(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Fall is an extended monologue conducted over the course of five days by a man who calls himself Jean-Baptiste Clamence. The setting is Amsterdam, whose fogginess is miasmic and whose canals are likened to the concentric circles of hell. Like some infernal Ancient Mariner, the speaker attaches himself to a stranger who happens to wander into a raffish bar incongruously named Mexico City. A master of guile, Clamence deliberately piques the curiosity of his listener, who remains an unnamed “you.” Gradually, cunningly, he implicates him—and the reader—in his diabolical tale. Clamence infers that his auditor is a successful Parisian lawyer in his forties, and he tailors his story to appeal to and expose the weaknesses of the stranger.

Clamence claims that he, too, used to live in Paris, where, as a widely respected magistrate, he exuded self-confidence. He then recounts an incident that forever undermined his certainties about personal worth.

One November evening, walking across a bridge, he heard the cry of a woman who had thrown herself into the river. His reaction was to deny that he had heard anything and to continue walking. He remains, however, haunted by that dying cry and the fact that he evaded responsibility toward another human being.

Written at a troubled time in Camus’s own life, The Fall is the bitter fictional tirade of a brilliant misanthrope who dismisses civilization with a mordant...

(The entire section is 600 words.)

The Fall Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In an Amsterdam bar called Mexico City, Jean-Baptiste Clamence is involved in a strange dialogue, strange because he addresses an unidentified silent listener who never answers his questions or comments on his remarks. Clamence, in his forties, talks daily for five consecutive days with the stranger whom he meets in Mexico City bar. The subject of this one-sided dialogue is Clamence, specifically his fall from innocence to sin.

The judge-penitent illuminates his past experiences, clarifies the inner motives behind his actions, and imposes his feigned friendliness, his humorous sarcasm, his false humility, his black bitterness, and the cruelty of his lucidity on his listener. Clamence relates that at one time he had to feel superior in order to make his life bearable. To relinquish his seat to someone else in the bus, to help a blind person across the street, or to give up his theater seat so that a couple can sit together—all of these incidents created in him a feeling of superiority, resulting in his regarding himself as a type of superman. His sense of superiority kept him in harmony with people around him, with life in general. He attained a certain state of happiness as a mechanical human being who could anticipate what was expected from him and live up to the pleasant image other people had of him. He lived on the surface of a life of words and gestures, but he never touched reality through the people he knew, the books he read, the places he visited, the women he possessed briefly. As a lawyer, he realized that the monotony of modern life turned human beings into puppets and made them completely anonymous. Disgusted with their anonymity, they committed crimes, their only means of attracting attention.

Then one evening at the Pont des Arts in Paris, Clamence heard laughter behind him; he turned around but nobody was there. It was Clamence laughing at himself, a sarcastic and triumphant laughter that chilled his...

(The entire section is 793 words.)