This is a short book (only 147 pages) but one that’s hard to read because of its gloomy tone, but thought-provoking nonetheless – 3 stars.
In The Stranger, Camus tells us that life only has meaning if one takes responsibility for one’s actions and confers a meaning on it. By not taking the positive step to plead defense to the murder charge, the protagonist chooses to face up to the consequence of his action and thereby confers a meaning, though not a positive one. The focus of the novel is on the individual, on his feelings and thoughts, in isolation from society.
In The Fall, Camus seems to want to try and define the moral meaning of the individual’s existence through his relations with others. This novel is in monologue form and the narrator is the protagonist. The narrator/protagonist, who is a lawyer, takes the reader on a soul-searching journey. He admits to initially always taking the moral high ground where others are concerned, always aware though that he is a hypocrite at heart. Then when praises begin heaping on him, he feels so burdened with guilt that he suffers a breakdown. At last he comes up with a solution to his problem, which is to deliberately judge himself harshly in front of his acquaintances, with the aim of affording the right in turn to judge them.
“The more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you. Even better, I provoke you into judging yourself, and this relieves me of that much of the burden.”
The question is: is that a real solution or just a devious way around accepting responsibility?
It would appear to me that the key message that Camus wants to send is that it behooves us to accept with humility the hard fact that we mortals are an imperfect and sinful lot and that we all tend to wear masks and at the same time point our fingers at others. It’s only with this humble acceptance can we begin to confer any meaning on life.