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The Stranger / The Fall by Albert Camus

The Stranger / The Fall

by Albert Camus

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It's only natural that these two novels by Albert Camus are featured together in this volume, as they both share many similar traits, including existentialism, guilt, moral inaction, and judgement both by and of society.

The Stranger's narrator Meursault is an emotionally vacant individual who suffers a vast disconnect from society. This is immediately apparent in the beginning of the book as he deals dispassionately with his mother's death, and his inability to care about anything eventually results in his arrest and trial for a seemingly unmotivated murder. Meursault is prosecuted less for the crime itself than for his detached worldview - which makes him a stranger to society - and only by confronting death does he approach any affection or appreciation for life. The Stranger is masterfully written, with numerous parallel events exposing the hidden truth to Meaursault's actions and words through textual evidence, and demands a close second reading to truly appreciate the layered narrative. Meursault is a surprisingly sympathetic character despite his condition, which is probably one of the many reasons that Camus is often referred to as an "optimistic existentialist."

Another first-person narrative, The Fall features the rambling confession of Judge-Penitent Clamence, who describes over several conversations his self-perpetuated fall from grace after an incident at which his inaction exposed to him the hypocrisy of the self-image he had created for himself and others. Once a highly respected humanitarian lawyer, he now lives in voluntary exile in Amsterdam, which is compared both geographically and atmospherically to Dante's circles of Hell. Clamence's confessional can be seen as a secular envisioning of man's exile from Eden, and also as a veiled expression of the author's own feeling's of guilt over his wife, who suffered from clinical depression (and once attempted to commit suicide) due in part to his extramarital affairs and admitted poor treatment of her.

Both novels are occasionally referenced as having hedonistic main characters, but this is a misguided analysis, as Meursault from The Stranger only pursues pleasurable experiences on selfish whim, yet readily adapts to not requiring his vices when they are denied in prison, and The Fall's Clamence mires himself in Amsterdam's red light district as both punishment for and to remind himself of his true self.

The Stranger is my favorite of the two novels, due mainly to the voice of The Fall's narrator, Clamence. While his long-winded monologues faithfully capture the pretense and unrestrained ego of the character, it still weighs down story and prevents it from flowing as freely and naturally as Meurault's brief and concise observations in The Stranger. Despite this personal preference, both The Stranger and The Fall are important works that delve into the darker side of human nature and the role of the individual in society, and deliver profound philosophical quandaries on a personal level that not only engages the reader, but touches them irrevocably. ( )
  smichaelwilson | May 10, 2017 |
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Maman died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know.
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Caught in the grip of forces he does not understand, a quiet, ordinary clerk in Algiers commits a murder.

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