Albert Camus created many philosophical literary works that pertained to his idea of absurdism. For Camus, life itself is absurd since in his eyes life boils down to two choices that every person faces. This is whether to continue to search for meaning in life or to end it; however, for Camus the choice of looking for meaning only results in losing that meaning and having to find it again. Therefore there is only one true choice and that is death. For Camus, death is the ultimate choice that a person will decide in their lifetime. In his short novel The Fall, Camus’ main character Clamence exemplifies what a realistic absurd man would be. Clamence's irregular behavior and method of conversing with others exemplifies what absurdism is in Camus’ eyes. Camus defines the absurd as irrational in its means. Next, Camus’ circular argument only has two choices to follow. These being the choice to search for meaning or to choose death. Also, Clamence's perceived selfishness shows the reader what Camus considers to be a Don Juan type of person. Clamence desire to deceive and lie to people is an example of what an actor is to Camus. Finally, Clamence's reaction to the suicide of the woman on the bridge elaborates on Camus’ ideas on suicide and absurdity. Clamence as perceived by the reader is an egotistical liar; however, Camus did not write a short novel about just a selfish man.
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The biggest part of absurdism is that it is irrational in its mentality and its methods according to Camus. Clamence's reactions and actions give the reader the impression that he is an irrational man. At first Clamence describes himself as an upstanding man. Always willing to help those who are in need. An example Clamence gives is, “ I loved to help blind people cross streets.” (Camus 286). This upstanding behavior is exemplified best in his occupation. He is a Public Defender and works exclusively for widows and orphan. For the reader, he is a great man that does his best for his community; however, the farther the reader gets into the book, the more Clamence explains himself. According to Clamence he does not perform these kind acts out of the kindness in his heart, he does these things to gain recognition and fame. He is a public defender for widows and orphans because he thinks defending them will grant him the most praise. This way of thinking is not detrimental to society; however, it is irrational for a human to do so. There are other ways to gain fame and glory than just being a good person. He could aspire to be an actor to gain the fame of a celebrity and to be praised by the masses. Clamence wants to be known by as many people as possible as stated by him in his monologue, “living aloft is still the only way of being seen and hailed by the largest number” (Camus 289). Clamence explains that the reason he does not commit a grandiose crime to get his name in the paper is because to him it is not worth the risk and consequence. He decides that it is better to do what he is currently doing to achieve the best results. Clamence is not rational with his thinking. Instead of becoming na actor and gaining fame throughout the world he decides to continue his occupation to receive his praise from widows and orphans. Clamence's meaning in life is to gain fame for his actions and to be praised by other people.
Camus’ existential choice the meaning of life and death is narrow in scope and later in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus;” he introduces his own solution to this choice. People need to embrace the absurdism that is present in the universe and to embrace the meaning of life so that suicide is not the only decision. Clamence seems to have attained this level of understanding; however, his guilt drags him down from that level and becomes a detriment to him during his life. While Clamence explains the details of the suicide and the aftermath it is apparent to the reader that the guilt from the event actually brings him down and makes him question himself. The guilt brings him down from the high that he was experiencing and grounds him. Clamence mentions that the cry he heard while the woman jumped still follows him, “that cry which had sounded over the Seine behind me years before had never ceased, carried by the river to the waters of the Channel, to travel throughout the world,” (Camus 334). That cry haunts him since he feels guilty about not doing something due to his selfish personality. Clamence is interpreted as an atheist and the suicide makes him rethink his stance towards religion since the suicide happened near the church of Notre Dame. Notre Dame has two front facing towers that protrude upward from the front of the church and resemble eyes. After Clamence witnessed the suicide, he then had to continue walking and look at the “eyes” of the church facing him and judging him for his inaction. Judging him for his selfish behavior that resulted in the death of a woman that could have been saved by him.
