The Meursault Investigation

by

Kamel Daoud

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Names Symbol Icon

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

The The Meursault Investigation quotes below all refer to the symbol of Names. 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:

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 6 Quotes

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 […].

Related Characters: Harun (speaker)
Related Symbols: Names
Page Number: 60
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:
Chapter 15 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Harun (speaker), Musa
Related Symbols: Names
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Meursault Investigation LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Meursault Investigation PDF

Names Symbol Timeline in The Meursault Investigation

The timeline below shows where the symbol Names 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 has also read the novel and absorbed its meaning. The protagonist has “a man’s name,” while Harun’s brother (Musa) had “the name of an incident.” The author could have named... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...him but by writing about his death in such a dismissive manner and eliminating his name from the story. (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
...story for the interlocutor. Meursault kills an Arab who, in his novel, apparently lacks a name. Then he explains that his murder is “the fault of a God who doesn’t exist,”... (full context)
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Harun warns the interlocutor to make a note of Musa’s name, otherwise he will stop telling the story. He says his genealogy is “pretty pathetic”: he’s... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Harun’s brother is named Musa, but he will always be known as “the Arab.” For centuries, the settler has... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Harun often repeats Musa’s name so it doesn’t vanish. He wants the interlocutor to write in down in large letters.... (full context)
Chapter 2
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...of calling all unknown men “Mohammed”; Harun does the same thing but substitutes his brother’s name, Musa. It’s also the name of the bartender in this bar. (full context)
Religion and Nihilism Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
Harun has named not only the barman but another patron Musa as well. He says that the second... (full context)
Chapter 4
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Grief and Family Life Theme Icon
...acquires with the events of her dreams, so nothing makes sense. She often cites the names of people she has heard about through neighborhood rumor, as if she can track them... (full context)
Chapter 5
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...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 brother to take pride in.... (full context)
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
...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 he says that... (full context)
Chapter 6
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Chapter 14
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
...to grips with how beautiful the writing is, but he also can’t believe that Musa’s name is absent from the entire work. Contrary to his hopes, he can’t learn anything about... (full context)
Chapter 15
Colonialism and its Aftermath Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...talks too much—just like Meursault, another murderer who has gone unpunished. He remarks that Meursault’s name translates to “the messenger” in Arabic. (full context)