Jean-Baptiste Clamence (zhahn-bah-TEEST klah-MAHNS), the narrator and the only speaking person in this novel. Every word of this book is spoken by this character, to the unidentified listener. Clamence describes himself as formerly a lawyer in Paris, not a judge-penitent. As a lawyer, he did not accept bribes and was not involved in shady dealings. His courtesy was famous and undeniable; he was a person of incredible politeness and manners. Only near the end of the novel does the reader learn the narrator’s definition of judge-penitent: the one who announces the law. His profession after being a Parisian lawyer consists of indulging in public confession as often as possible. He describes himself as bursting with vanity, and in the course of the novel he reflects on every facet of his life that he finds meaningful. The narrator says that his love for life is his only true weakness. He calls himself a prophet and happens to have a name strikingly similar to Saint John the Baptist. The bulk of this text consists of Clamence scrutinizing his life on the premise of two important events. The first is that he heard laughter behind him and could not discover its source; the second is that a woman jumped off a bridge into the river Seine and he made no effort to help her.
The unidentified listener
The unidentified listener, who is explained to the reader only so far as Clamence makes observations about him. The narrator attaches...
(The entire section is 636 words.)