The Meursault Investigation

by

Kamel Daoud

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Mama Character Analysis

Harun’s and Musa’s mother. A poor and uneducated woman, Mama conceives of herself primarily in relation to her sons and the boys’ father. In the wake of her husband’s abandonment and Musa’s death, Mama suffers an emotional breakdown from which she never recovers. After the French authorities refuse to punish the murderer (Meursault) or even return Musa’s body to his family, Mama becomes obsessed with retribution for Musa’s death, and she seems to resent Harun for outliving his older brother and for being unable, due to his youth, to avenge Musa’s death. Mama harbors this desire until, as an adult, Harun kills a Frenchman named Joseph, a friend of the French family for whom Mama works; after this second murder, Mama takes on a more tranquil temperament and becomes affectionate towards Harun for the first time. Her feelings seem to proceed from deep love and cognizance of her powerlessness within her own society. However, they prevent her from being a supportive mother to Harun. As an adult, Harun deeply resents his mother for his emotionally unstable childhood and blames her (perhaps unfairly) for his inability to form stable relationships with others. At the same time, he can never bring himself to disown her completely, and continues to visit her, although by this time she’s almost entirely ceased talking.

Mama Quotes in The Meursault Investigation

The The Meursault Investigation quotes below are all either spoken by Mama or refer to Mama. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Other Press edition of The Meursault Investigation published in 2015.
Chapter 3 Quotes

People in the neighborhood showed my mother his picture in the newspaper, but for us he was the spitting image of all the colonists who’d grown fat on so many stolen harvests. There was nothing special about him […] and his features were instantly forgettable, easy to confuse with those of all his kind.

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Mama, Meursault
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

Consequently, my mother imposed on me a strict duty of reincarnation. For instance, as soon as I grew a little, she made me wear my dead brother’s clothes, even though they were still too big for me […] I was forbidden to wander away from her, to walk by myself, to sleep in unknown places, and, while we were still in Algiers, to venture anywhere near the beach.

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Musa, Mama
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

Well, yes! I remember that, I remember feeling a strange jubilation at seeing her really suffering for once. To prove my existence, I had to disappoint her. It was like fate. That tie bound us together deeper than death.

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Mama
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

I know that if Musa hadn’t killed me – actually, it was Musa, Mama, and your hero, those are my three murderers – I would have had a better life, at peace with my language on a little patch of land somewhere in this country, but that wasn’t my destiny.

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Musa, Mama, Meursault
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

“Everything was written!” Mama blurted out, and I was surprised by the involuntary aptness of her words. Written, yes, but in the form of a book, and not by some God. Did we feel ashamed of our stupidity? Did we contain and irrepressible urge to laugh like foods, us, the ridiculous pair stationed in the wings of a masterpiece we didn’t even know existed?

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Mama, Meriem
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Meursault Investigation LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Meursault Investigation PDF

