Albert Camus - The Fall

Freshman (College 1st year) ・English ・MLA ・1 Sources

In The Fall, Jean-Baptiste Clamence provides a dramatic monologue in which he presents himself as a judge-penitent as he reflects on his life to a stranger. Through the story, Clamence confesses his success as a wealthy defense lawyer, his crises, and his ultimate fall. Jean-Baptiste understands himself as a successful defense lawyer until he experiences a situation that makes him to rediscover himself as a hypocrite. He suggests that he saw a woman in bridge who wanted to commit suicide, but he could not save her life. He says that he is a hypocrite because he pretends to save people by defending them in court, but he failed to save the woman at the bridge. Thereafter, he becomes more conscious of his weaknesses as a lawyer. His confessions explain the basic problem, crises, and the solution. Jean-Baptiste Clemence overcame his problem by discovering his hypocrisy and proclaiming himself as a judge-penitent; judging himself before judging others, and confessing his sins before condemning others for their sins.

The basic problem that Jean-Baptiste tried to solve through his confession was his feeling of guilt and hypocrisy as a lawyer. In the opening sections of the confession, Jean-Baptiste sees himself as respected lawyer. He considered himself successful in his law profession because he helped poor and disenfranchised members of society who would not afford proper legal defense. He also accounts to how he helped widows, orphans, disabled, strangers, and poor people on the streets. As an example, he suggests that he would help a blind man cross the street.

Clamence thought that he was a truthful, honest and pure man because he lived for the sake of others. He says, “This is achieving more than the vulgar ambitious man and rising to that supreme summit where virtue is its own reward” (Camus 9). However, something happened to him one night while crossing Pont Royal on his way home, which helped him to discover his weaknesses and sins. He started to discover that he was living in a lie because some of the clients he defended were murderers, as he says, “Besides, some of my good criminals had killed [26] in obedience to the same feeling” (Camus 9).

Clamence sees a woman on a bridge at Pont Royal, and he suspects that something was wrong with her; but he does not take any action. As he was going past her, he hears the sound of a body diving into the water. He stops for a while, but does nothing. He starts to feel guilt for not helping the woman. This feeling can be noted in his statement, “I told myself that I had to be quick and I felt an irresistible weakness steal over me” (Camus 25). Although he considers himself as a selfless helper of the helpless, he does nothing to help the woman. Several years after the incident, another incident happens that reminds him of the woman he could not save; and his problem of hypocrisy becomes clearer.

After executing his professional duties, he goes to his house and starts to recount the good things he did during the day. After mentioning all the things he did, he concludes that he is a good man; he was happy for his achievements. He observes that the achievements he has made give him power and cheer his heart. However, as he continues to think of his good deeds, he hears a sound of laughter that reminds him of the woman he neglected at the bridge: “at that very moment, a laugh burst out behind me” (Camus 14). The laughter is mysterious because it reminds him of the woman, and coincidentally comes back every time he congratulates himself for doing good things. The laughter is also described as a good, hearty, and friendly laugh. This description is similar to his description of himself – “I have a good, hearty laugh and an energetic handshake” (Camus 15). Therefore, the laughter originated from inside him; and the collision between his true self and the self-made image starts to emerge. He starts to realize his hypocrisy, and his fall begins.

Once he discovers his hypocrisy, Jean-Baptiste starts to understand that people will judge him. His realization that he has been living in denial and hypocrisy creates an intellectual and emotional crisis which he is not able to resolve no matter how much he tries. He becomes paranoid and starts to think that people are judging him. He performs actions that seem objectionable. For instance, he says, “I planned to puncture the tires of invalids’ vehicles” (Camus 32). This statement shows that he started to perform offensive acts to reflect his true self. However, people do not take him seriously; in fact, his actions further explicate his dishonesty. These actions are his first attempt to resolve his problem, but it backfired.

Clamence also ttries to use love as a way of avoiding judgments; he tries to please women to woe them, yet he knows that he usually treats them badly. As a result, his guilt increases. He further engages in meaningless sex. He explains, “I must talk to you of debauchery and of the little-ease” (Camus 33). This behavior distracts him shortly, but does not solve his problem. He tries alcohol, but it fails as well.

He ties together the ideas of innocence, freedom and judgment to provide a solution to his problem. He argues that freedom is a burden to guilty people. If a man is free, it means he is innocent, otherwise he would be in prison. For an individual to remain free, he must appear in court several times to be judged and prove his innocence. However, being judged is still problematic because Jean-Baptiste is trying to avoid being judged for his atrocities. He is not afraid of punishment; his problem is judgment by others. Therefore, he suggests that slavery is a better solution because a slave submits himself directly to prison without being judged. Nonetheless, slavery is not sufficient because it is not possible to enslave people universally; slavery can only be a temporary solution.

As a final solution, he explains the concept of judge-penitent. His major problem is that he does not want to be judged. He suggests that he is judge-penitent; or in other words, a repentant judge. His self-imposed character as a judge-penitent is characterized by the process of relinquishing one’s freedom to avoid suffering. Thus, Jean-Baptiste accepts that he is guilty, and because guilty people are not supposed to be free, he sacrifices his freedom by admitting his sins. He concludes that the world does not have any objective truth, and everyone commits a sin; so the ultimate solution to the problem of being judged is to confess one’s mistakes. Jean-Baptiste sums up his solution this way, “Only, the confession of my crimes allows me to begin again lighter in heart and to taste a double enjoyment, first of my nature and secondly of a charming repentance” (Camus 49). Therefore, he becomes judge-penitent by confessing his sins, and that is the solution.

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Works cited

Camus, Albert. The Fall. New York: Vintage, 1956.

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