The day after Harun murders Joseph, everything is tranquil. He wakes up to the smell of coffee and Mama singing in the kitchen. He decides not to go out, and to bask in Mama’s sudden affection. However, when she brings him a coffee, he pushes her hand away from his hair. He knows he’ll never be able to bear another body close to his.
Harun has waited for a long time for Mama to care for him on his own terms, rather than as a substitute for Musa. However, now that he’s bought her affection with a murder, he can no longer take pleasure in it.
Harun sleeps for several hours, but eventually Mama wakes him up to say that the police have come looking for him. She’s not worried, as “they couldn’t kill her son twice.” Apparently some soldiers heard the gunshots and have come for an explanation; Mama put on a tearful performance about her grief for Musa, and eventually the soldiers just kiss her forehead and tell her that her son has been avenged. Still, Harun has to go to the town hall and answer some questions.
It’s clear that the police share Mama’s notion of what constitutes adequate revenge. In this light, Mama’s ideas seem like an extension of absurd government bureaucracy, which addresses complex moral questions with reductive and formulaic solutions. Unlike Mama and the government, Harun does not believe that jail time or even another death can erase the fact of the first crime.
Harun already knows that the new authorities don’t want him to account for the murder but his refusal to join the liberation fight. Sleepy and lethargic, he decides not go to the town hall that day. He feels stunned by the fact that he is alive, when Musa and Joseph are not. He can’t believe that Mama is going about her tasks normally and talking to herself. He feels sorry for her.
Harun’s lack of concern about his own fate is shocking—although this is partly in keeping with his general character, his apathy seems to have been exacerbated by the murder. Refusing to act on his own behalf is one way that Harun punishes himself and expresses his guilt.
Harun sleeps for three days, while fighting continues to rage throughout the country. Now, thinking back on the events surrounding Independence, he wishes he could write a book—a sort of cookbook describing how the country was in a frenzy of “devouring everything, gobbling up the land and the rest of the sky and the houses.” Harun urges the interlocutor to look around him, where all the structures of the city are being devoured, down to the sidewalks.
With this metaphor, Harun imagines Independence as a movement not towards progress but towards general destruction. Just as Musa’s death can’t be put right through another murder, the evils of colonialism can’t be erased by another brutal war.
While Harun sleeps, he sees “people and trees differently, from an unexpected angle, over and above their usual designation.” He feels that he’s experiencing Meursault’s ability to transcend normal language and “emerge on the other side,” where he can narrate events with more precise and accurate words. Meursault’s access to this language is the reason he could write the story of Musa’s murder so definitively.
Here, Harun’s admiration for Meursault’s craft—in spite of the ideas he uses it to convey—emerges strongly. It’s Meursault’s brilliant use of language to tell an inaccurate story that encourages Harun to develop his own linguistic capabilities.
Five days later, Harun goes to the town hall. He is arrested and put in a cell with some Algerians and Frenchmen he doesn’t know. He readily admits that he’s suspected of killing a Frenchman, and everyone avoids him. He waits in the cell overnight, until a guard ushers him into a jeep and he’s driven to the police station. On the way, he sees Mama walking down the road. He waits for a long time in a cell at the police station.
Although the other people in the jail may have committed crimes, Harun incurs their suspicion by openly admitting his. This foreshadows his encounter with the officer, where he will be berated not for committing a crime but for failing to do so according to proper conventions.
Eventually, Mama comes to visit him. She seems calm and unconcerned, assuring him that she has explained to the authorities that she couldn’t let her only son join the revolution. She has told them about Musa’s death, but she’s not sure if they believe her, since her newspaper articles don’t even mention his name. Harun feels that he should hug Mama or cry, but he can’t do either. When it’s time to leave, Mama promises to find Harun a wife once he’s released.
Although Independence should bring recognition for Musa as a martyr, the new government, unwilling to hear Mama’s story without unattainable proof, seems just as bureaucratic and impersonal as the old. Even though they are opposed to the French, they seem to be functioning according to the rules and conventions of their predecessors.
Back in his cell, Harun remembers his old neighborhood in Algiers and his arrival in Hadjout. He wonders why he never joined the resistance, even though all the young men are practically required to do so. For years people have made fun of him for being Mama’s “prisoner,” and this just confirms their suspicions. When he was a teenager, he even killed a dog with his bare hands to get the other kids to stop making fun of him.
Harun is desperate to be seen as independent from Mama. At the same time, he’s unwilling to do the one thing that would make this clear—join the army. This decision reflects both his lack of faith in the liberation effort and his desire to return to the comfortable relationship he had with Mama prior to Musa’s death.
Harun recalls that during his adolescence, Mama makes him go to school, where he quickly progresses until he’s able to read aloud the newspaper clippings describing Musa’s death. In a way, Harun reflects, he has fought the revolution within his own family before anyone else in the country thought about it.
Here Harun not only contextualizes his family history within Algerian colonial rule, but he also says that it’s more important than the course of national politics.
Unburdened by Musa or Mama, Harun feels free and calm in the cell. However, when the guard comes with his dinner, he asks curiously why Harun never joined the resistance, and warns that the authorities will question him about this. Harun knows that many people view his refusal to align himself with either the colonists or the resistance as a crime.
One of the most ridiculous things about Harun’s experience in jail is that those around him are indifferent to the glaring crime he’s actually committed, and much more preoccupied by his understandable, if unpopular, decision not to join the army.
Throughout the night, Harun savors his idleness. He feels that he can move between the living and the dead just by changing his name, from Harun to Musa, Meursault, or Joseph. These days, death is as random and “absurd” as it was when Meursault killed Musa. He knows that it’s equally likely he will be shot or released with no punishment. Looking out the window, he sees a small piece of the moon.
Harun is adopting Meursault’s own philosophy, that it’s pointless to seek out meaning in the random events of life. While this is a bleak worldview, it enables Harun to face his uncertain future with equanimity.