Mama Character Timeline in The Meursault Investigation

The timeline below shows where the character Mama appears in The Meursault Investigation. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Harun opens his story by saying that “Mama’s still alive today.” She could tell many stories, but she chose not to. On the... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...where their father is, and when Musa hears news, he has long, furtive conversations with Mama from which Harun is excluded. He gathers that, for some reason, Musa has “a grudge”... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...the murder doesn’t begin with Meursault’s famous opening lines but by Musa’s last comment to Mama that he’ll be home earlier than usual. Harun remembers it was a calm day, without... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
After Independence, Mama tried for years to have Musa classified as a martyr, in order to be awarded... (full context)
Chapter 2
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
During Harun’s childhood, Mama only told him one type of story—that of Musa. Depending on Mama’s mood, the stories... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
However, most of Mama’s stories are devoted to remembering Musa’s last day on earth. She remembers almost every detail... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...geological animal,” and its inhabitants are “a little collection of lice on its back.” Even Mama, who is superstitious, feels nothing out of the ordinary that day. The women call to... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...that he detected “the smell of female rivalry” in the air, an unspoken comment between Mama and the secret girlfriend she believes that Musa has. Most of the women in the... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Mama never discussed the possibility of a girlfriend, but after Musa’s murder, Harun was often treated... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...the night before his death, so Harun assumes that’s her name. After Musa’s death, when Mama finally decides to depart Algiers, Harun remembers a woman in a short skirt staring at... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
After this, Harun and Mama leave Algiers for good, heading towards the agricultural town of Hadjout. The bus makes Harun... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...that if he ever locates his old house, death will catch up to him and Mama again. (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
...death. He only remembers grown-ups yelling and gesturing, and a long period of uncertainty before Mama herself realizes what happened. When she finally knows her son has died, she gives a... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...he realizes what has happened, Harun starts crying, but no one pays attention to him. Mama is nowhere to be found, and the apartment is full of strangers trying to comfort... (full context)
Chapter 3
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Mama is so old that she looks like her own grandmother. She’s living in “a kind... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Harun rarely visits Mama. She spends all her time sweeping every corner of her house in Hadjout in order... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
When they leave Algiers after Musa’s death, Harun and Mama stay with an uncle who treats them badly, consigning them to a shack and then... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
...is often afraid, especially of the men who come around the house at night, knowing Mama has no man to take care of her. He tries to watch over her. (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
After years of strategizing, Mama finds a way to improve their life in Hadjout. She finds a job as a... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
However, in the years while Mama works for the settlers, things are very hard. Harun has to walk miles each day... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Now, Mama keeps the house very dark. Harun visits every few months, drinks some coffee, and leaves... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Harun doesn’t like Hadjout, and he dreads returning there to bury Mama. It’s also puzzling for another reason—Meursault’s mother is also supposedly buried in Hadjout, but no... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Harun says that he could reveal the “secret” he and Mama have—the fact that one night in Hadjout, “the moon obliged me to finish the job... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
While Harun and Mama are still living in Algiers, Mama “convert[s] her anger” into a prolonged period of mourning... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
...body or even admit to possessing it. Not only is Musa dead, he has “vanished.” Mama sees the picture of his murderer, Meursault, in the paper, but she doesn’t understand anything... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
As she questions the neighbors, the police, and Musa’s friends, Mama’s mourning becomes “a surprising comedy, a marvelous act she put on and refined until it... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...funeral when nobody is present. Afterwards, Harun huddles in bed while the neighbor women comfort Mama. Eventually, Mama wraps her arms around Harun, but he knows “it’s Musa she wants to... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Mama develops strange rituals, like visiting the hammam (public bath) and the mosque as often as... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Periodically, Mama becomes convinced that she’s found Musa’s body or heard his footsteps outside. Harun hates Mama’s... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...he eventually gained admission to a school in Hadjout, which helped him distance himself from Mama’s overbearing grief. He feels fine at school or on the farms where he works, but... (full context)
Religion and Nihilism Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Now, Harun is “indifferent” to the fact that his mother is still alive. She rarely speaks anymore, perhaps because there’s nothing left of Musa to... (full context)
Chapter 4
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Since Musa’s body never appeared, Mama “imposed […] a strict duty of reincarnation” on Harun. She makes him wear Musa’s old... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Mama wants Harun to be the “visible trace” of Musa, and Harun complies. Since he’s forbidden... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Harun often accompanies Mama to search for clues in Algiers, following in the wake of her long robe. Mama... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
After Meursault’s book becomes famous and relegates Mama and Harun to “oblivion,” Harun often remembers their investigations and the pity with which people... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
One day, Mama and Harun finally walk down to the sea, “the last witness on Mama’s list.” She... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
In Algiers, Mama often takes Harun to the cemetery where there’s a gravestone for Musa, despite his missing... (full context)
Chapter 5
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...home.” Musa left the city to “speak to God” in the mountains, and Harun and Mama returned to the village. That’s all the information Harun had until he was finally able... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...Musa might have been well-known or famous, if only Meursault had given him a name. Mama could have her pension, and Harun could have a brother to take pride in. However,... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...to thinking about the beach where Musa was killed. When he finally saw it alongside Mama, the scene was very disappointing—it was “trying to squeeze the Iliad into a narrow space... (full context)
