The Fall Guilt and Blame Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph). We used Justin O'Brien's translation.
Oh, I don’t feel any self-satisfaction, believe me, in telling you this. Upon thinking of that time when I used to ask for everything without paying anything myself, when I used to mobilize so many people in my service, when I used to put them in the refrigerator, so to speak, in order to have them at hand some day when it would suit me, I don’t know how to name the odd feeling that comes over me. Isn’t it shame, perhaps? Tell me, mon cher compatriote, doesn’t shame sting a little? It does? Well, it’s probably shame, then, or one of those silly emotions that have to do with honor. It seems to me in any case that that feeling has never left me since the adventure I found at the heart of my memory (3.31).
Jean-Baptiste claims to feel shame at his prior behavior, but how can we possibly believe this is true, given his conclusion that, actually, he acts just the same now that he used to? It seems the only thing he feels shameful of is his previous lack of awareness, not his behavior, since his actions haven’t changed one bit.
I meant to defend the thief by exposing the crimes of the honest man, the lawyer in this instance. I explained myself very clearly on this point:
"Let us suppose that I have accepted the defense of some touching citizen, a murderer through jealousy. Gentlemen of the jury, consider, I should say, how venial it is to get angry when one sees one’s natural goodness put to the test by the malignity of the fair sex. Is it not more serious, on the contrary, to be by chance on this side of the bar, on my own bench, without ever having been good or suffered from being duped? I am free, shielded from your severities, yet who am I? A Louis XIV in pride, a billy goat for lust, a Pharaoh for wrath, a king of laziness. I haven’t killed anyone? Not yet, to be sure! But have I not let deserving creatures die? Maybe. And maybe I am ready to do so again. Whereas this man – just look at him – will not do so again. He is still quite amazed to have accomplished what he has" (4.25-6).
Jean-Baptiste proclaims his client’s innocence by condemning himself as guilty. What he has done is to make "guilty" and "innocent" relative terms – a far cry from the way most of us think about justice.
Then I realized, calmly as you resign yourself to an idea the truth of which you have long known, that that cry which had sounded over the Seine behind me years before had never ceased, carried by the river to the waters of the Channel, to travel throughout the world, across the limitless expanse of the ocean, and that it had waited for me there until the day I had encountered it. I realized likewise that it would continue to await me on seas and rivers, everywhere, in short, where lies the bitter water of my baptism. Here, too, by the way, aren’t we on the water? On this flat, monotonous, interminable water whose limits are indistinguishable from those of the land? Is it credible that we shall ever reach Amsterdam? We shall never get out of this immense holy-water fount. Listen. Don’t you hear the cries of invisible gulls? If they are crying in our direction, to what are they calling us? (5.12).
It’s passages like this one that make critics go into super-metaphor mode about birds in The Fall. Look at how Jean-Baptiste goes from talking about his own guilt to an image of baptism to gulls. Now, as you’ll see us argue in Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory, doves in The Fall are supposed to be all about the holy spirit, the grace of God, forgiveness, innocence. Here it sounds like gulls have a lot to do with guilt – Jean-Baptiste hears the gulls and is reminded that, oh, right, there was that whole letting-the-woman-die thing back there.