As described through his monologue, Clamence performs good acts; however, he possess selfish reason for performing the acts. The reason he is a good person and helps other who are in need is to have people praise him and know him. He had two reasons that he confesses for not helping the woman who jumped into the Seine River. These are that it was very cold during that time and because there was no one around to praise him for saving her life. That was all of the reasons he gave. He did not state that he feared for his own life or he was stunned by fear. No, he just did not see saving a woman from committing suicide as worth the trouble. Clamence acts in this manner naturally; however, when around others he would have saved her and upheld his persona of being a good person. As stated by Derik Robertson, “Clamence has no thought about what he is doing. He simply acts the way that society dictates” (Robertson 149). His only perception of what is good is constructed by what he perceives society thinks is morally good. Clamence acts selfishly because that is what a human who is not taught better would act like. Camus displayed Clamence's selfish behavior to portray one type of person that he mentions in “The Myth of Sisyphus.” This is the Don Juan.
The Don Juan does not consider other people as equals and only views other human beings as tools to benefit themselves. Another way to explain it is someone who objectifies others for their pleasure. In Clamence's case he only views the suicide of that woman as an opportunity to have some fame; however, when he sees that the opportunity is gone he does not consider her health further. Selfishness is present in everyone; but Clamence displays an extreme of selfish thinking. As stated by Emily Holman, “Clamence goes still further: selfishness is a fundamental and inevitable aspect of mankind,” (Holman 126). The degree of selfishness that Clamence displays is another trait of absurdity that Camus tries to explain to the reader. Clamence does not just describe just one type of person that Camus explains in “The Myth of Sisyphus.” He also exemplifies what Camus perceives what an actor is to him.
Clamence is an example of a good actor since he is playing a character throughout the whole monologue that he gives in The Fall. During his monologue he references what he would have on his business card if he had one. The front side would state that his name is Jean-Baptiste Clamence and underneath would state his occupation is “Play-Actor.” On the other side would be the faces of Thalia and Melpomene, which are commonly used in theatre, and underneath it would be ‘Don't Bet on it.’ Assuming that Clamence is talking to the reader this is a clear sign that Clamence is lying about every aspect of the conversation. The reader then starts to realize that Clamence is not trustworthy at all since it seems as if Clamence has been stringing the reader all through the novel. The occupation Play-Actor shows that he is playing a character that is not himself. The phrase ‘Don't Bet on it’ shows that the reader they should not bet on the fact that Clamence is telling the truth. There is however one aspect that Clamence has difficulty with respect to his acting. This being the guilt over the suicide of the woman disrupting his performance throughout his monologue. Gwendolyn Dolske views the title The Fall as, “his plunge into guilt was as a result of fearing his freedom, for his freedom yielded the answer to his actual character which was in opposition to the character he ‘played’” (Dolske 119). Without this guilt, Clamence has no trouble acting as his character. This guilt is present throughout the monologue as shown through his mistakes in portraying his character.
Camus considers the choice between finding the meaning of life and death as absurd since it is very blunt. Clamence views first hand that choice being made by the woman on the bridge. She apparently did not want to continue searching for the meaning of life and decided to end her life preemptively. Camus saw this as her decision to end the absurd situation she is facing. As Camus states in “The Myth of Sisyphus,” “In its way, suicide settles the absurd” (Camus 536). The woman saw suicide as an escape from the absurdity of life. Clamence at first saw the suicide selfishly; however, once the girl jumps it is then too late. He realizes the consequences of his inaction and has to deal with the judgement from the church’s “eyes.” This starts his supposed fall from his high horse and begins his path towards the ultimatum that Camus proposes. Clamence is Camus’ example of how an absurd man would react to witnessing a suicide.
Clamence is not the absolute exemplification of an absurd man like Meursault from The Stranger; however he is Camus’ way of describing how a more realistic absurd man would look like. Camus created Clamence to have an irrational method of thought. Then, Camus describes how ultimatum in certain ways in The Fall. Next, Camus describes his Don Juan personality with Clarence's selfishness. Then, Clamence’s desire to deceive people by playing a character fits Camus’ actor persona. Finally, Clamence’s reaction to the suicide further develops Camus ideas on the absurdity. Clamence is a great representation of the absurd man that is represented in a realistic manner that people will find in the world.