature is privileged in Sartre’s exploration of freedom to the fullest extent. The main character is free from the societal order and rules, because he simply does not accept them. This parallel can also be drawn with literature: it does not exist according to the special set of rules, which have been established by the society – on the contrary, literature creates the rules and exists in-itself with its own rules and orders.

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From the point of view of being, literature, according to Sartre (2012), is opposite to nothingness. It is possible to state that literature is a kind of art which does not need a special reason for existence. It starts at the very moment when a writer puts a word on the paper and continues until a reader sees that word. Regardless of the epoch when a particular set of literature was composed, it continues to live. Therefore, it is possible to assume that it is timeless.

When it comes to the literature’s privilege of existence, it is necessary to state that the life of the literature work can be limited and unlimited (or free). Both limited and unlimited existence of literature is partly showed in Nausea. The moment when Roquentin started to write his book and his novel about Marquis determines the limited existence of literature, because the amount of the written information was not provided for the reader. Hence, this literature was directed one-way, as it was accessible to the writer only. As soon as Roquentin understands the fact that society is useless and he cannot accept its norms, he quits his idea to write that book giving total freedom to literature in general and leaving no example of unlimited literature within the global understanding of literature.

Such an approach is likely to be used when approaching other forms of art. It means that as soon as a piece of art is released and showed to the wide audience, it becomes free and can be characterized by the unlimited freedom in its being. Nevertheless, when the audience finds another piece of art more attractive, the previous ones are left and forgotten. In such a way, their existence becomes limited.

The novel Nausea is a case of a meeting with pure consciousness “in-itself” of things, and this kind of meeting is valid only when the mere presence of the in-itself relates to the for-itself; hence, the matter (or existence) is not limited (Churchill & Reynolds 2014). The existence of a process of throwing the covers looses harmlessness and represents the abstract category.

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As for the privilege of literature, Sartre (2012) illustrates it with an example of interaction between a man and a table. He claims that it is possible to say that people are immune to the table: people are free to use it for their own intended purpose(s) or not, but people have absolutely no power over the existence of the table. Having sawed it, people will eliminate only the table, while the existence of the will continues to exist, since the table is simply in itself and by itself (Sartre 2012). A similar type of in-itself and the consciousness can be found within itself, as its own existence is an inherent and independent compound of the will. At the same time, the mind cannot merge with its being in itself becoming its identity; it always has to be present in relation to it (Churchill & Reynolds 2014; McBride 2013). In essence, it does not really matter what kind of existence is in question (a piece of literature or a table) – its own or of the things – none of them, according to Sartre, can be more or less advantageous with respect to the other one, and even more than that – they both have the same existence format called “in-itself.”

Roquentin and His Philosophic Oppression and Possible Solutions

The human reality, in Sartre’s view, is what it is not and is not what is. This thesis may be specified as follows: human reality is for-self, being at the same time the existence of non-being-in-itself. Thus, adhering to the framework of existence, it would seem as nothingness of its own being that can only be the original being, which means that human reality is the being which contains nothing as what it is not.

Hence, Roquentin encounters such philosophic problem as opposition between “being and nothingness.” This duality of the concept of existence bears a twofold character. On the one hand, the main character understands that the objects around him exist, since they are present around him, but he is not certain whether they exist in the time perspective. He says:

I looked anxiously around me: the present, nothing but the present. Furniture light and solid, rooted in its present, a table, a bed, a closet with a mirror – and me. The true nature of the present revealed itself: it was what exists, and all that was not present did not exist. The past did not exist (Sartre 2013, p. 50).

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On the other hand, the things as well as the main character exist only here and now: no past tense can be applied to existence. This philosophic oppression between the two sides of existence is not solved in the book by Sartre: the author believes that the best way to solve this problem is to quit it (Sartre 2012). Roquentin, in his turn, acts in such a way: to stop being focused on a particular set of things, he leaves them. For instance, writing his book was not finished, because the protagonist did not see the purpose of the existence of this book. Another example is Roquentin’s meeting with his ex-mistress named Anny. He was passionate about her and wanted to see her frequently. When the meeting happened, the main character found himself with a feeling of nausea, because he did not understand whether his desire for a girl from the past has become his present. In other words, the category of existence does not function in the past, but it can be transmitted to the present (Churchill & Reynolds 2014). Again, having doubts about his own desires, Roquentin decides to quit the idea to stay with Anny. The man says that “Anny would never agree to grow old in front of me. I am weak and lonely, I need her” (Sartre 2013, p. 53). In addition to this, Roquentin states that “I would have liked to see her again in my strength: Anny is without pity for strayed sheep” (Sartre 2013, p. 53). These doubts and uncertainties lead him to end any type of relationships with his beloved and even cause him to suffer from another fit of sickness.

Analyzing the actions of the main protagonist, it is possible to analyze the characteristics of the solution he applied to the philosophic oppression he encountered. On the one hand, the solution is quite convincing, since it required the protagonist to be strong enough to quit the things he was doing or the people whom he could hypothetically love. That is to say that the main character preferred to stay lonely rather than to be happy (Churchill & Reynolds 2014). On the other hand, however, it may seem that the Roquentin’s actions and solutions are not that convincing, because they depict him as a weak person who is not ready or who does not want to struggle for his own happiness (McBride 2013). It means that for the main character, it would be easier to end something and to stop thinking of it: if the problem is not possible to be solved, it is better to delete it from the list.


In summary, discussing the issue of literature, it is necessary to regard it from the standpoint of freedom, existence, and being. As mentioned above, literature – as any other object – exists in itself, regardless of being written and read or not written and read. However, the in-itself existence of literature has limited framework. Undoubtedly, even being limited, it is, and namely it performs its being. Nonetheless, this being, similarly to existence, is purely restricted. To make literature unlimited and free, it is necessary to write it and to read it. In case of Roquentin, he decided to quit writing his book as he was aware he cannot accept the society’s norms. However, by doing this, he provided his literature with freedom, unlimited existence, and unrestricted being. He liberated his book from the social judgments and decided not to write on a topic which was trivial for him in order not to produce a dull work. In other words, he preserved literature, in its original meaning, from the limited product which would not spark any interest in a reader.