Since Musa’s body never appeared, Mama “imposed […] a strict duty of reincarnation” on Harun. She makes him wear Musa’s old clothes even though they are too big; she forbids him to wander away from her or to go to the beach, teaching him to fear even the smallest waves. It’s as if Mama wants to believe that Musa actually drowned, instead of being murdered.
Mama wants Harun to be the “visible trace” of Musa, and Harun complies. Since he’s forbidden to do so many things, he develops a fierce but “ambitionless” intelligence. He’s often sick, and Mama takes care of him with “a practically sinful attention,” chiding him for hurting himself as if he’d harmed Musa.
Harun frequently criticizes Mama for her lack of affection. When she does care for him, though, Harun suggests that she has ulterior motives for doing so, without ever elaborating on them.
In this way, Harun misses out on the fun of being young and the sexual awakening enjoyed by most adolescents. He’s ashamed of his body and avoids going the public baths where people might see it. To this day he feels a constant stiffness and awkwardness that he traces to his “guilt about being alive.”
Harun blames his relationship with Mama for a lack of sexual development. This foreshadows his later feeling that Mama has prevented him from having a serious relationship with Meriem.
Harun often accompanies Mama to search for clues in Algiers, following in the wake of her long robe. Mama always mixes the actual information she acquires with the events of her dreams, so nothing makes sense. She often cites the names of people she has heard about through neighborhood rumor, as if she can track them down to exact revenge.
Mama’s fruitless investigations reveal her true powerlessness against the regime that is protecting the murderer. Her over-cautiousness towards Harun at this point reflects her cognizance that she can’t effectively protect him from the colonial regime.
After Meursault’s book becomes famous and relegates Mama and Harun to “oblivion,” Harun often remembers their investigations and the pity with which people regarded them. One day, Mama drags Harun across the city following some “fragile lead”; eventually they arrive at the house of an old Frenchwoman. When she opens the door, Mama curses at her furiously until the old woman faints. Neighbors start shouting for the police. Mama shouts that “the sea will swallow you all!” and then runs away, followed by Harun. Later, Mama tells all the neighbors that she has found Meursault’s grandmother and insulted her, but Harun doubts this woman had anything to do with Meursault.
Since Mama can’t achieve retribution through formal government channels, she tries to inflict some harm on Meursault’s female relatives, in order to compensate for the grief she’s suffering. Throughout the novel, Mama believes that retribution can be achieved by responding to a particular crime with an equivalent act—it’s this theory that gives her the idea to murder Joseph, and in fact provides her tranquility after the murder is accomplished.
One day, Mama and Harun finally walk down to the sea, “the last witness on Mama’s list.” She orders Harun to stay away from the water and sits down to rest. Harun looks out at the ocean, thinking about “the immensity of both the crime and the horizon.” Eventually, Mama gets up, curses the sea, and leads Harun away.
Even though the sea is just the setting for Musa’s murder, Mama and Harun both want to see it as an active agent, because it’s the only physical evidence left over from a crime that seems totally obscured.
Besides some happy moments, Harun had “a ghost’s childhood.” He knows the interlocutor doesn’t want to hear about his life, though—he must want to track down Musa’s body or some real clues. However, Harun says that Musa’s death will always remain a mystery, due to the “shockingly violent” obfuscation of circumstances in Meursault’s book.
Referring to himself as a ghost, Harun implicitly makes a comparison between himself and the bottle ghost—a comparison that will bear special relevance when the two finally speak.
Sometimes, when thinking about the murder and the complete lack of information surrounding it, Harun has wild imaginings. He imagines that he is “Cain” and has killed his own brother. In fact, since Musa’s death, he’s often wanted to kill him again in order to move past the event and win Mama’s love again. It’s strange that Meursault has done the actual killing while Harun is the one who feels guilty.
Here, Harun refers to the biblical character Cain, who kills his brother Abel in a petty dispute. It’s interesting that Harun makes this comparison with himself, as he later says that settlers like Meursault are like “Cain.” Once again, this strengthens the sense of linkage between Harun and Meursault.
In Algiers, Mama often takes Harun to the cemetery where there’s a gravestone for Musa, despite his missing body. Harun thinks it’s ridiculous that she mourns and cries over the empty grave; it’s here that he realizes he’s entitled to “his presence of the world” despite the “absurdity” of his current life, “which consisted in pushing a corpse to the top of a hill before it rolled back down, endlessly.” It’s in the cemetery that he stopped praying towards Mecca and started praying towards the world. Now the cemetery is a dirty place overrun by drunks. Every night people steal marble.
With the metaphor of the corpse and the hill, Harun compares himself to Sisyphus, a character of Greek myth who was condemned to push a rock up a hill for eternity. He also references Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, a philosophical treatise that explains Absurdism, the philosophy that grounds The Stranger (basically, that the quest for meaning in life is as futile as Sisyphus’s task). Here, Harun explains that the true victim of absurdity isn’t Meursault but himself and Musa, Meursault’s victims.
Harun has read Meursault’s book many times. Now he summarizes it again: it seems like Meursault’s mother never existed, Musa is just a “replaceable” Arab, Musa’s family left the city after his murder, and the trial was a “travesty” of bad colonial government. All in all, the murder amounts to nothing.
Not only do the details of the murder seem ephemeral, so do all the aspects of Meursault’s life. Harun’s obsession with these details reflect a belief that he can still achieve some concrete retributive justice, if only he can get the facts straight.
Once, Harun saw a movie in which a man climbs to an altar where he will be sacrificed to a god. It seems that he is exhausted by the climb, not afraid of dying. Harun was amazed by his “incredible passivity,” but he often feels like that man himself.
In this strange metaphor, Harun imagines death not as a moment of religious significance but as a relief from the complexities of living.