Chapter 6
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
In order to make Mama pay attention to him, Harun used to hide or eat household supplies like bread or... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
One day, Mama forces Harun to go to the neighborhood mosque, where a young imam supervises unattended children.... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 7
Religion and Nihilism Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Harun shoots the Frenchman with seven bullets, two more than Meursault fired into Musa. Mama stands behind him the whole time, and Harun feels that she is guiding him and... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Behind Harun, Mama breathes softly, much more easily than she has since Musa died. It’s nighttime, and the... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...can finally go to the movies, or on a date with a woman. He and Mama look at the body for a long time, with Mama still holding Harun’s arm. Harun... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Mama is already looking at the body and planning the grave they must now dig. She... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Harun and Mama bury the Frenchman’s body quickly. No one seems to have noticed the gunshots. In any... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...wall outside the house in order to take refuge in the garden, awakening Harun and Mama in the process. There is a lot of killing going on outside, between the liberation... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
The Larquais family left three months ago, so since then Mama has commandeered their house, and Harun stays up every night on watch for burglars. On... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...make eye contact, the other man looks away. Harun recognizes him as a friend of Mama’s employers, who often comes to visit. Harun walks home quickly—people are suspicious of his refusal... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
When Harun hears noises on the night in question, Mama is already awake and directs him to pick up the gun, which he found in... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Harun is sure that he and Mama thought about Musa simultaneously, believing that killing this Frenchman is their duty to Musa and... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
After shooting the Frenchman, Harun drags his corpse into the courtyard, where he and Mama bury it with difficulty. The night begins to lighten and the trees of the courtyard... (full context)
Chapter 9
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...Meursault did. He’d like to see a crowd of people looking at him, and for Mama to be incapable of defending him. In his imagination, Meursault is the protagonist and questions... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Again, Harun says he wishes he could stand trial. However, he blames Mama for his crimes. She was the one who held his arm while he shot, “while... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...a resistance fighter but is really a crook, to an old uncle who never pays Mama the debt he owes her. (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...His whole body has shriveled and stiffened just like the man in the article, and Mama’s has as well. Now, she’s more like a statue than a person. Now that she... (full context)
Chapter 10
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...Harun murders Joseph, everything is tranquil. He wakes up to the smell of coffee and Mama singing in the kitchen. He decides not to go out, and to bask in Mama’s... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Harun sleeps for several hours, but eventually Mama wakes him up to say that the police have come looking for him. She’s not... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...fact that he is alive, when Musa and Joseph are not. He can’t believe that Mama is going about her tasks normally and talking to herself. He feels sorry for her. (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...into a jeep and he’s driven to the police station. On the way, he sees Mama walking down the road. He waits for a long time in a cell at the... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Eventually, Mama comes to visit him. She seems calm and unconcerned, assuring him that she has explained... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...practically required to do so. For years people have made fun of him for being Mama’s “prisoner,” and this just confirms their suspicions. When he was a teenager, he even killed... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Harun recalls that during his adolescence, Mama makes him go to school, where he quickly progresses until he’s able to read aloud... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Unburdened by Musa or Mama, Harun feels free and calm in the cell. However, when the guard comes with his... (full context)
Chapter 11
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...back to his cell, where he looks out the window into the sun. He imagines Mama at home, sweeping the courtyard and doing chores. In the afternoon, Harun is again taken... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Harun explains to the interlocutor why Mama decided he must kill Joseph (he believes that Mama chose her victim, even though technically... (full context)
Chapter 12
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...have had a peaceful life on a small piece of land somewhere, if only “Musa, Mama, and your hero” (Meursault) hadn’t already killed him. (full context)
Chapter 13
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
As his French improves, Harun realizes that Mama has sent him to school so that he can revive Musa by retelling his story.... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Both Mama and Harun are taken aback when a young woman (Meriem) arrives at their house in... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 14
Religion and Nihilism Theme Icon
...Meriem is writing her thesis on Meursault’s book, just like the interlocutor. She waits until Mama has left to show Harun the book, which is small and well-designed. Harun is struck... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Meriem leaves Harun with the book. Mama is astonished to know that the details of Musa’s murder have been written down all... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
The next day, Mama has developed hostile feelings towards Meriem and warns Harun not to let her in if... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Finally, Harun is experiencing all the wonder and astonishment of love that “Mama’s vigilance had always managed to neutralize.” He can’t even describe the process of love now.... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Knowing that she will become obsessed with it, Harun doesn’t show Mama the book. He also hides his meetings with Meriem. They always spend the day walking... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...that Meriem has gone for good, he smashes all the dishes in the house while Mama watches calmly. When Meriem writes Harun letters, he answers angrily; eventually their correspondence drifts off.... (full context)
Chapter 15
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Mama is still alive, but her life seems pointless as she doesn’t say or do anything.... (full context)