A retelling of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, The Meursault Investigation depicts an Algerian family irrevocably broken by the callous murder of the older son, Musa, by a Frenchman named Meursault. Although Harun is very young when Musa dies, his life is forever transformed both by grief and by the instability and dysfunction that characterize Mama afterwards. In fact, while Harun and Mama have to support each other economically and emotionally, grief and anger poison their relationship, making it impossible to truly love each other. By unsentimentally portraying Harun’s deteriorating relationship with his mother, the novel shows how traumatic events, even within initially loving families, expose fault lines and permanently undermine interpersonal relationships.
His father’s abandonment and Musa’s murder are the dominant events in Harun’s young life. Although Harun doesn’t even remember his father, his last name, translating as “son of the watchman,” derives from his father’s profession, ensuring that he’s always cognizant of his father even though he’s abdicated any responsibility for the family. After his father’s disappearance, Musa becomes both an economic provider and a paternal figure, so his death means that Harun loses not only a brother but, for the second time, his father. His frequent returns, throughout his monologue, to the moment of the murder and its aftermath make clear its centrality to his childhood and his conception of himself as an adult.
The impact of Musa’s death is exacerbated by Mama’s emotional collapse after the murder. Unable to manage her grief and with no family or friends to support her, she leans on Harun, making him privy to her feelings and to her new economic insecurity to an extent that is unhealthy for a young child. Essentially, Harun has to become the “man of the family” before he is remotely ready; this circumstance means that his lost father and brother are always present in his mind, even while the harsh reality of his life constantly highlights their actual absence.
Mama’s grief over Musa’s death makes her unable to parent well or to truly love her remaining son. Mama clearly resents Harun for surviving her elder son, even though such a feeling is illogical. Harun says she ignores his physical needs while constantly talking about Musa and behaving as if he might come home at any moment. Mama’s uncontrollable grief means that Harun’s childhood is not only materially but psychologically precarious. Mama also resents that Harun, as a child, is unable to provide the resentment or the explanations she craves. One of the only moments in which she displays affection is when Harun is finally able to read and translate the newspaper clippings describing Musa’s death; similarly, after he shoots Joseph, the Frenchman—avenging Musa’s death in Mama’s eyes—she softens towards him, promising that when he gets out of jail she will find him a wife.
Mama’s behavior means that Harun is torn between the desire to please her and consuming resentment of her inability to truly love him. Even as an adult, Harun is never able to extricate himself from her. During the fight for independence from France, he doesn’t join the army, possibly out of reluctance to leave Mama on her own. Killing Joseph at her behest, he links himself to her more closely through their shared participation in a crime. At the same time, Harun is often openly hostile towards Mama. He describes her as “controlling” and ascribes sinister intentions to her behavior that probably don’t exist; he even blames her for the demise of his affair with Meriem, even though Meriem clearly decided to leave him. While Harun’s grief stems from love for Musa, it ultimately prevents him from having a loving relationship with his mother or loving memories of his brother. At one point, Harun says that “Musa and Mama” have killed him spiritually; he’s not imputing malicious intentions to his family but showing the extent to which his and Mama’s inability to process their grief has destroyed his life.
While grief draws Harun and Mama closer together, forcing them to depend on each other and keeping them from forming meaningful relationships with other people, it also prevents their relationship from being positive or healthy. In the novel’s world, traumatic events like Musa’s murder result in emotional paralysis and deterioration of the family members who are left alive.
Grief and Family Life ThemeTracker
Grief and Family Life Quotes in The Meursault Investigation
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.
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.
I killed a man, and since then, life is no longer sacred in my eyes. After what I did, the body of every woman I met quickly lost its sensuality, its possibility of giving me an illusion of the absolute. Every surge of desire was accompanied by the knowledge that life reposes on nothing solid.
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.