In The Meursault Investigation, names are usually freighted with additional meaning. Most names derive from the Bible, and shed some light on the characters’ relationships with one another. For example, Musa and Harun refer respectively to Moses and Aaron, the two famous brothers from the book of Exodus. While Moses is the hero, who saves his people from enslavement, he relies on Aaron to act as his spokesman, mediating his interactions with the world. Their relationship mirrors the power dynamics between Musa and Harun, who sees his brother as a larger-than-life, heroic martyr. Harun adores his brother and resents living in the shadow of his death, so he takes some comfort in the power he derives by being the only person who can speak to Musa. Meriem translates to Miriam, Moses’ sister who saves his life as a baby; this represents her emotional kinship to Harun, but also suggests that their relationship is one of guidance and affection, rather than love. Of course, Joseph derives from the biblical character who is betrayed by his brothers; this mirrors his betrayal by Harun and suggests that, despite differences in race and class, the men are more like brothers than strangers. Meursault’s name translates to “the messenger” in Arabic. This reflects Harun’s admiration for his literary genius, but it’s also ironic—Harun has devoted his life to refuting the narrative Meursault has put forth about his brother.
Moreover, granting or withholding a name is always a sign of power. Throughout the novel, Harun is incensed that in his novel Meursault refers to Musa exclusively as “the Arab.” Denying Musa a name deprives him of his essential humanity in Meursault’s narrative. It’s this detail that makes it possible for Meursault to murder Musa without guilt, shame, or punishment. One of the novel’s major concerns is language’s ability to define and give value to narratives; Meursault’s literary treatment of Musa lies at the center of this problem, since it reflects the ability of abstract language to cause tangible harm.
Names Quotes in The Meursault Investigation
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.
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.
Arab. I never felt Arab, you know. Arab-ness is like Negro-ness, which only exists in the white man’s eyes. In our neighborhood, in our world, we were Muslims, we had given names, faces, and habits. Period. The others were “the strangers,” the roumis God brought here to put us to the test, but whose days were numbered anyway […].
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.
The Arab’s the Arab, God’s God. No name, no initials. Blue overalls and blue sky. Two unknown persons on an endless beach. Which is truer? An intimate question. It’s up to you to decide.