The Meursault Investigation

by

Kamel Daoud

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The Meursault Investigation: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Meeting his interlocutor again at his own apartment, Harun turns down the offer of a coffee. He says he hates Fridays, which he normally spends on the balcony of his apartment, looking at the nearby mosque. Watching young children play, he feels like he’s seeing them push the older generations off a cliff. He hates them, although he’s ashamed of this feeling.
Harun rejects many of life’s conventionalities, from the idea that he should unquestioningly respect his mother to the idea that adults must value and be indulgent towards children. Like Meursault, he feels that these conventions are a way of imposing meaning on circumstances that are actually random and irrational.
Themes
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One of Harun’s neighbors reads the Koran loudly all night on the weekends. No one can tell him to stop, because he’s doing it in the name of God. For Harun, religion is “public transportation I never use.” He wants to travel towards God, but not as part of an “organized trip.” He doesn’t know if he believes in God, but he does know that while other people “natter” about his spiritual condition, he is the only one who understands his life and pays his bills, and he will die alone. He certainly doesn’t want to “run panting after a father who has never set foot on earth.”
As the novel progresses, Harun will make a series of increasingly astringent criticism of religion. What he most objects to is the dominance of meaningless religious dogma, which prevents people from having private spiritual experiences. Here, Harun argues that religion negates individual experiences—just as colonial rule negates the individual value of people like Musa.
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Related Quotes
Responding to an unheard question, Harun says he doesn’t know anything more about his father than what he’s already said. There are no surviving photographs, Mama would never talk about him, and Harun has no tribe to preserve his memory. Now, he feels that he’s taken after his father in that he turned his back on a future family by refusing to get married. Although he’s “known the love of lots of women,” he can’t get rid of “a mighty distrust” of women as a whole.
Harun’s rejection of religion is similar to his dismissal of his father, as both involve defying conventional forms of authority. He’s also been similarly betrayed by his father’s abandonment and the failure of religion to provide any sense of meaning in the wake of Musa’s death.
Themes
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No woman has been able to liberate Harun from his own mother and her constant unspoken accusations that he hasn’t avenged Musa’s death. Moreover, when Harun was young he lived in Hadjout, a conservative society where boys could only speak to women who were relatives.
Harun seems to blame Mama for his distrust of women and to blame women as a whole for his failure to extricate himself from Mama’s control. Although Mama’s behavior is certainly problematic, at moments like this Harun refuses to take responsibility for the course of his own life.
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The only exception to Harun’s distrust of women is Meriem, with whom he had a brief relationship in 1963. He still remembers her “wild hair.” Meriem was the only woman “willing to defy my mother” by not treating Harun as though he was his mother’s property. They saw each other briefly during the summer, had a long correspondence, and then drifted apart. He doesn’t know if she’s married or where she is now.
The qualities Harun admires most in Meriem are her independence and confidence, two things he lacks especially in relation to Mama. Harun sees Meriem as sort of escape valve from his troubled family life—but perhaps his desire to be rescued, rather than take responsibility for himself, is what drives her away.
Themes
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Harun says that Friday is “the day closest to death.” People wear pajamas in the streets, as though “religious faith encourages laziness in private matters.” In fact, Harun thinks people have started to dress sloppily in general. Men of his habits seem to be disappearing.
With its promises of an afterlife, religion is supposed to be a means of transcending death. On the contrary, Harun feels that religion conjures the specter of death more than anything else.
Themes
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Harun especially dislikes the prayer hour, when he hears the imam’s voice through the loudspeakers and sees people walking down the street with their prayer rugs. For him, it underlines the essential “hypocrisy” of the “devout.” Harun says that Friday is the day God “decided to run away and never come back.” The absence of God is clear in the absent look on people’s faces.
Instead of a day sacred to God, Harun sees Friday as a day devoted to dogma, which to him is diametrically opposed to the idea of the divine. It’s important to note that Harun doesn’t negate the presence of a God; he just doesn’t think one can access the divine through conventional religious rituals.
Themes
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In fact, Harun hates all religions, because they “falsify the weight of the world.” Sometimes he wants to break through the wall and throttle his neighbor and tell him to stop praying, “accept the world,” and accept “his own dignity.” Harun points out the window at a girl who is wearing a veil, even though she’s too young to “know what a body is.”
Ironically, it’s while railing against religion that Harun reveals his own cautious optimism. Saying that his neighbor should take pleasure in the world and his place within it, Harun implies that there is inherent value in human life, regardless of its place within a divine plan.
Themes
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On Friday all the bars are closed. People think that Harun is strange because he doesn’t pray and cultivates his solitude. It seems odd that he’s gotten so old without becoming religious. However, Harun feels that he’s already approached death; now he’s returned and is watching other people “marching to death in single file.”
While religion is supposed to bring enlightenment, Harun feels that by rejecting religious dogma he’s accessed higher truths to which his neighbors remain blind.
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Harun keeps his beliefs to himself, because he knows his neighbors are already suspicious of him, especially because he drinks so much. Even though they sometimes insult him in the street, he feels pity for his neighbors, who believe that God has spoken to just one man and then disappeared forever. When he looks through “their book” (the Koran), it seems full of “redundancies, repetitions, lamentations, threats, and daydreams.”
Referring to the Koran as “their book” even though he too is technically a Muslim, Harun distances himself further from his neighbors. However, by rejecting the idea that God has “disappeared,” he also evinces a faith in the presence of the divine in human life.
Themes
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Harun wonders what the “bottle ghost” does on Fridays. Maybe he goes to the beach, or returns home to a wife and mother. Every Friday the sky looks different to Harun, and he remembers the awful days during his time in Hadjout, when he felt that he was stuck there forever.
Harun evades his own solitude by thinking about the bottle ghost. It’s important that this is the first person he thinks of—this moment emphasizes Harun’s growing sense of the similarity between them.
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Harun has sat on his balcony observing the world below for so many years that all the people seem like “a single person” that he tries to avoid. His neighbors are familiar—there’s a retired soldier who washes his car all the time, a fireman who beats his wife, and a small man who rents folding chairs for funerals and marriages.
This passage is similar to Harun’s description of his neighborhood in Algiers—in both cases he describes the routines of his different neighbors. Although Harun holds himself alert, he clearly enjoys being in proximity to the petty drama of human life.
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This is only one of Harun’s balconies. The other one is inside his head, and from it he looks out onto the hot beach, Musa’s body, and Meursault holding a gun. The man is very thin, and he seems stiff like a robot. The scene always remains the same, but Harun can only look at it, not “step inside” and change the outcome. Imagining it now, he feels the same emotions as when he was seven—anger, sadness, and curiosity.
Harun’s real and imaginary balconies share a sense of stagnancy—his neighbors never change their routines, while the choreography of the murder stays the same as well. This stagnancy recalls Harun’s complaints about the new Algerian government, which doesn’t make any positive changes in the country.
Themes
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In this tableau, Meursault looks nothing like “the other one,” the Frenchman Harun killed. That man was very large and blonde. Harun knows his interlocutor is wondering who that man was and what happened. He says that “there’s always another” person even when one thinks one is alone, “staring at you or turning his back to you and deepening the perspectives of your solitude.”
Instead of craving human connection, Harun often seems to prize his solitude at all costs. Perhaps because of his troubled relationship with Mama and because of his guilt over the murder he’s committed, all human contact seems fundamentally invasive and uncomfortable.
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