Why did J.B. become a juge-pénitent

Jean-Baptiste mentions his role as juge-pénitent early in his conversation with the other Frenchman. He tells him that previously he was a barrister but now is a judge doing penitence.
Page 2/6 – Si vous voulez le savoir, j’étais avocat avant de venir ici. Maintenant, je suis juge-pénitent 

He says his profession like himself shows duplicity.  For example, he looks intelligent but confides in absolute strangers- He is a man of education and manners but is nevertheless a regular in a low bar.  Thus he is a man of contradictions just as he is by profession - a judge but a penitent.
Page 7 - Mon métier est double, voilà tout, comme la créature. Je vous l’ai déjà dit, je suis juge-pénitent.3/7.
At their second meeting the second Frenchman begins by asking for an explanation of the phrase “juge-pénitent”, which has been puzzling him.  Jean-Baptiste offers to explain but says he must fill in some background facts first.
Page 10.   Qu’est-ce qu’un juge pénitent?..............  Mais il faut d’abord vous exposer un certain nombre de faits qui vous aideront à mieux comprendre mon récit.

In fact this “certain number of facts” were to take some time in the telling.  Jean Baptiste went on to recount full and intimate details about his character and about his personal and professional life before a moment of change had occurred. This turning point had been the hearing of strange laughter, on a night when he stood alone on a bridge over the Seine. It is only later that Jean Baptiste explains why the laughter got under his skin.  It causes him great emotional strain to talk of the incident and he has to tell it briefly and simply.  Page 13 /38
One night in November, two or three years before he had thought he heard the laughter on the bridge, he had been crossing the Pont Royal at 1 a.m. feeling good after leaving a girl friend. Leaning over the parapet was a slim young woman. He was attracted by the bare nape of the neck but moved on.  He had gone 50 yards down river, towards St. Michel when he heard a splash of a body hitting the water, very loud in the silence of night. He stopped. He heard a cry, going down the river which stopped abruptly.
He was trembling, he wanted to act quickly, but a weakness over­came him. Perhaps he thought: too late.  He continued to listen motionless - then walked away. He notified no-one.
The Frenchman asks about the woman. Jean-Baptiste says he doesn't know anything. He didn't read the newspapers on the following days.

The laughter on the bridge years later had revived the memory and given birth to an overwhelming sense of guilt.  Previously, criticism had been all around him, but he had been unaware of it. Once the new lucidity came to him, all this criticism struck home simultaneously. It seemed that the universe began to laugh around him,
Page 44 - Du jour où je fus alerté, la lucidité me vint, je reçus toutes les blessures en même temps et je perdis mes forces d'un seul coup. L'univers entier se mit alors à rire autour de moi.
Jean-Baptiste explain that people are eager to make judgments, in order to deflect the judgement of their own personal guilt from themselves.  When the other man suggests that we should patiently await the final judgment,  Jean-Baptiste says perhaps we should, but we are all in a hurry. That is why he has made himself a judge penitent.
Page 16/46 – De la patience?  Vous avez raison, sans doute.  Il nous faudrait la patience d’attendre le jugement dernier.  Mais voilà, nous sommes pressés. Si pressés même que j'ai été obligé de me faire juge-pénitent.

His early eccentric behaviour, when he became a penitent judge.
His first reaction had been eccentric. Since he was a liar he was going to display it to everyone before they found him out. To forestall laughter he was going to draw ridicule onto himself:
Page 50 - Pour prévenir le rire, j'imaginai donc de me jeter dans la dérision générale.
In this way, he could avoid judgment by putting the laughter on his side - he thought of bumping into blind men in the street, letting down the tyres of invalid cars, slapping babies on the Metro - But he didn't do it.

