A reimagining of Albert Camus’s absurdist novel The Stranger, The Meursault Investigation centers around two parallel crimes—the murder of a young Algerian man, Musa, by a Frenchman named Meursault, and the murder of another Frenchman committed by Musa’s brother, Harun, years later in retribution. Harun’s life is dominated by his desire to avenge Musa’s death, but he also feels a deep sense of remorse for his own crime. In both cases, justice is unattainable either through personal retribution or formal governmental retribution. Ultimately, the novel argues that the only meaningful punishment for taking a life comes from the effect on the murderer’s existence.
Despite their unceasing efforts, Harun and Mama are unable to achieve justice or closure after Musa’s death. Not only does Meursault evade punishment, he uses his murder to jumpstart his literary career; this injustice is a source of lifelong outrage for Harun. Mama’s attempts to have the crime formally recognized are fruitless; at the time of the murder, French authorities won’t even produce Musa’s body for a proper Muslim burial, much less punish his murderer. Similarly, the Algerian regimes that emerges after Independence won’t classify Musa as a martyr, denying Mama both the psychological closure she might derive from this classification and the pension which would alleviate the poverty she’s suffered since Musa’s death. Accordingly, Mama turns to personal retribution. At the end of the war for independence, she induces Harun to shoot Joseph, a Frenchman and friend of her employers. This attempt to punish Meursault by proxy is partially successful, as Mama lives out the rest of her life in comparative tranquility, but it comes at the cost of making her remaining son a murderer.
Even though Harun is rightly angry about his brother’s death, he begins to regret and crave justice for his own act of retribution almost as soon as he commits it. Although he buries the body, he doesn’t deny the murder and doesn’t protest when the authorities jail him shortly afterwards. During his short stint in jail, Harun is not so much worried about punishment as disgusted by the bureaucratic response of the police, who are annoyed that he killed the Frenchman of his own accord, rather than alongside resistance fighters during the war for independence. Harun’s interaction with the authorities shows that just as Meursault was only able to conceive of Musa’s death within the context of his own existential struggles, the new regime is unconcerned with pursuing justice for Joseph’s death and only cares about it in that it contravenes their bureaucratic structures. Harun’s anger with the police shows his refusal to slide into this casual indifference to human life.
Although Harun is never punished for shooting Joseph, he says that he has suffered psychologically ever since the murder. He feels that “life is no longer sacred in my eyes,” and all his relationships with others are tainted by “the knowledge that life reposes on nothing solid.” Harun has paid for his crime in his inability to form meaningful relationships with others and his long solitude. This is the most significant punishment that any of the novel’s characters suffer after committing a crime.
Ultimately, the novel argues that neither personal or social retribution can truly compensate for the loss of a human life. Even though the circumstances and the cover-up of Musa’s death stem from the social injustices of colonialism, its ramifications are ultimately beyond the power of human social institutions to resolve.
Justice and Retribution ThemeTracker
Justice and Retribution Quotes in The Meursault Investigation
At the moment when I committed my crime, I felt a door somewhere was definitively closing on me. I concluded that I had been condemned – and for that, I’d needed neither judge nor God nor the charade of a trial. Only myself.
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.
He started stammering, declaring that killing and making war were not the same thing, that we weren’t murderers but liberators, that nobody had given me orders to kill that Frenchman, and that I should have done it before.
They were going to set me free without explanation, whereas I wanted to be sentenced. I wanted to be relieved of the heavy shadow that was turning my life into darkness.
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.