The Fall

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514

The narrative is set in the red-light district of Amsterdam and is delivered during the course of 5 days by a man who calls himself Jean-Baptiste Clamence. He addresses himself to a Parisian lawyer who has wandered into a bar called Mexico City. Clamence ingeniously draws his listener into complicity with his own life, which he proceeds to outline.

Before becoming the expatriate barfly that he seems today, Clamence was a supremely successful and self-confident defense attorney in Paris. However, his faith in himself and in the social rituals he was enacting was forever subverted one night as he was walking alone across a bridge. Though he heard the splash of a young woman throwing herself into the river, Clamence continued walking, without making any effort to save her life.

That moment, which has haunted him ever since, marked his fall from innocence; it introduced an ineradicable self-consciousness that alienated him henceforth from his in-authentic social roles. He now lives in exile, compelled to recount his guilty story again and again to passing strangers.

Fond of heights and of islands that reinforce his sense of detachment, Clamence calls himself a “judge-penitent.” He takes as his calling the expiation of personal guilt by implicating others. That is precisely what he is attempting to do through his narrative--which, he admits, he improvises each time to suit each successive listener.

During this particular performance, Clamence manages to fascinate his listener. On the fifth and final day, he persuades him to visit his apartment, where he reveals the stolen painting THE JUST JUDGES. Clamence thereby implicates the stranger in his own crime, thus temporarily overcoming the sense of doubleness that has haunted him since the drowning.


Bloom, Harold, ed. Albert Camus. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. Collection of critical essays on the writer’s career. An article on The Fall provides a close analysis of Camus’ complex narrative method and reveals the author’s concerns about the modern condition of humanity.

Bree, Germaine, ed. Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. Essays by eminent scholars give an overview of Camus’ accomplishments as a novelist and philosopher. One entry focuses on the later novels, including The Fall, which is seen as a personal statement by the novelist against a readership who failed to appreciate his earlier work.

Ellison, David R. Understanding Albert Camus. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. Study of the major works. Includes a detailed study of The Fall, concentrating on its setting, structure, and narrative techniques, and commenting on Camus’ handling of religion.

Sprintzen, David. Camus: A Critical Examination. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988. Critical analysis of Camus’ major works, from a philosophical perspective. A chapter on The Fall examines the work as a study of modern anxiety and compares it to other novels by the author.

Thody, Philip. Albert Camus. London: Macmillan, 1989. General survey of Camus’ novels, examining common themes and focusing on his rejection of Christianity in favor of an existential position. A chapter on The Fall concentrates on the author’s satiric portrait of lawyers as a scourge of modern society.

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Critical Evaluation