All this might seem silly but he had a serious motive: he wanted to overturn his previous play-acting and to destroy the false reputation he had created. He no longer wished other people’s esteem as it was not general - and it could not be because he did not share it himself.
Page 52 - Je n'en voulais plus de leur estime puisqu'elle n'était pas générale et comment aurait-elle été générale puisque je ne pouvais la partager? Alors, il valait mieux tout recouvrir, jugement et estime, d’un manteau de ridicule.
This tactic had not been successful in clearing his sense of guilt   He discovered that for this he had to accuse himself in a certain way. Page 19/53 :
 Voyez-vous, il ne suffit pas de s'accuser pour s'innocenter, ou sinon je serais un pur agneau. Il faut s'accuser d’une certaine manière, qu'il m'a fallu beaucoup de temps pour mettre au point…

He needed first to find out how to come to terms with his new awareness of guilt

The day came when he did not know how to go on. The problem he had to solve was how to live with guilt - Page 21/63 Jean-Baptiste, sympathises with Christ (le censuré) because he too reached this stage:
Page 63 ; Il n’empêche que le censuré, lui, n’a pu continuer.  Et je sais, cher, ce dont je parle.  Il fut un temps où j’ignorais, à chaque minute, comment je pourrais atteindre la suivante. 
For Jesus was not superhuman and he cried out his sufferings at the point of death.  Jean-Baptiste believes that guilt is so universal that even Jesus knew that he bore this burden in some measure.  This was the true reason for his execution:
Page 62 - La vraie raison est qu'il savait, lui, qu'il n'était pas tout à fait innocent.
And just as Jean-Baptiste delves to find reasons for his own guilt, he finds one for Christ.  He concludes that Jesus had reached the realisation that he was the reason why the innocents were massacred while he was taken to a safe place by his parents.

On becoming a judge a law is put in your hands to handle guilt.
The swarm of judges of all races, of all religions and anti-religions are dealing with dead innocence.  We have to do the same.
He, Jean-Baptiste, spares nothing and his friend does not think any the less of him for it.  On this basis, we are all judges and all guilty.
Page 64- Dès lors, puisque nous sommes tous juges, nous sommes tous coupables les uns devant les autres, tous christs à notre vilaine manière, un à un crucifiés, et toujours sans savoir.
When there is no law, judgment is arbitrary and the judges are let loose without restraint.  If the human race is not to be wiped out a law has to be found.  He has succeeded and he is John the Baptist, the prophet, herald of the new law.
Page 65 - Les prophètes et les guérisseurs se multiplient, ils se dépêchent pour arriver avec une bonne loi, ou une organisation impeccable, avant que la terre ne soit déserte. Heureusement, je suis arrivé moi ! Je suis la fin et le commencement, j'annonce la loi. Bref, je suis juge-pénitent.
He had chosen the profession of juge-pénitent because he accepts that guilt is the order of the modern world.

His choice of exile in Amsterdam
He closed down his chambers in Paris, to look for somewhere else to carry on his practice. He finished up in Amsterdam by chance, convenience, irony and a certain need for mortification: in this capital of mists.29/76  People from all over the world make their way to these ill-famed bars. He finds he can work best on the middle class men who make their way to these shady haunts.

In solitude one takes oneself easily for a prophet and that is the role he plays in Amsterdam. Page 22/65 - Dans la solitude, la fatigue aidant, que voulez-vous, on se prend volontiers pour un prophète. Après tout, c'est bien là ce que je suis, refugié dans un désert de pierres, de brumes et d'eaux pourries, prophète vide pour temps médiocres.

He repeats this later Page 72 saying that, after many false starts, he is now able to carry on the profession of judge-penitent.  He mainly exercises his profession in the “Mexico City” bar.  

His technique as a juge-pénitent
All this previous conversation had been carried on over five days. Jean-Baptiste says he had not been doing this just for fun:
Page 27/72 ; Ne croyez pas en effet que, pendant cinq jours, je vous aie fait de si longs discours pour le seul plaisir.

