The Meursault Investigation

by

Kamel Daoud

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Meursault Character Analysis

The antagonist of the novel, a French settler who murders Musa and evades punishment, eventually returning to France. Eventually, Meriem introduces Harun to a famous novel Meursault has written about his life in Algeria, in which he frames the murder as the culmination of an existential crisis during which he becomes convinced in the lack of value in his or anyone else’s life. In the novel, Meursault dismissively refers to Musa as “the Arab,” denying him a name in order to soothe his conscience and avoid responsibility for his death. In fact, Meursault’s novel corresponds to Albert Camus’ 1942 novel The Stranger, whose protagonist murders a nameless “Arab” in Algeria (this novel is a response to The Stranger, showing that it reinforces colonial power structures). For Harun, Meursault represents the colonial regime’s tendency to denigrate and ignore Arab narratives and experiences, a practice that allows Musa’s death to go unpunished even when its perpetrator openly identifies himself. At the same time, Harun admires Meursault’s brilliance as a writer, and often agrees with his refutations of religion and assertions that the world is essentially meaningless. As the novel progresses and Harun becomes more and more distanced from those around him and eventually murders a Frenchman named Joseph without cause, his character and the course of his life come to resemble Meursault’s. Ultimately, Meursault forces Harun to address the aspects of his own character which he doesn’t like.

Meursault Quotes in The Meursault Investigation

The The Meursault Investigation quotes below are all either spoken by Meursault or refer to Meursault. 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 1 Quotes

Well, the original guy was such a good storyteller, he managed to make people forget his crime, whereas the other one was a poor illiterate God created apparently for the sole purpose of taking a bullet and returning to dust – an anonymous person who didn’t even have the time to be given a name.

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Musa, Meursault
Related Symbols: Names
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

And that’s where you go wrong, you and all your predecessors. The absurd is what my brother and I carry on our backs or in the bowels of our land, not what the other was or did.

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Musa, Meursault, The Interlocutor
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

For centuries, the settler increases his fortune, giving names to whatever he appropriates and taking them away from whatever makes him feel uncomfortable. If he calls my brother “the Arab,” it’s so he can kill him the way one kills time, by strolling around aimlessly.

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Musa, Meursault
Related Symbols: Names
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
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 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

At one and the same time, I felt insulted and revealed to myself. I spent the whole night reading that book. My heart was pounding, I was about to suffocate, it was like reading a book written by God himself. A veritable shock, that’s what it was. Everything was there except the essential thing: Musa’s name.

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Musa, Meursault
Related Symbols: Names
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

I was looking for traces of my brother in the book, and what I found there instead was my own reflection, I discovered I was practically the murderer’s double. I finally came to the last lines in the book: “…had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me cries of hate.”

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Musa, Meursault
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
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Meursault Character Timeline in The Meursault Investigation

