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'So tell me, please, what happened to you one evening on the banks of Seine and how you managed never to risk your life. Say the words that for years have not ceased to echo through my nights and that I shall finally speak through your mouth: "Young woman! Throw yourself in the water again so that I might have once more the opportunity to save us both!"

A second time - huh! That would be rash! Just imagine, dear colleague, if someone were to take us at our word. You'd have to do it. Brrr ... The water's so cold! But don't worry. It's too late now, it always will be too late. Thank goodness! '

This is how The Fall, by Albert Camus, ends.

  1. Why does Camus say that it will always be too late to save?
  2. Is he speaking of saving our innocence - that we are doomed to lose our innocence, and it will always be too late whenever we realize?
  3. What I find more strange is when we says, "Thank goodness!".
  4. Why does Camus find solace in the inability of man to save himself?
  • 'Thank goodness' is said not by Camus, but by the protagonist. If to start. – ttnphns Sep 25 at 19:05
  • Indeed. I am asking why did protagonist say so. – Ajax Sep 25 at 19:10
  • @JosephWeissman Question is precise to the extent that explicit sub-questions have been provided. I don't understand the rationale behind putting this on hold. – Ajax Nov 17 at 18:24
  • Maybe the title could be replaced with the last question in the list? The title q feels too broad to me [whereas #4 seems narrowly-specified] – Joseph Weissman Nov 17 at 22:12
  • @JosephWeissman I appreciate your concern, but the message of the book cannot be exposed by answering one specific question. The sub-questions I have enumerated are necessary to arrive at a satisfactory answer, but are certainly not sufficient; the gap has been left intentionally for the writer -to express the idea behind the book in a more holistic manner. – Ajax Nov 18 at 18:06
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Here is how Ronald Aronson describes what is going on in Albert Camus's The Fall:

This sense of moral complexity is most eloquent in his short novel The Fall, whose single character, Clamence, has been variously identified as everyman, a Camus-character, and a Sartre-character. He was all of these. Clamence is clearly evil, guilty of standing by as a young woman commits suicide. In him Camus seeks to describe and indict his generation, including both his enemies and himself. Clamence’s life is filled with good works, but he is a hypocrite and knows it. His monologue is filled with self-justification as well as the confession of someone torn apart by his guilt but unable to fully acknowledge it. Sitting at a bar in Amsterdam, he descends into his own personal hell, inviting the reader to follow him. In telling Clamence’s story, Camus was clearly seeking to empathize as well as describe, to understand as well as condemn. Clamence is a monster, but Clamence is also just another human being (Aronson 2004 [Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It], 192-200).

Camus won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957, after The Fall was published. The story, a literary masterpiece, demonstrates a unique capacity at the heart of his philosophical writing. Life is no one single, simple thing, but a series of tensions and dilemmas. The most seemingly straightforward features of life are in fact ambiguous and even contradictory. Camus recommends that we avoid trying to resolve them. We need to face the fact that we can never successfully purge ourselves of the impulses that threaten to wreak havoc with our lives. Camus’s philosophy, if it has a single message, is that we should learn to tolerate, indeed embrace the frustration and ambivalence that humans cannot escape.

Here are the questions:

Why does Camus say that it will always be too late to save?

Clamence feels guilty for not preventing the woman from committing suicide, but that is in the past and he can no longer rectify the situation.

Is he speaking of saving our innocence - that we are doomed to lose our innocence, and it will always be too late whenever we realize?

Clamence regrets not having done something to help the woman. We are not doomed to lose our innocence but once we have done something we regret our innocence is lost and the past cannot be relived to remove those regrets.

What I find more strange is when we says, "Thank goodness!".

This last line can be interpreted ironically. Clamence realizes that even if he had the chance to relive the experience he regrets to make it better he likely would not jump into the cold water to save her anyway. Aronson describes Camus's message as saying that life is "ambiguous and even contradictory" and we should "avoid trying to resolve them".

Why does Camus find solace in the inability of man to save himself?

Perhaps Camus, or his character Clamence, finds solace in rationalizing that regardless of his intention he is unable to save himself.


Aronson, Ronald, "Albert Camus", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/camus/.

  • Thank you for your answer. However, it appeared to me that he is trying to say that losing innocence is inevitable. Consider this from the text: ' "Monseigneur, it is not that I am a bad man, it is just that I lost the sight".Yes, we have lost the light, the morning and the 'holy innocence' of man who forgives himself.' So man somehow loses the sight. It's truth of living. And therefore it will be too late. The water is so cold -you can jump into it and save yourself (the innocence) but it always will be too late. So thank goodness! Because one doesn't want to die, and it's too late anyway – Ajax Sep 27 at 21:25
  • @Ajax It may be hard to not lose innocence, but Camus supports free will so I suspect he would not say it is "inevitable", but it may be very likely that something will come up that will result in a sense of regret. – Frank Hubeny Sep 27 at 21:42
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Most of what is regurgitated here is false, including that Camus was an existentialist who who believed in free will. He did not believe in free will, and The Fall is partly a condemnation of Sartre. The book describes a man who had a life similar to Camus', then, after a tragic moment which makes him feel guilty of inaction, begins to reflect on his entire life to the point of neurosis, falsely seeing alterior motives in his entire life. He eventually discovers that he can spread this guilt to everyone else. Camus is condemning Sartre for his philosophy of existentialism, which parallels judeo-christian original sin (the fall) by condemning us to free will and existential guilt/ inauthenticity...a concept Camus found incoherent. Camus is also saying, toward the end of the novel, that Sartre's entire basis for creating existentialism was to accuse himself of" inautheticity" so he could confess imagined sins, the better to sit in his armchair and condemn his fellow frenchmen for not doing more against the nazis. A key moment is rightly analyzed by critic Robert Solomon. When the main character remembers tipping his hat to a blind man years before, he falsely reads this memory as being a hypocritical display, when in fact it was merely a reflex. Judeo-christian guilt is reintroduced by Sartre...that was a large part of Camus' motivation for writing the fall, along with apologizing to his wife for driving her to a suicide attempt from his chronic infidelity (the inspiration for the woman on the bridge). But Camus is saying that he is deeply sorry, though implying he could not have done other than what he did, for otherwise he would end up like the character of the Fall, finally accusing everyone of guilt. There may be responsible persons, Camus once wrote, but not guilty ones.

  • Can you elaborate more on your last part? Why would he end up like the character of The Fall -accusing everyone of guilt if he had done other than what he did? – Ajax Nov 17 at 8:12
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