He frankly describes to the other Frenchman technique he uses as a penitent judge. We recognise that he has been applying this same technique upon the other man since their first meeting.  His aim is to shed the burden of his guilt from which he can see no escape. The words he speaks are now focussed on one goal: to make the mocking laughter in his head cease and to avoid judgment.
Page 27 /72 - Maintenant mon discours ost orienté. Il est orienté par l'idée, évidemment, de faire taire les rires, d'éviter personnellement le jugement, bien qu'il n’y ait, en apparence, aucune issue.

His intention is to spread the condemnation onto everyone else. His method is remorseless.  He allows no excuses, no claims of good intentions or praiseworthy errors, no explanations of mistakes made accidentally, no attenuating circumstances. 
Page 72 Pas d’excuses, jamais, pour personne, voilà mon principe, au départ.  Je nie la bonne intention, l’erreur estimable, le faux pas, la circonstance atténuante.  Chez moi on ne bénit pas, on ne distribue pas d’absolution.  On fait l’addition, simplement, et puis : « Ca fait tant ».
He simply adds up the account and states the verdict bleakly: You are a pervert - a satyr - a liar - a homosexual - an artist etc. 
Jean-Baptiste had earlier said how it would be impossible if all people had to be completely frank and state their true profession: Cowardly philosopher, Christian landowner, adulterous humanist.  Life would be turned into hell if they were given labels to wear for life with no chance of explaining themselves.
Page 10/26
….si tout le monde se mettait à table, hein, affichait son vrai métier, son identité, on ne saurait plus où donner de la tête!  Imaginez des cartes de visite : Dupont, philosophe froussard, ou propriétaire chrétien, ou humniste adultère, on a le choix, vraiment.  Mais ce serait l’enfer!  Oui, l’enfer doit être ainsi : des rues à enseignes et pas moyen de s’expliquer.  On est classé une fois pour toutes.

In philosophy and politics the judge penitent denies man’s innocence and thus is an enlightened advocate of his slavery. Without this there is no final solution.

The four stages of his technique as judge-penitent
First came his own personal confession
Page 29/ 76-Jean Baptiste had to seek a temporary solution, in order to take the weight of judgment off his own shoulders and share it with the others.  He knew that if he went into the pulpit and denounced others, the condemnation would finally fly back into his own face. Therefore, he reversed the process and condemned himself first before condemning others.
Page 29/76 - Puisque tout juge finit un jour en pénitent, il fallait prendre la route en sens inverse et faire métier de pénitent pour pouvoir finir en juge.
His personal confession is subtle, full of nuances and digressions (as in his conversation with the Frenchman).
Page 29/ 77 – je navigue souplement, je multiplie les nuances, les digressions aussi…

Second - a portrait of everyman
As he tells his story, he mingles his own experience with that of others and thus he induces the listener to go one better.  Thus, he is making a portrait not of himself alone but a composite portrait of his listener as well, of everyone and of no-one in particular : -
Page 29/77  Je prends les traits communs, les expériences que nous avons ensemble souffertes, les faiblesses que nous partageons, le bon ton, 1'homme du jour enfin, tel qu'il sévit en moi et chez les autres. Avec cela, je fabrique un portrait qui est celui de tous et de personne.

Third- A portrait of the listener
Finally he hands the portrait to his listener - saying alas this is how I am, but the portrait is, in fact, a mirror image of the other man:
Page 77 ; Mais du même coup, le portrait que je tends à me contemporains devient un miroir.
He has moved imperceptibly from saying "I" in his story to saying "We.” They are both in the same boat but at the same time he has gained superiority in two ways:
(1) He alone of the two knows what is being done.
(2) By accusing himself, he has given himself the right to judge the other man and to provoke him to judge himself - which affords him relief.

