Harun asks the interlocutor to forgive him for his age and tendency to ramble. He feels that after living so long, he must have some “essential revelation” before he dies. He’s often struck by “the disproportion between my insignificance and the vastness of the cosmos.”
However, despite all the years Harun has lived, he finds he spends most of his time replaying Musa’s story. He can’t even talk about it with Mama anymore, as she has become mute. Nothing else in the country interests him, so he lives “like a streetwalker,” moving apathetically between his office and apartment. He’s never had a meaningful relationship with a woman after Meriem.
In a way, Harun’s blighted life is the harshest punishment possible for the crime he’s committed. Although he’s never been formally incarcerated, by isolating himself from everyone around him, he lives in a jail of his own making.
In fact, Harun has been like a “ghost” among the busy people in his neighborhood. He often feels like he has access to a secret that they don’t. Sometimes he wants to shout to everyone that he and Musa are the real heroes of “that famous story,” but he knows no one will believe him.
Calling himself a ghost, Harun strengthens the connection between himself and the “bottle ghost.” Both of them are obsessed with stories those around them consider irrelevant, and both are disdained and ignored by the rest of society.
Harun spends a lot of time on the balcony of his apartment, where he can look out at a large mosque; he says he loathes its “big finger pointed at the sky.” Sometimes he wants to climb up the minaret and bellow all the profanities he knows through the loudspeakers. He wants to cry out “that I’m free, and that God is a question, not an answer.”
Here, Harun defends the right to individual thought, which he believes religion stifles. He thinks that people should feel free to ask questions about the divine, rather than accepting the dogmatic answers provided by formal religion.
Just as a priest visited Meursault in his cell, lots of imams try to convince Harun to believe in God and become more religious. He imagines a scene in which he shouts blasphemies at them as they become increasingly more distraught. If they tell him that there’s a life after death, he will say that he just wants “a life where he can remember this one.” After this they will kill him, and he will die like a “martyr.”
Religion encourages people to value the afterlife more than the current one, but Harun believes this is wrongheaded—rather, people should savor life on earth. The idea of the visiting cleric links Harun to Meursault, but his wish to die like a martyr references Musa, who is frequently described with this epithet.
One day, an imam visits Harun and tries to make him pray; when the man says gently that he will pray on his behalf, Harun becomes enraged and yells at the imam that “none of his certainties was worth one hair on the head of the woman I loved,” and that the imam is “living like a dead man.”
Here, Harun explicitly contrasts religious dogma with lived experience: even though his affair with Meriem hasn’t provided lasting happiness, he considers his feelings of passion more profound and valuable than the dogmatic “certainties” of religion.
Harun tells the imam that he is confident in his own life and the death that awaits him. He says that nothing in life matters, because “throughout the whole absurd life I’d lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in the future.” Everyone is equally privileged, because everyone will eventually be condemned by death, even the imam. By now, other neighbors have arrived to rescue the imam from Harun’s grasp. The imam turns around and disappears.
Attesting to the meaninglessness of life, Harun seems to be promoting a bleak worldview. However, by remarking that everyone must eventually die, he creates a sense of equality and therefore community among people, rather than the distinctions he believes that religion fosters.
The interlocutor asks if Harun believes in God, and he laughs. He says that people shouldn’t ask other men about God, they should ask “Him” directly. Sometimes he has a feeling that he really is inside a minaret, and a mob is outside trying desperately to tear down the door. He knows that he will soon die, but she shouts out that “The mosque is empty, the minaret is empty.” He’s happy in the knowledge that a large crowd will watch his execution and hate him.
Harun’s chief qualm with religion is that it prevents people from interacting personally with the divine: by adhering to religious dogma, people are prevented from asking God their questions. By saying that the mosque is “empty,” Harun is not saying that God doesn’t exist but that the divine is best approached through individual reflection.
Mama is still alive, but her life seems pointless as she doesn’t say or do anything. On the contrary, Harun knows he talks too much—just like Meursault, another murderer who has gone unpunished. He remarks that Meursault’s name translates to “the messenger” in Arabic.
It’s ironic that Meursault means “messenger,” because Harun is actively trying to refute the message Meursault presents in his novel. Harun’s remark is a final reminder of his preoccupation with the significance of names.
The bar is going to close soon, and Harun tells the interlocutor that they need to finish their drinks. It seems like a joke that the only person witnessing their discussion is the deaf “bottle ghost.”
Harun wants other people to hear and absorb his version of the story, but the ghost’s deafness emphasizes the difficulty of meaningful communication, especially through language.
Harun wonders aloud if his story is “suitable,” but it’s all he can give to the interlocutor. He could be a compulsive liar who’s just giving him false information to fill up his notebooks. Writing the biography of “the Arab” is like writing about God, because no one has really met either one. Harun wishes again that there could be a “legion” of spectators at his execution, “savage in their hate.”
Discussing the possibility that he is lying, Harun once again references the ability of language to hide the truth—even as he’s spent much of his narrative celebrating the positive power of language. In this passage, he turns “the Arab” from a dismissive name to a sign of power, equating Musa’s ambiguous of ghostly nature to that of God.