Philosophy in Albert Camus' Two Novels, The Stranger and The Fall
One of the most noted proponents of early French existentialism, Albert Camus, composed nearly a dozen superb literary works dealing with this philosophy. His first novel, The Stranger, and a later book, The Fall, are recognized as two masterpieces of philosophical literature, not only in the context of Camus’ own work, but in the broad scope of philosophy as well.
Both novels deal with the struggle of an individual to identify himself in a world of absurdities; published more than a decade apart, however, they draw startlingly different conclusions on the subject. Therefore, an examination of the main characters of each novel and a contrast of their individual thoughts and actions will reveal the transformation that overtook Albert Camus as a result of his experiences over the course of this ten years.
Begun in 1942, while Camus was working as an editor for Le Combat, the underground resistance paper, The Stranger is the story of one Monsieur Meursault, a resident of French Algeria cursed with a brutal and unabashed honesty. This trait, being the only truth that he can accept, is therefore the basis of his life. Holding no belief in speaking of the “benign indifference” of the world around him, Meursault is caught in a plethora of social absurdities for which no understanding nor need. For instance, in speaking of the his mother, whose death opens the novel, he states: “I loved her as much as anyone loves their mother,” and, when criticized for his decision to place her in the Home for Aging Persons, notes that “for years she had nothing to say to me.. .she was moping around with no one to talk to.” It is this sort of behavior, honest, ultimately pragmatic, and in complete disregard of the “acceptably social” way in which to act that, in the end, leads Meursault to his undoing.
The Fall, on the other hand, is a complete contrast to the earlier works of Camus. A
venomous narrative motivated by bitter irony, this novel is born of the anger and loathing that Camus felt toward a contemporary society to which saw a lack of all semblance of value. Narrated in a monologue by Jean-Baptiste Clamence, the book nearly opens with the following line: “A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers.” The reader soon discovers that while Clamence is seemingly criticizing the society around him, much as Meursault has done, he is in reality as guilty of sins he condemns as those that he has condemned are. Clamence is, by his own account, a ‘judge-penitent,” not only the judge but also the judged. Righteous in his words but guilty in his actions, he speaks of both the agony of conscience and his attempts to quell it. “At a certain level of lucid...