 Page 77 - Plus je m'accuse et plus j'ai le droit de vous juger. Mieux, je vous provoque à vous juger vous-même, ce qui me soulage d'autant

Fourth = a confession from the listener
He invites the other man to begin his confession now. The other French­man rejects the idea with a laugh, but Jean Baptiste insists that, even though he is proving a hard case, he will either come back to Amsterdam or write to him one day- in the end they all come round.

How should we interpret the role of Jean-Baptiste, the Judge–Penitent, in Amsterdam?

Many readers and critics have interpreted “La Chute” as the story of a sinner who finally saw the error of his ways and repented.      A senior Catholic cleric described it as a profoundly Christian book and commended the book for questioning the complacency shown by the majority of people in accepting the flawed standards of modern morality.  Such commentators can certainly point to the many Christian themes prominent in the book- examination of one’s soul, awareness of personal guilt, confession, atonement and ritual self-mortification.

The explanation given on the cover of the English translation published by Penguin Books exemplifies this viewpoint:

Jean-Baptiste Clamence, appeared to himself and to others the epitome of good citizenship and decent behaviour.  Suddenly a handful of circumstances explode his sleek self-esteem, and he sees through the deep-seated hypocrisy of his existence to the condescension which motivates his every action

Those who promote this interpretation to the book are faced with a major complication, however, because Jean-Baptiste, having seen the light and having recognised the wrong in his life, does not become a reformed person in any true respect.  In the final pages of the book, we see his admission to the other Frenchman that he does not see himself as a man who has overcome his former failings, but as a man who has found a formula to live with them all..  He corrects his earlier statement that the main thing in life is to avoid judgement. Instead he asserts that the main thing is to be able to allow oneself everything - and this he can do without suffering from his conscience.  He can continue to love himself and to use others, but by the technique of confession, he can do so with a lighter conscience, enjoying his own nature and a charming repentance.
Page 78 - Je me permets tout, à nouveau, et sans rire, cette fois. Je n'ai pas changé de vie, je continue de m’aimer et de me servir des autres. Seulement, la confession de mes fautes me permet de recommencer plus légèrement et de jouir deux fois, de ma nature d'abord, et ensuite d'un charmant repentir.
With this formula, he can allow himself everything - women - pride - annoyance -resentment - he can even enjoy his fever.  Now he can live with all his failings and enjoy his faults in abundance.  He is confident to be able to remain in control to the end of his career as a false prophet:
Page 81: Tout serait consommé, j’aurais achevé, ni vu ni connu, ma carrière de faux prophète qui crie dans le désert et refuse d’en sortir.
At the end of the book, recognising his falsity, he begs the Frenchman to be indulgent with him, just as he would be to the beggar on the terrace.

It is ironical that the Christians who would set Jean –Baptiste up as a moral example ignore the meaning of some obvious religious symbolism.    The central character is not only John the Baptist, the herald of the new order, he is also Adam who was cast out of the Garden of Eden, the fallen man from whom comes the title of  the book.  Camus specifically refers to Jean- Baptiste’s previous life in Paris as the Garden of Eden.  He was a happy man leading a full and useful life. He reigned freely as a consistently successful lawyer:
Page 5/15 - Les juges punissaient, les accusés expiaient et moi, libre de tout devoir, soustrait au jugement comme a la sanction, je régnais, librement, dans une lumière édénique. 
The fall for him as for Adam was the loss of innocence with the awareness of the concept of sin.  In his final apology to the other Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste says that he is not a bad man he has simply lost the light and the light we have lost is the light of blessed innocence, which allows a man to forgive himself.
Page 31/ 80 - Oui, nous avons perdu la lumière, les matins, la sainte innocence de celui qui se pardonne à lui-même.
He now lives without any moral integrity and is a much less satisfactory person with no positive purpose in life, except to attempt to calm his neuroses by exploiting the uncertainties of vulnerable acquaintances.  He is happy to spend the rest of his life in this way, because he has found a way of accepting duplicity, instead of getting upset about it.
Page 78 - J'ai accepté la duplicité au lieu de m'en désoler.
It is hard to propose the fallen Jean-Baptiste as a commendable Christian model

