At the police station, Harun is questioned several times, but no one seems truly interested in getting to the bottom of his case. Eventually, Harun is taken to an officer of the new Army of National Liberation, who asks about Harun personal details and whether he knew Joseph. Harun knows he doesn’t have to lie—he’s been arrested not for killing but “for not having done so at the right moment.” Evasively, he says that “some people used to know him.”
What Harun means is that he’s being questioned not for murder but for not being part of the army. Many Algerians have killed French people with just as little cause, but under the auspices of the official liberation struggle everything is allowed.
The officer smiles and says that he’s not asking for the truth. He even laughs at the idea of judging an Algerian for murdering a Frenchman. The officer says that Harun has been arrested because he killed Joseph on his own, rather than as part of the army.
The officer is making a specious distinction between killing as a soldier and as a layman. On the other hand, Harun knows that his crime is still grave, whether or not the authorities care about it.
Harun is led back to his cell, where he looks out the window into the sun. He imagines Mama at home, sweeping the courtyard and doing chores. In the afternoon, Harun is again taken to the officer. This time the officer shouts at him, demanding to know why he didn’t fight for his country in the war. He pulls out an Algerian flag, waves it Harun’s face, and begins a long speech about the sacrifices made by soldiers. Harun should have killed the Joseph “with us, during the war,” instead of by himself. Harun says he doesn’t see the difference, and the officer shouts that “it makes all the difference.”
The officer’s long tirade emblematizes government bureaucracy’s inability to address crimes or act as a moral arbiter. The officer is more concerned with following the rules—even though he’s just finished fighting a rebellion—than punishing wrongdoing.
Harun asks him to explain, and the officer shakily says that “killing and making war were not the same thing,” and that the army was fighting for freedom rather than committing random murders. Harun should have killed Joseph before July 5, when the war ended.
The officer’s distinction between acceptable and unacceptable dates for murder is truly absurd—this episode mirrors Meursault’s derisive depiction of the justice system in his own narrative.
A soldier enters and places an envelope on the desk. In the ensuing silence, Harun asks whether it counted as before or after the war if he killed Joseph on July 5 at two o’clock in the morning. The officer slaps him in the face. Afterwards, both men stare at each other for a long time.
The officer feels that Harun is being impertinent, but really Harun is just addressing him on his own terms. Hearing this ridiculous question, the officer recognizes how silly his standards of judgment really are.
The officer asks if Musa was really killed by a Frenchman, and Harun says that he was. After this the officer becomes calmer, although he still mutters about obeying the rules. The officer listens to his story without seeming to absorb it. At the end he says uncertainly that Musa is a martyr.
This is the first time that anyone besides Mama has recognized Musa’s “martyrdom.” However, the moment is anticlimactic and unsatisfying, suggesting that even public acknowledgment won’t bring Harun closure.
Eventually, Harun is taken back to his cell. He knows he’s going to be released, but he can’t recover the tranquility he felt before. He wants to be “sentenced” and “relieved of the heavy shadow that was turning my life into darkness.” He hates how casually they treat the idea of his crime. No one seems to understand the magnitude of his act. He feels that his murder has taken on the same “insignificance” that Musa’s death had in the eyes of the French authorities. The next day, the soldiers release Harun at dawn. Some young men mutter suspiciously as he walks away.
Although Harun rarely expresses guilt, his desire for some external body to put him on trial and “sentence him” reveals feelings of remorse, and a desire to expunge his crime through some tangible punishment like jail. However, the officer’s behavior and the general indifference to his crime show that formal mechanisms like courts won’t be of any help to Harun as he grapples with his actions.
Harun explains to the interlocutor why Mama decided he must kill Joseph (he believes that Mama chose her victim, even though technically he came to the house of his own accord). From her days as a housekeeper, Mama knew that Joseph habitually went swimming at two in the afternoon, after which he paid lively visits to the Larquais family. She grew to know everything about him, from his “age, his appetite for young girls’ breasts, [to] his work in Hadjout.” This similarity to Musa, added to her conviction of his bad character, made her want to punish him. Harun feels bad for Joseph and his “gratuitous” death. Harun breaks out of his reverie and addresses the interlocutor, saying that he should invite the “bottle ghost” to join them.
Joseph is linked to Musa through his habit of swimming in the afternoon (just as Musa was on the beach the afternoon he was killed). However, he also embodies Meursault in that he is French and of generally bad character. These two factors help Mama to see Joseph’s murder as equivalent to Musa’s, and therefore justified. However, Harun sees these connections as contrived, meaning that the murder seems less like retribution than a “gratuitous,” unprovoked act, as Musa’s murder was.