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I first read The Fall in college and thought it one of the best explorations of a single character I have ever or will ever read. Unfortunately, my paper on the work was less well received. In fact, it was given a mark of "C" with the advice that I pay closer attention to the story. To this day I consider The Fall an incredible character study in search of a story. Why does one need a perfect story, anyway? It remains my bias... the professor did not appreciate what Camus accomplished and overstated what Camus did not. (The preceding opinions are my own.)
The Fall was Albert Camus' last completed novel. On the surface, it is a simple narrative as Jean-Baptiste Clamence recounts the events from the last few years of his life. On a much deeper level, The Fall is Camus' written confession. The work is filled with Camus' self-loathing and criticisms of various people, beliefs, he encountered. More than any previous work, The Fall reveals Albert Camus.
As discussed in the introduction to the commentaries, Camus tended to use Algerian settings for his works, or he would favor symbols of his Algerian youth, such as the sun and open ocean. The Fall breaks Camus' earlier habits; the narrative is set primarily in Amsterdam, not Algeria or France. The "action" is at night, not under the sun. The water is not the open ocean, but controlled rivers. Any energy and optimism of the Mediterranean is surrendered to the sterile cold of a European city. Camus' despair is the setting.
Jean-Baptiste Clamence, the novel's first-person narrator, explains his life and exile in Amsterdam to readers as if talking to someone at a bar. Jean-Baptiste's highly critical view of himself and life reflect a loss of faith in human nature and "justice." Camus' chosen profession for Jean-Baptiste, lawyer, brings attention to his narrator's views on justice and morality. Clamence is a former lawyer from Paris, living in personal exile due to self-hatred. In effect, Jean-Baptiste has sentenced himself to the worst fate he could imagine... isolation.
Clamence is punishing himself for cowardice, the worst of possible crimes. As with Sartre, Camus viewed a failure to act as a choice to surrender. While The Plague is a story of action against the odds. The Fall is a tale of a man's guilt for not acting.
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