The comparison of Jean-Baptiste before and after the Fall
At the time when John Baptiste was a successful barrister in Paris, he was an impressive man.  He was good-looking, very active, with the build of an athlete, a very competitive tennis player.  He had a natural dignity, which helped him in his pleas as a barrister
(Page 4) Page 10 summary notes- La nature m'a bien servi quant au physique, l'attitude noble me vient sans effort

The John Baptiste in Amsterdam, provides a sad contrast.  .  Other illness has changed him, but some of the change could be attributed to his lifestyle and his new mentality.
He is a sick man and an alcoholic:
Page 65 He describes himself as a prophet, Elijah without a messiah, full of fever and alcohol:
Elie sans messie, bourré de fièvre et d’alcool le dos collé à cette porte moisie, le doigt levé vers un ciel bas…..
He tells how he feels very tired and has to get out of bed to breathe more easily, because this is a profession which one does not merely exercise - one breathes it.

In Paris, he had lived in a high level of comfort.  Here in Amsterdam his life is a living death.  He describes his room as “net et verni comme un cercueil.”

Then he had been a man learning, but without ostentation. Now this educated man, no longer reads.  The other Frenchman is shocked to see his bare room.  Jean- Baptiste points out the absence of books.  Page 25/66: Sans livres non plus, j’ai cessé de lire depuis longtemps.
He says previously his house was filled with books half read – a disgusting waste of things of quality.

At the height of his career in Paris, he lived a very successful life :
Page6/16 is th Heath if learn Mais imaginez, je vous prie, un homme dans la force de l'âge de parfaite santé, généreusement doué, habile dans les exercices du corps comme dans ceux de l'intelligence, ni pauvre ni riche, dormant bien, et profondément content de lui-même sans le montrer autrement que par une sociabilité heureuse. Vous admettrez alors que je puisse parler, en toute modestie, d’une vie réussie.

At peace with himself, he was popular with his friends
(page 5/ 16) De là cette harmonie en moi, cette maîtrise détendue que les gens sentaient et dont ils m’avouaient parfois qu’elle les aidait à vivre.

This former sociable man now shuts out visitors. 24/70.  Owning nothing - his concern is to keep his little world closed in from visitors, a world where he is King, Pope and Judge.
Page 26/71 - Je ne m'inquiète donc pas de ma sécurité, mais de moi-même et de ma présence d'esprit. Je tiens aussi à condamner la porte du petit univers bien clos dont je suis le roi, le pape et le juge

In Paris he was very popular with women, and had a very active life  He admits that seeing him in Amsterdam that is hard to believe.  Page 32 - On me trouvait du charme, imaginez cela!
At the Mexico City bar, which he frequents, his female company comprises the lowest prostitutes.

Settled in Holland, he lives despised, hunted down, restricted and he maintains that this is his true self.
 Méprisé, traqué, contraint, je puis alors donner ma pleine mesure, jouir de ce que je suis, être naturel enfin.

He admits that in this choice of miserable life, the desire for self mortification played some part.  After he had closed  his office in Paris he had travelled the world looking for a place where he could work under another name and where he would be kept busy.  He finished up in Amsterdam by chance, convenience, irony and a certain need for mortification in this capital of mists. Pag29/ 76
……j’ai cheché à m’établir dans quelque endroit où la pratique ne me manquerait pas.  Il y en a beaucoup dans le monde, mais le hasard, la commodité, l’ironie, et la nécessité d’une certaine mortification m’ont fait choisir une capitale d’eaux et de brumes.

With the same desire for mortification, he looks forward to being caught by the police and imprisoned. He says he always hopes that the person to whom he is confessing to will turn out to be a policeman who will arrest him for the theft of the masterpiece: « Juges Intègres ».   He imagines himself guillotined and his head raised over the crowd 29/80.

