Harun wishes he could speak about his life in a better order, but the interlocutor will have to figure it out when he writes his own book. Harun continues his story.
Since Harun’s narrative is circular and spontaneous, it’s inherently ambiguous. His inability to state things “in order” reveals the limits of language in empowering Harun and facilitating personal reflection.
As a teenager in Hadjout, Harun finally begins school, where he is one of two Arab students. Both Arab boys arrive without shoes, as they don’t have any, and Harun is still grateful for his teacher for pretending not to notice.
Harun’s lack of shoes emphasizes the wealth gap between him and the other French students, as well as the rarity of an Algerian boy acquiring any kind of education.
Harun does extremely well in school, and quickly learns French. He’s driven not by a desire to fit in among the other students, but because he wants to uncover the truth of Musa’s murder. As he becomes more confident, he can read and translate the newspaper clippings that Mama still keeps in her breast, and which she asks him to read time after time. In fact, they contain very little information, and Harun is insulted by their brevity.
Mama has always treated the newspaper clippings like talismans, which could shed new light if decoded, but Harun quickly realizes this is not the case. Although the newspapers have partly inspired his respect for language, they ultimately show how language can be used to obfuscate the truth.
As his French improves, Harun realizes that Mama has sent him to school so that he can revive Musa by retelling his story. Harun knows that he’s expected to produce some new information from the newspaper clippings, so he makes up details, witnesses and explanations, which he tells Mama are contained within the newspaper. He says it’s like a vast tale like Thousand and One Nights, only he never wrote it down. He feels a little guilty for lying, but mostly happy to give Mama what she wants.
In a sense, Harun practices for his current narrative endeavor by telling stories to Mama. This episode mirrors her earlier habit of telling exaggerated bedtime stories about Musa. However, it’s important to note that Mama and Harun only tell made-up stories to each other, whereas right now he’s attempting to identify some core of absolute truth.
In this way, Harun’s education was “marked by death.” For Mama, everything Harun learns has to relate to their family story. Harun says his relationship with Mama continued this way until a few months before he commits the murder, when she stops talking about Musa so much. Perhaps she already had a premonition that Joseph would appear in the courtyard. Now, he doesn’t even know what became of the newspaper clippings.
Although education removes Harun somewhat from his complicated and unhealthy family life, he still feels that Musa’s memory and his brotherly duty to avenge him are always present. Language both helps Harun develop an identity distinct from his family and binds him to it more tightly.
Both Mama and Harun are taken aback when a young woman (Meriem) arrives at their house in 1963, asking if they are the family of Musa Uled el-Assas. Almost no one pays them visits, especially since Harun has disgraced himself by refusing to fight for Independence. He’s startled to hear a stranger utter Musa’s name. Mama invites the woman inside.
Meriem is one of the only people to know and use Musa’s name. Although she clearly admires Meursault’s work, she also values Musa’s narrative, even before she really knows what it is.
Harun leaves his bed to find a small, beautiful woman coming into the house. He feels that until now, he’s never felt it possible to have a relationship among all the other things that have occurred in his life. He’s so used to living reclusively with Mama. The woman introduces herself as Meriem and sits down on a stool, telling Harun that she is a teacher studying a book written by Musa’s murderer, Meursault.
In a sense, Meriem is a precursor to the interlocutor. Both are young academics led to Harun by Meursault’s work. Since nothing concrete comes of Meriem’s investigations, this similarity undermines any impression that the interlocutor will be able to change public opinion about Meursault’s work or achieve anything from talking to Harun.
Harun has never heard of Meursault’s book, and he and Mama are speechless. It seems that Musa is rising from the dead again, forcing them to feel grief. Meriem speaks gently to Harun about the book until he starts asking questions. He feels like the book is another bullet hitting his brother.
By describing the book as a “bullet,” Harun emphasizes the power of language. He characterizes Meursault’s linguistic power over Musa as equivalent to, or even greater than, the physical harm he has wrought.
Meriem shows Harun a copy of Meursault’s book. For her, the story seems very simple—the only difficulty has been the investigating to find Musa’s family. She and Harun arrange to meet the next day at the train station, without Mama’s knowledge. Harun knows immediately that he’s in love with Meriem, but he also hates her for “upsetting my equilibrium.”
Harun’s flirtation with Meriem occurs in the context of Meursault’s novel, as well as many other books. It’s important that passion and love, in Harun’s mind, are inextricably linked to the process of storytelling.