The timeline below shows where the character Meursault appears in The Meursault Investigation. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Harun knows that he can’t “imitate” the murderer because Meursault is a brilliant writer with a masterful command of his own language. Instead, Harun will... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...the end and eventually arrives at the beginning. Harun knows the interlocutor has already read Meursault’s novel, whose words are like “precious stones.” The novel’s world is “clean, clear, exact,” marked... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
It seems to Harun that the murderer, Meursault, must have been tired of living in “a country that wanted nothing to do with... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Whenever Harun thinks about the novel, he gets angry. Its author, Meursault, gets to discuss everything he lost, from his mother to his body to his girlfriend’s... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...it stunning that even after Independence, no one tried to figure out the story behind Meursault’s victim or locate his family. Everyone was too busy admiring Meursault’s brilliant writing and sympathizing... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...he has “opened a bag.” He asks the interlocutor to take out his copy of Meursault’s book and read the first page out loud. (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
After the interlocutor has finished reading, Harun explains the passage. After Meursault’s mother died, he “falls into idleness and absurdity,” which he thinks he can cure by... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Harun sketches out Meursault’s story for the interlocutor. Meursault kills an Arab who, in his novel, apparently lacks a... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
For Harun, “the absurd” isn’t a philosophy developed by Meursault but the burden that “my brother and I carry on our backs or in the... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...learning this language was to tell the story. He had to find a response to Meursault’s narrative that no one else could give him. (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...will win. As soon as he learned to read and write, he realizes that while Meursault killed, his deed was “really a way of committing suicide.” However, Harun came to those... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
In Harun’s view, the story of 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... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
...to whatever he appropriates and taking them away from whatever makes him feel uncomfortable.” Once Meursault named Musa “the Arab,” he could kill him without even thinking about it. (full context)
Chapter 2
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Women of this sort often cause “violent passions and hateful rivalries” such as the one Meursault describes in his book. However, his version is necessarily false; Musa could not have been... (full context)
Chapter 3
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...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 one knows where, and no one... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
...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 about him personally—he’s just “the spitting image... (full context)
Chapter 4
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
After Meursault’s book becomes famous and relegates Mama and Harun to “oblivion,” Harun often remembers their investigations... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...death will always remain a mystery, due to the “shockingly violent” obfuscation of circumstances in Meursault’s book. (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Harun has read Meursault’s book many times. Now he summarizes it again: it seems like Meursault’s mother never existed,... (full context)
Chapter 5
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...the village. That’s all the information Harun had until he was finally able to read Meursault’s book. (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Harun imagines that 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... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Harun returns to the outline of the story. At two o’clock on a sunny afternoon, Meursault kills an unnamed Arab. The murderer is convicted for “having buried his mother badly,” and... (full context)
Religion and Nihilism Theme Icon
According to Harun, the entire world Meursault creates is false. He describes a world in which “property is useless, marriage practically unnecessary,”... (full context)
Chapter 6
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...order to avoid the police. All that’s left is a brief mention of him in Meursault’s book. (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
On another note, Harun wonders what Meursault was doing on the beach. According to his novel, Musa was already there when Meursault... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Harun knows that Meursault’s book is very successful, but he thinks it’s a “swindle.” He’s read a lot of... (full context)
Chapter 7
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Religion and Nihilism Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
In this tableau, Meursault looks nothing like “the other one,” the Frenchman Harun killed. That man was very large... (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... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...sand. As he works to obscure the details of this murder, he thinks of how Meursault obscured the details of his own crime. It occurs to Harun that he has murdered... (full context)
Chapter 9
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
In fact, Harun wishes he could go on trial now, as Meursault did. He’d like to see a crowd of people looking at him, and for Mama... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
Harun says that his life has been more tragic than Meursault’s. In his memory, he acts out every role in the story, from the Musa’s part... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...shot, “while Musa held hers.” Harun knows that he is philosophizing, but he says that Meursault did the same in his book. He points out the sky outside the bar is... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...himself, and through Meriem. She was the one who introduced him to French literature and Meursault’s book. For Harun, French became “the main tool” of all his investigations into Meursault. (full context)
Chapter 10
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...from an unexpected angle, over and above their usual designation.” He feels that he’s experiencing Meursault’s ability to transcend normal language and “emerge on the other side,” where he can narrate... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...between the living and the dead just by changing his name, from Harun to Musa, Meursault, or Joseph. These days, death is as random and “absurd” as it was when Meursault... (full context)
Chapter 12
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...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
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...stool, telling Harun that she is a teacher studying a book written by Musa’s murderer, Meursault. (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... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Meriem shows Harun a copy of Meursault’s book. For her, the story seems very simple—the only difficulty has been the investigating to... (full context)
Chapter 14
Religion and Nihilism Theme Icon
In fact, Meriem is writing her thesis on Meursault’s book, just like the interlocutor. She waits until Mama has left to show Harun the... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...vigilance had always managed to neutralize.” He can’t even describe the process of love now. Meursault’s book, and later many other books, form the pretext of their affair as Meriem patiently... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
When Harun reads Meursault’s book for the first time, he’s enthralled; he feels both “insulted and revealed to myself.”... (full context)
Justice and Retribution Theme Icon
...teaching him about Musa, it shows him “his own reflection”; he realizes that he and Meursault are incredibly similar, down their mutual wish to be tried and sentenced for their crimes. (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...he’s committed. In turn, she brings him other books to read so he can understand Meursault’s writing and worldview. He doesn’t understand everything, but he grows more and more in love... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...is deaf and mute, but can read lips. He says that the ghost should read Meursault’s book, which will be more interesting than his newspapers. (full context)
Chapter 15
Religion and Nihilism Theme Icon
Just as a priest visited Meursault in his cell, lots of imams try to convince Harun to believe in God and... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...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”... (full context)