In Paris he was in a world innocence, where everything was simple and straightforward.  In Amsterdam, he practices his chosen the profession of juge-pénitent because he accepts that guilt is the order of the modern world and he issues condemnation on everyone as a prophet of universal guilt

Previously, he had had a passion for helping others.  He specialised in defending the weak, the poor and the victimised.  In Paris he had been a barrister acting to defend the accused.  He disliked authority in the form of judges. (Page 11 book)- …il faille des juges, n’est-ce pas ?  Pourtant, je ne pouvais pas comprendre qu’un homme se désignât lui-même pour exercer cette surprenante fonction.
The man who now helped the victims now helps the criminals. Jean Baptiste points out one of the customers in the bar who wishes to consult him.  The other Frenchman says this man looks like a murderer.  Jean-Baptiste admits it and says he is a burglar specialising in pictures with some famous thefts to his credit.
Page 8/23  Vous estimez qu’il a une tête de tueur ?  Soyez sûr que c’est la tête de l’emploi. Il cambriole aussi bien……..
The other man is astonished at his knowledge of the underworld

Here in Amsterdam he victimises the vulnerable. He tells us that he goes out to cover men with his curses.  Even though physically sick, he has the pathetic need to go out into the cold to find victims for his conversations,  applying his new profession to judge the strangers who will join him in the bar. He feels are taller as they crumble and are struck with remorse. He is thus like God the father, giving out definitive certificates of bad character. - He pities without absolving and the piteous victims adore him.
Page 30/ 79 - ….je regarde monter vers moi, sortant des brumes  et de l’eau, la multitude du jugement dernier.  Ila s’élèvent lentement, je vois arriver déjà le premier d’entre eux.  Sur sa face égarée, à moitié cachée par une main, je lis la tristesse de la condition commune, et le désespoir de ne pouvoir y échapper.  Eh moi, je plains sans absoudre, je comprends sans pardonner et surtout, ah, je sens enfin que l'on m'adore.
The man who once helped others now uses others as vehicles to escape his own guilt

While practising as a barrister, he had been honest and incorruptible (page 4).  He  took no bribes, I accepted no honours, solicited no favours.  In complete contrast,the characteristic of his new profession of Judge Penitent,  which he has adopted in Amsterdam is its duplicity. He tells the Frenchman, what would be his sign in a world, where everyone can be marked permanently with a label; his would be the face of Janus, a doubled sided face, with the motto “Do not trust it.” Jean_Baptiste Clamence - actor. 
Page 26 - une face double, un charmant Janus, et, au-dessus, la devise de la maison "Ne vous y fiez pas."

He had once had the ideal of liberty, now he chooses to live in servitude and to impose it on others.

When he lived his life in Paris, in his Garden of Eden before his fall, he knew total freedom. But freedom is a heavy responsibility that only those who are in good health, whose lives are running smoothly and who have found love, can bear. But he had not understood the nature of liberty then as he does now.  It is not a sugared dainty or a reward; it is a chore, lonely and exhausting. It leaves one responsible to face the judgment of oneself and of others, totally alone.
28/73: Seul dans une salle morose, seul dans le box…
When one is sick, in difficulties or loves no one, liberty is a burden which is too heavy to bear. -
Page 28/73 - Au bout de toute liberté, il y a une sentence; voila pourquoi la  liberté est trop lourde à porter, surtout lorsqu'on souffre de fièvre, ou qu'on a de la peine, ou qu'on n'aime personne.

