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Many readers misinterpret the monologue as being addressed to the readers, instead of to the Listener. Another difficulty of the book is the complex moral questions it poses. These are, at the same time, its most interesting features. Clamence tells a highly emotional story, and in telling it and pleading with the Listener for understanding, he professes a negativistic philosophy of life and nihilistic view of morality. His negativism is based on his contention that we are all of us guilty of immorality all of the time.

Citing his own life as an example, Clamence insists that philosophies and pretenses of morality are merely covers for immorality, and that the idea of a moral life is a contradiction in terms. The first is whether and how one can live a moral life in a universe full of evil. We live in a world in which evil doers routinely inflict unmerited suffering and death on people. As Clamence poses the problem, if we want to live moral lives, we must do all we can to eliminate evil. Morality requires zero tolerance for the suffering of others. We must not live at ease while others are suffering and dying.

In this context, Clamence contends, inaction is itself evil. We are effectively accomplices in any evil that occurs anywhere and anytime if we have not given our all toward eliminating it. And giving your all means dying for the cause. Dying for the cause is the only moral act. If we are alive and well, we are, in effect, guilty of at least tolerating the suffering and death of others. We are also almost certainly contributing to evil in the world because of the interrelatedness of all things.

Only by dying can we demonstrate our moral commitment to eliminating evil and, thereby, also eliminate the evil we inevitably inflict on others just by living.

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The second question is whether and how one can live a moral life when self-interest seems to permeate everything we do. Clamence claims that everything we choose to do is a function of self-interest. If we chose to do a thing, that thing is, by definition, something in which we are interested, which is why we choosing it. Selfishness and self-interest underlie even the most seemingly selfless acts if we have chosen to do those acts, because then we are only doing what we ourselves want to do. Slavery, Clamence contends, which means doing only what others make you do, is the only way to avoid selfishness.

These are tough questions and the format of The Fall adds to the difficulty of fathoming them. The format may itself also be a source of misunderstanding to readers. In this book, unlike in most monologues, the speaker is talking to someone else in the story and not directly to us, the readers. In The Stranger , the main character, Merseault, is talking directly to us, the readers.

In The Fall , the main character, Clamence, is talking to a second person, the unnamed and unheard Listener. We readers are overhearing their conversation. I disagree. Most interpretations of The Fall ignore or dismiss the role of the Listener and assume that Clamence is effectively talking to us, the readers. Camus knew how to write a monologue addressed to the reader. He did it in The Stranger. So, he must have had something in mind by inserting into The Fall a second person with whom the main character is talking and pleading. I suggest that what Camus had in mind was that the Listener is the central character in the book and that his silence suggests a nuanced answer to the moral questions posed by the book, an answer very different than the extreme negativism promoted by Clamence.

In short, the Listener does not fall for the nihilistic arguments of Clamence and his empathetic silence, unlike the silent indifference of the universe, is telling.

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As a result, Camus lived most of his youth surrounded by the sounds of silence. There are many different kinds of silence. There is the silence of ignorance. The silence of indifference. Silence as assent.

Silence as dissent. Scornful silence. Supercilious silence.


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And, silence of support. Camus used all of these in his writings. Ivan is an atheistic intellectual who is looking for rhyme and reason in the universe, but finding only meaningless brutality. Jesus is duly arrested for disturbing the peace and taken to be interrogated by the Grand Inquisitor. The chapter consists of a long monologue on the part of the Inquisitor, during which Jesus says nothing despite being asked to respond and encouraged to admit His failings. The Inquisitor chastises Jesus for rejecting the three temptations to earthly power that he had been offered by Satan in the desert.

If He had accepted them, He could have become the dictator of the world, which is what the Catholic Church had been attempting to do ever since.

Albert Camus - The Myth of Sisyphus (part 1) - Existentialist Philosophy & Literature

Responsibility is a burden. Freedom from responsibility will make people happy. And that is why the Inquisitor wants Jesus to leave and never come back again.


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When the Inquisitor finishes, Jesus continues his silence, but then kisses the Inquisitor and leaves. It is the same, I think, with the Listener in The Fall. The theories and practices of the Inquisitor represented for Camus the epitome of that which he opposed. In The Fall , Clamence represents the nihilism and will-to-power over others that Camus abhors. Just as in The Fall , Dostoevsky raises questions in his novel about whether and how one can be moral in a world steeped in evil.

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Dostoevsky was a devout Christian and apparently found answers to these questions in God. Camus was a non-believer who found solace in human solidarity. There is virtually no action in The Fall.

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The story takes place over five days during which the characters meet in a bar in the red-light district of Amsterdam and elsewhere in and around the city. In the course of the book, Clamence regales the Listener with tales of his fall from grace to damnation. They are not intentional harms that he has inflicted on others but unintentional byproducts of acting selfishly. His story is a sustained guilt trip of selfishness. That way, Clamence later admits, Clamence can feel superior to the Listener and less ashamed of himself.

He wants most of all to avoid being judged, and so he wants to be able to judge others instead. The story proceeds in stages, some of which are not consistent with each other except in their intent to sway the Listener. Many interpreters of the book take what Clamence says at face value as what actually occurred in his life.

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Everything Clamence says is centered around persuading the Listener, who is thereby the central character in the book. As Clamence tells it, his life story is of a seemingly virtuous and successful man who does a very bad thing which leads to his downfall. For the first half of the book, Clamence hedges around what this bad thing is, but then, exactly half-way through the book, he describes the event.


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  • He says that he was walking one evening across a bridge over the Seine River in Paris. It is seemingly not so much what he could have done as what he felt at the time that most bothers him. Callous and cowardly seems to be his judgment of himself. He says that he has never stopped feeling shame for apparently letting that woman drown when he might possibly have saved her. And it is seemingly on the basis of this event that he eventually comes to the conclusion that all and everyone is evil in the world, whatever the pretenses.

    He says that it is Jean-Baptist Clamence, though he admits at one point in his story that he has gone by other names as well. Jean-Baptist is French for John the Baptist, the Biblical saint who dispensed clemency through the cleansing process of baptism. Clamence is not dispensing clemency.