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Literature / The Fall

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The Fall is a 1956 novel by French author Albert Camus. In it, the reader sees through the eyes of an unseen bar patron in a shabby Amsterdam tavern where an expatriate French lawyer by the name of Jean-Baptiste Clamence introduces himself and begins to tell his life story. As Clamence tells of his transition from idealistic defense attorney to cruel cynic, Camus calls into question much that people take for granted about things such as innocence, love, and freedom. The novel takes a sinister turn toward the end as Clamence reveals ulterior motives toward his new friend (and by way of extension, the reader.)

Has no relation to the 2006 Tarsem Singh film, the BBC crime drama or the 2014 video game.

This work contains examples of the following:

  • Affably Evil: You will find few more affable than Jean-Baptiste Clamence.
  • Amoral Attorney: Make an educated guess...
  • Arc Words: "Judge-penitent"
    • "The Last Judgment"
  • Break the Haughty: For Clamence it begins with witnessing a suicide which he does not stop and is eventually completed during a seemingly minor traffic altercation. For everyone else thereafter, it starts with meeting Jean-Baptiste Clamence!
  • Driven to Suicide: One of the defining moments of Clamence's life is when, while walking home at night, he sees a woman jump off a bridge into the Pont Royal bellow, presumably to her death. Although he has the opportunity to stop it, he does nothing and merely goes on his way as if nothing had happened. Sometime later, while in particularly good spirits about all the good he has been doing, he is reminded of this event by strange, disembodied laughter. Recalling the woman's suicide, he realizes what a hypocrite he is. But rather than do anything about it, he instead doubles down and dives into his hypocrisy full-force and with full knowledge.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: By framing the novel as a first-person monologue spoken directly to the reader, Camus makes the reader think about Clamence's disturbing ideas in a different and more personal way, effectively setting up the story's Gainax Ending.
  • Gainax Ending: The Fall ends on a bizarre twist as Clamence begins to once again relate the events of the suicide he witnessed in Paris as though his friend were there. This implies that, at best, Clamence recognizes him/her as a fellow witness who likewise did nothing, or possibly something more bizarre such as that he has been talking the entire time to a younger or alternate version of himself. In any case, since the character he speaks to is also the reader, it serves as an indictment of all humanity.
  • Happiness in Slavery: One of Clamence's core tenets is that humans are at their best when enslaved and controlled.
  • The Holocaust: Clamence dwells in what was once the Jewish section of Amsterdam before the Nazis "spaced it out a bit." He muses with his usual detachment that he is living on the site of "one of the greatest crimes in history."
  • Manipulative Bastard: Clamence, and not only would he happily admit it, but the entire story is him happily admitting it!
  • Mind Rape: At the climax Clamence reveals that this is what his job as a "judge-penitent" essentially is and that it fulfills his need to dominate and control others. Not only that, but he reveals that his new acquaintance (i.e., the reader) is his newest "client" and that this is what he has been doing to them the whole time they've been talking!
  • Narcissist: Clamence, as he himself says it, loves himself. Everything good deed (and really nearly everything) he has ever performed (and is still doing at the end of story as a "judge-penitent") was to boost his own ego. From helping others and being modest about it, being a successful lawyer to accusing himself then judging/ looking down on others as a "judge-penitent"; all of it was just so he could see himself as superior and better than others. To add insult to inury, we'll have to note the fact that it's not the guilt of not saving the woman from the bridge that disturbed him, it's being exposed as the hypocrite and pretender he is, and being unable to hold a grandiose view of himself.
  • Nay-Theist: Clamence seems to be one, of sorts, having little use for God and regarding all religions as being entirely off track with regard to how the world works. Nevertheless, he seems to acknowledge Jesus as a real being - albeit an ineffective and misguided one - and considers him his "friend."
  • Pet the Dog: An in-universe moment of this enrages Clamence. He tells of attempting to befriend a dog at a train station in occupied France, only for a Nazi soldier to come along and interrupt him. The soldier pets the dog, who happily trots away beside him. Clamence realizes he actually does have some patriotic feelings at this moment, since if it had been a fellow Frenchman who had claimed the dog, he probably wouldn't have been as upset.
  • Public Domain Artifact: The Just Judges, a real painting from the famous Ghent Altarpiece that was stolen in 1934 and never recovered, plays a role in the story. Guess who has it...
  • Straw Nihilist: There are too many layers and subtleties in Camus' writing for Clamence to be dismissed as this, but he does show shades of it. At one point he claims to have fully given over to this mindset along with the hedonism that it brings. But comes out of it when it starts to feel more like living in a medieval oubliette rather than the endless sense of gratification and power he had hoped for.
    I lived in a sort of fog in which the laughter became so muffled that eventually I ceased to notice it. The indifference that already had such a hold over me now encountered no resistance and extended its sclerosis. No more emotions! An even temper, or rather no temper at all. Tubercular lungs are cured by drying up and gradually asphyxiate their happy owner. So it was with me as I peacefully died of my cure.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Clamence's confession is full of subtle discrepancies and contradictions. The last few pages cast the whole story in a new light and awaken the question of whether the entire thing has just been a manipulation on Clamence's part.