The only solution is to give up one's freedom and choose a master.  Although Christianity is no longer in fashion, modern man has replaced it with a code of ethics which is even more oppressive.  Jean Baptiste says, therefore, however much they may pretend, they are all Christians. Once there was no God the father, they had to make up for it with their own rules and this new authority is even more cruel because it is arbitrary - the rules for hurting each other are made up as we go along:
Page 28/74 - Mais justement, il n'y a plus de père, plus de règle! On est libre, alors il faut se débrouiller et comme ils ne veulent surtout pas de la liberté, ni de ses sentences, ils prient qu'on leur donne sur les doigts, ils inventent de terribles règles, ils courent construire des bûchers pour remplacer les églises.
Imposing their new Inquisition they believe only in sin not in grace. Although we would have expected that the tyranny of absolute values would have disappeared with religion, this is not so. In the manner of children, the essential thing we still demand is that everything should be simple and laid down clearly and for right and wrong to be defined some way or another..
Page 28/75 -.L'essentiel est.que tout devienne simple, comme pour l’enfant que chaque acte soit commandé, que le bien et le mal soient désignés de façon arbitraire, donc évidente.

On the bridges of Paris he had learnt that he could not live with liberty and that he needed a law. The answer was to give up one's freedom and to obey in a state of repentance some bigger rogue than oneself.       
Mais sur les ponts de Paris, j’ai appris moi aussi que j’avais peur de la liberté.  Vive donc le maître, quel qu’il soit, pour remplacer la loi du ciel.

These harsh values reduce man to slavery - previously Jean-Baptiste has said slavery is in the order of things.
Page 9/25 - Je sais bien qu'on ne peut se passer de dominer ou d'être servi. Chaque homme a besoin d'esclaves comme d'air pur.
One can avoid solitude thus - except solitude in death - because when everyone is guilty, we are all united in humiliation.
Page 29/75 - Les autres ont leur compte aussi et en même temps que nous, voilà l’important. Tous réunis, enfin, mais à genoux, et la tête courbée.  Thus slavery gives us company in our grovelling humiliation.

This analysis of Jean-Baptiste In Paris and then in Amsterdam, shows how he lost a life of relative innocence, exchanging it for a life of deep neurosis, crippled by an exaggerated sense of guilt- a life of total servitude

What are the true targets of Camus in La Chute?
Some critics suggest that we are not entitled to be too categorical in our interpretation of the meaning of the book.  They feel that up to a certain point in the narrative, Clamence is Camus’ mouthpiece, discussing the author’s continuing theme of evil in modern society.   Camus certainly felt deep disillusionment with human savagery seen in the 20th century, when revolt had become revolution, bringing bloodshed and suffering - which is generally accepted to be the theme of “La Peste” and certain of the characters eloquently speak the views of Camus..  “La Chute”, however,   seems to address a different aspect of this problem, which relates to Camus’ experiences in the second half of the 1950s and Camus speaks not through the ideas of Clamence but through the reactions that this story is intended to induce.

It was perhaps the frustration that Camus felt to see critics and readers interpret Jean- Baptiste as his mouthpiece that caused Camus to insert an explanatory paragraph as a preface.  In the following sentences, the author gives us a guide how we should regard the story of Jean-Baptiste.:
Il a le coeur moderne, C'est-à-dire qu'il ne peut supporter d'être jugé. Il se dépêche donc de faire son propre procès mais c'est pour mieux juger les autres. Le miroir dans lequel il se regarde, il finit par le tendre aux autres  ……….  Celui qui parle dans ce livre fait-il son procès ou celui de son temps? Est-il un cas particulier, ou l'homme du jour?

Camus answered this last question in an interview that he gave to “Le Monde” on the 31st August 1956.  He said that the character of Clamence is that of a little prophet, such as there were so many to be found at the time.  They have nothing at all to tell about the future and cannot find anything better to do than to accuse other people, while accusing themselves.

The target of Camus’ satire was made more specific in a private conversation which Professor Thody had with the author in 1956. Camus explained to him that, through the character of Clamence, he was satirizing some members of the Communist Party, who, while remaining atheists, retained the mindset of their former religious faith and allowed its approaches to shape their political activism.  He mentioned the concepts of social guilt and original sin, observing that Communists attempted to persuade middle-class Frenchmen to join their cause, by insisting that, otherwise, they shared the guilt of a bourgeois society. He also referred to contemporary thinkers who assumed that any opinions which differed from those they sought to impose on their readers were inspired by some original sin.

