Study Guide

The Fall Truth

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On occasion I danced for nights on end, ever madder about people and life. At times, late on those nights when the dancing, the slight intoxication, my wild enthusiasm, everyone’s violent unrestraint would fill me with a tired and overwhelmed rapture, it would seem to me – at the breaking point of fatigue and for a second’s flash – that at last I understood the secret of creatures and of the world. But my fatigue would disappear the next day, and with it the secret; I would rush forth anew (2.15).

It’s likely that the "secret" Jean-Baptiste is talking about here is what he later calls "the fundamental duplicity" of all men. Recall how the Dutch are "double" and how his smile in the mirror was also double. (For more on Duplicity, see our discussion of it in "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory.")

Power, on the other hand, settles everything. It took time, but we finally realized that. For instance, you must have noticed that our old Europe at last philosophizes in the right way. We no longer say as in simple times: "This is the way I think. What are your objections?" We have become lucid. For the dialogue we have substituted the communiqué: "This is the truth," we say. "You can discuss it as much as you want; we aren’t interested. But in a few years there’ll be the police who will show you we are right" (3.6).

In The Fall, truth is established by force. As you might expect, this runs counter to what we generally think of "truth" as being something objective that exists outside human will. You might think that truth should be truth whether we insist on it or not. But it isn’t so in the world of Jean-Baptiste, where everyone and everything must bend to his will.

Above all, don’t believe your friends when they ask you to be sincere with them. They merely hope you will encourage them in the good opinion they have of themselves by providing them with the additional assurance they will find in your promise of sincerity. How could sincerity be a condition of friendship? A liking for truth at any cost is a passion that spares nothing and that nothing resists. It’s a vice, at times a comfort, or a selfishness. Therefore, if you are in that situation, don’t hesitate: promise to tell the truth and then lie as best you can. You will satisfy their hidden desire and doubly prove your affection (4.12).

Again, "truth" as we think of it is sacrificed. For Jean-Baptiste, it is more important to be liked, or "adored" as he later calls it, than to preserve any absolute truth.

However, I first had to make shift with my discoveries and put myself right with my contemporaries’ laughter. From the evening when I was called – for I was really called – I had to answer or at least seek an answer. It wasn’t easy; for some time I floundered. To begin with, that perpetual laugh and the laughers had to teach me to see clearly within me and to discover at last that I was not simple (4.14).

Here we have more evidence for our case that this mysterious "truth" to which Jean-Baptiste keeps referring is really about the fundamental "duplicity" of man. According to our narrator, man not simple, because, in fact, he is more than one thing. He is not what he appears. He is deceptive, hypocritical – in short, he is "double."

Don’t smile; that truth is not so basic as it seems. What we call basic truths are simply the ones we discover after all the others (4.14).

Think about what it is we discover at the end of The Fall. What does Jean-Baptiste reveal to you about his work and about the role you are playing in his little "confession." Is this a basic truth?

A ridiculous fear pursued me, in fact: one could not die without having confessed all one’s lies. Not to God […] No, it was a matter of confessing to men […] Otherwise, were there but one lie hidden in a life, death made it definitive. No one, ever again, would know the truth on this point, since the only one to know it was precisely the dead man sleeping on his secret. That absolute murder of a truth used to make me dizzy. Today […] it would cause me, instead, subtle joys. The idea, for instance, that I am the only one to know what everyone is looking for and that I have at home an object which kept the police of three countries on the run is a sheer delight (4.21).

Part of the reason Jean-Baptiste is able to flip-flop like this – to go from despising the murder of a "truth" to loving it – is that he has come to a new realization of what "truth" is. In the world of his confession, "truth" isn’t the best way to see what’s really doing on. Instead, lies are preferable. The murder of a truth, then, is probably the best way to get someone to notice it – much the same way he omits pieces of his narrative so we’ll pay closer to attention to what’s missing, à la the Gospel of Luke and the omitted "seditious" cry of Jesus.

Without desire, women bored me beyond all expectation, and obviously I bored them too. No more gambling and no more theater – I was probably in the realm of truth. But truth, cher ami, is a colossal bore (5.6).

This quotation explains the deception built into Jean-Baptiste’s "confession." In one sense, this passage suggests, he’s playing a game with you. Gambling and theatre – that’s all The Fall really is.

But what do I care? Don’t lies eventually lead to the truth? And don’t all my stories, true or false, tend toward the same conclusion? Don’t they all have the same meaning? So what does it matter whether they are true or false if, in both cases, they are significant of what I have been and of what I am? Sometimes it is easier to see clearly into the liar than into the man who tells the truth. Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object (6.2).

And there you have it. Jean-Baptiste justifies all of his lies by this fuzzy rationale; he’s doing what he used to do before his period of "enlightenment" – acting like a jerk and pretending he has noble reasons for his behavior.

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