The character of Harihar is an important character in Pather Panchali. The novel is set in the Bengali village of Nishchindipur in 1920s. The village is the ancestral home of Harihar, the father of an impoverished family. Harihar leads a poor life by working as a village priest. But he is a dreamer who dreams of writing plays and getting settled as a successful writer. He is rather a poor provider, partly because he is easily exploited and unable to stand up for himself or his family. He permitted his neighbours to claim the orchard that once belonged to his family as payment for debts that his deceased brother has incurred. When his wages are overdue for two months, he cannot muster the assertiveness to ask his employer about payment despite his family having little food and his house being badly in need of repairs. His favourite saying ―Whatever God does is for the best‖ reflects his resigned approach to life.
Harihar is more introspective and spiritual but less pragmatic. He is an idealist in both the best and the worst senses. He cares more about his own spiritual well-being than his family‘s welfare. It is evident, however, that the luxury of focusing on the spiritual domain belongs mainly to the men in India. It is a social order where sexism is rampant both in childhood and adulthood. When Apu is born, the relatives weep with joy, as much for the reason that he is a boy as for his health or that of the mother. Apu attends school but Durga is told that her place is at home, learning to cook and do chores. Harihar is privileged to indulge his artistic conceits but all the responsibility for ensuring daily survival falls to Sarbojaya.