La Chute holds a disquieting mirror, up to modern morality. Christian moralists have been misled to praise the awareness of universal social guilt in the book.  In fact, Camus is showing that the widespread imposition of mutual sin upon society is a destructive force. The thesis of this book is that a major problem in the modern world is our failure to come to terms rationally with our shortcomings and to learn to live with the criticism which must be faced, as a result of human fallibility.  Through the character of Jean-Baptiste, Camus reveals the mechanisms operative in contemporary societies that make rational, healthy accommodations impossible, thus adding infinitely to the sum of human misery.

This is the problem described at the most abstract level, but for Camus it also translated to the personal level. His references to his former comrades in the French Communist party give the lead into this.  A study of Camus’s biography is significant for an understanding of the book.


During the Second World War, Camus the French resistance, writing for the underground newspaper: “Combat”.  He was its editor from 1943 until1947.  While working at “Combat”, Camus got to know the philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre.  After the war, he became a member of Sartre’s circle that frequented the Left bank in Paris.  In this group, Camus enjoyed for a time the same solidarity with committed colleagues that he had experienced in the Resistance.  A break was to follow, however, as Camus although a left-winger, voiced criticisms of Communist doctrines, straining his relations with Sartre.  In 1951, he published “The Rebel”, which analysed the nature of rebellion and revolution, rejecting Communism.  Many of his former colleagues turned against him and Sartre broke with him completely.  The negative reception to his book increased Camus’ sense of isolation and depression, which accompanied a two year bout of TB. 
 From 1953 he further distanced himself from his former Communist friends when he criticized Soviet repression of independence movements in Eastern Europe.  With the outbreak of the Algerian War of Independence in 1954, Camus adopted a personal standpoint that brought down upon him the denunciation of an even wider swathe of left-wing opinion, and of the majority of the politically correct.  Camus defended the French government action to suppress the rebellion. From the experience of his own background, he believed that the French settlers and Arabs could co-exist and that a peaceful accommodation could be negotiated. This attitude led to a painful ostracism by the French left-wing intellectuals who had once been his closest friends.  It was in this context that “La Chute” was published in 1956.
By a supreme irony the final formative event of his life, represented an issue at the base of much of his work: the conflict between idealism and humanity.  The personal impact of this is expressed in the following words of Camus:
« J'ai toujours condamné la terreur. Je dois condamner aussi un terrorisme qui s'exerce aveuglément dans les rues d'Alger par exemple, et qui peut un jour frapper ma mère ou ma famille. Je crois à la justice, mais je défendrai ma mère avant la justice ».

Earlier in the book, Jean-Baptiste had described how intolerance and authoritarianism had come to dominate contemporary life.  Now we recognise in Europe that everything reduces itself finally to a matter of power: We no longer say I think such and such a thing what are your objections? We say "Such is the truth; in a few years the police will show you I am right."

Page 25 - Nous ne disons plus, comme aux temps naïfs: "Je pense ainsi. Quelles sont vos objections?" Nous sommes devenus lucides. Nous avons remplacé le dialogue par le communiqué. "Telle est la vérité, disons-nous. Vous pouvez toujours la discuter, ça ne nous intéresse pas. Mais dans quelques années, il y aura la police, qui vous montrera que j'ai raison."  The story as told by Jean-Baptiste is one illuminated by these modern uncharitable, absolute values. They are values which create a sickness which destroys the life and the man.

After reading “La Chute”, we have the realisation that we have been defining, not just the errors of one man, nor the errors of one moment in time of French history, but the potential errors of the body politic in all modern democracies, where human charity, moderation and toleration for other viewpoints, fashionable or otherwise are too freely stifled by those in authority immured in their citadels of certainty.