In order to make Mama pay attention to him, Harun used to hide or eat household supplies like bread or sugar. Young Harun enjoys watching her search for them and eventually collapse, wailing about her lost husband and son and the remaining boy who won’t help her.
One day, Mama forces Harun to go to the neighborhood mosque, where a young imam supervises unattended children. They get into a fight on the way, and Harun falls in the dust. When he arrives at the mosque, the imam asks why he is dirty and crying. Harun doesn’t know what to say and he’s bored, so he accuses another child of beating him. From then on, he starts to grow up and becomes “deceitful.” In his first lie, he’s like Meursault—he commits a misdeed simply because he has nothing else to do.
It’s possible that the habit of resorting to deceit in order to gain Mama’s attention inspires Harun to lie in other circumstances as well. Like many of his other flaws, Harun regards this one as something that binds him to Mama and Meursault—two people he constantly criticizes but whose influence he can never escape.
Harun reflects that he never felt “Arab”—this is a classification imposed by white colonists. Growing up, he thought of himself as a Muslim and the French as roumis who would surely be forced out one day. The Algerians aren’t hostile toward the foreigners, they just avoid them and wait patiently for them to leave. Therefore, it’s impossible that Musa would’ve been angry enough to try to kill Meursault. The Algerians were so sure of the roumis’ departure that kids like Harun wandered through French neighborhoods deciding which houses they would claim after their inhabitants left. They intuited that Independence would come, but didn’t anticipate the violence involved.
Here, Harun takes issue with the very term that, in Meursault’s narrative, comprises Musa’s entire identity. For Harun, “Arab” is a term that glosses over the complexities of all the culture of the Middle East, dehumanizing the people to whom it is applied and allowing colonial rule to be justified. In this light, Meursault’s application of this term to Musa is not just a personal insult but an representation of the colonial attitude towards Algerian men like him.
Musa only became “the Arab” once he was viewed through Meursault’s eyes. Harun is still bothered by the question of how Musa ended up on the beach with Meursault, since it wasn’t one of his usual haunts. He gets dizzy thinking about “how a man could lose his name, plus his life, plus his own corpse” in one afternoon.
Meursault’s use of the word “Arab” is synonymous with the loss of Musa’s character and even his personal agency. It’s a linguistic death that prefigures and, to some extent, actively permits his actual death—just as this linguistic concept helps justify colonial governments.
One of the reasons that Musa’s story is so gripping is that in some ways it’s everyone’s story—just going into the French part of the city and interacting with the French can cause immeasurable damage and loss.
Here, Harun states one of the novel’s core premises—that Musa’s story is a microcosmic enactment of the dangers and injustices colonialism forces on Algerians.
The afternoon of his death, Musa was supposed to meet his friend Larbi. However, after the murder, Larbi never appeared—he fled the neighborhood in order to avoid the police. All that’s left is a brief mention of him in Meursault’s book.
Due to the lack of physical evidence, Meursault’s book becomes the chief authority on Musa’s death, the only thing that can bring Harun comfort—even as he strenuously objects to its author.
There’s also the problem of the prostitute. Harun doesn’t like to talk about this much. It seems unnecessary for Meursault to allege falsely that Musa’s sister was a whore—the only reason could be a desire to besmirch his legacy. Harun has concluded that the prostitute is simply an invention of Meursault’s troubled psyche.
The idea of the prostitute embodies what Harun sees as Meursault’s desire to humiliate Musa before killing him. However, it’s also possible that Harun doesn’t like discussing it because he too is worried about Musa’s honor being in question.
Sometimes, Harun thinks that Algeria as a whole can be understood “in the form of two imaginary women”—Meursault’s girlfriend in his own novel, with her “impossible innocence,” and the hypothetical sister of Musa, “a distant symbol of our land, plowed by customers and passerby.” Years ago, Harun was fully convinced that the prostitute represented an exploited Algeria; now, however, he remarks simply that he and Musa never had a sister.
Harun uses the two women to convey the difference between settlers, who are enriched and protected from harm by the colonial regime, and Algerians, who are exploited by it. However, this metaphor also reflects his tendency to see women as primarily symbolic, rather than individuals with their own desires and concerns—exactly the attitude Meursault takes towards Musa.
On another note, Harun wonders what Meursault was doing on the beach. According to his novel, Musa was already there when Meursault arrived, so it’s almost as if he came there looking for Musa. Meursault didn’t have any right to idleness on the beach—he had a good job, was beginning to get famous as a writer, and could have gotten married to his girlfriend. His idleness and dissatisfaction with his life are as difficult to understand as his causeless murder.
Harun emphasizes the vastly different backgrounds that divide him and Meursault—his enemy is privileged and educated, while he is part of an oppressed racial group with few prospects. While Harun and Meursault both feel as though life is generally meaningless, it seems more logical that Harun should come to this conclusion than someone with better prospects.
Harun wants another drink, so he calls out to the bartender. As he gets older, it seems that more and more of the story’s elements don’t actually exist, from the beach itself to Musa’s imaginary sister, to the various witnesses who never appeared after the crime.
For Harun, the increasing vagueness of circumstances surrounding the crime is almost as tragic as Musa’s death, as this prevents him from gaining any closure or sense of justice.
Harun knows that Meursault’s book is very successful, but he thinks it’s a “swindle.” He’s read a lot of Meursault’s work, and whenever he does, he feels like he’s looking in at a party “that neither my mother nor I had been invited to.” The entire story occurs without referencing them or their loss; the whole world participates in a story that eliminates any trace of their lives.
Harun will later contradict what he’s saying now, acknowledging that Meursault is a brilliant writer and saying that he was personally moved by the book. In fact, Harun is often baffled that the book can be so artistically magnificent while being so cruelly dismissive of Harun, Musa, and Mama.
Harun breaks off and notices that the “bottle ghost” is absent tonight. He imagines that the ghost is at home “reading books nobody understands.”
Harun imagines that the bottle ghost shares his own obsessive attraction to storytelling, and projects his frustration with the intractable ambiguity of his own story onto the ghost.