by Albert Camus
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Reading The Fall can be a bit taxing on your brain. We can’t trust anything. Everything is foggy, confusing, potentially fake, potentially ironic, maybe even a big joke – it’s as though everything has to be doubted.
Wait a minute. That sounds familiar. Everything has to be doubted is the name of a book written by Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher sometimes referred to as "the Father of Existentialism." (The actual title is in Latin, as De Omnibus Dubitandum Est and Kierkegaard wrote it under the pseudonym of Johannes Climacus.) Kierkegaard believes that we can’t be certain of anything in the world around us. To believe in anything is to take a leap of faith. You believe that you’re sitting on a chair, you don’t know it for sure.
Jean-Baptiste forces us into a position of belief, and not one of certainty. Look at the constant use of the subjunctive mood, which Jean-Baptiste admits he has a "fondness" for. Verbs in the subjunctive reflect possibility or desire, as opposed to indicative verbs, which express reality. Compare the sentences "I wish I were happy" to "I am happy." Remember that The Fall was originally written in French. In French the subjunctive carries a significant amount of doubt and is reserved for those situations characterized by uncertainty. The use of the subjunctive emphasizes that nothing can be certain. Jean-Baptiste may be telling you an account of the past, but it’s more like a story than a historical textbook, as far as reliability goes. There are also specific lines which remind us that everything must be doubted, lines like the subtle "One can be sure of nothing" (6.8).
Therefore The Fall elusive – it induces uncertainty on the part the reader, and one can’t be certain of any one interpretation. It’s also accusatory because Jean-Baptiste’s confession is a veiled condemnation of modern man.