Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 624

Albert Camus’s death in 1960, at the early age of forty-six, was completely unexpected; it was a great shock to those who followed his literary and philosophical development from Le Mythe de Sisyphe(1942; The Myth of Sisyphus; 1955) and L’Étranger (1942; The Stranger, 1946). Camus broke with tradition, engaged himself in a new direction, and had showed vital and promising concepts of his new vision. His sudden death left his oeuvre unfinished. He bequeathed to the world finished works with an unfinished vision. The spiritual wasteland of the modern world was his obsession. He traced the dilemma of modern life back to its absurd roots but offered no new alternative. He died before he could express such an alternative.

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Camus intended to incorporate The Fall into a collection of short stories. The story soon outgrew its planned length, however, and was published as a separate novel in 1956.

In The Fall, Camus recalls The Stranger. Jean-Baptiste Clamence is an intensified Meursault. The themes of The Stranger are treated with greater lucidity and bitterness in The Fall. The idea of death, the problem of indifference and anonymity in modern life, the notion of guilt and innocence in the individual, the awareness of the absurdity of human actions, and the ambiguous relativity of all traditional values haunt both novels.

In form, The Fall is a confession, a philosophical confession of a former lawyer by the name of Clamence, who becomes a judge-penitent. His confession differs in tone and attitude, however, from those of Saint Augustine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau; there are no sentimental outflows, no softness of language, and, above all, no pity. Clamence makes his confession, reconstructs the past with all of its small incidents, and intertwines it with the present; however, his confession goes beyond the personal realm and assumes the dimensions of a general confession of the modern world, a cruel and dehumanized world where empty words replace life.

Amsterdam represents the stage of this modern world; impersonal and indifferent human beings play their role as lifeless puppets in the narrow-minded, suffocating bourgeois world. Camus even ventures to compare the concentric canals of this city to Dante’s circles of hell. Amsterdam and all modern cities turn into a bourgeois hell. The ugliness and forlornness of the modern city build the framework for Camus’s novel.

The reader is kept in a constant state of suspense. The reader participates actively in the development of Clamence’s thinking and is stimulated to conjecture on the listener’s unexpressed responses. Camus reverses the Proustian concept of remembrance. Marcel Proust aims to reconstruct and revive the past: It imparts richness and happiness to the present moment. Clamence fears the past: It becomes a danger to the present. He remembers those moments in which he failed to make the existential choice, and he lives with the awareness that he will always miss his moment of choice. The novel ends with his expressed realization that he will always be too late—fortunately—to choose.

Attacking the monotony and indifference of modern life, Camus questions all the usually accepted values and shows their ambiguous and often absurd nature. He revives the concept that nothing can exist without its reverse. Good and evil, innocence and sin exist side by side. Clamence must live with his own duplicity; he must accept the paradox that in trying not to fool himself, he fools himself. With The Fall, Camus opened the way to what came to be known as the New Novel by showing the relativity of traditionally accepted objective values. From Camus, it is only one step to the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute, who destroy the standard notions of what a novel and, by extension, what the world are supposed to be like.

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