Waiting For The Barbarians By Jm Coetzee

1546 words - 6 pages

Waiting for the Barbarians can be read as an allegorical attack to Apartheid South Africa. But it can also be read generally as an allegory of oppressor and oppressed. This is made possible by the writer not using specific temporal, geographical or historical context. He also uses an unnamed character, the Magistrate, as one of his main characters and hero. This essay centres at this particular character and the role he assumes. To achieve this end, first I will give a short plot of the novel putting the magistrate at the centre. Second, I will trace some of the echoes of the Life and Passion of Christ in the Magistrate’s experiences. Third, I will discuss whether he is a type of redeemer in a secular world. Then I will conclude.

At the start of the novel the narrator is a Magistrate in an unnamed town on the frontier of an Empire. On its edge live the ‘Barbarians’. The Magistrate encounters a head of a secret service, Colonel Joll, who has been sent by the empire to wage war against the ‘Barbarians’. Colonel Joll captures some of them and tortures them in the name of finding out the ‘truth’ (5) about the rumoured ‘Barbarian’ uprising. In the meantime, the Magistrate takes in a barbarian girl, who takes to begging in the town, after being left behind by her people on their return to the desert (28). After a while, taking pity on the girl, he takes her back to her people (79) then real trouble starts. A new officer named Mandel comes to the town and takes charge of his office (84). The Magistrate is arrested and tortured before being left free.

Later, the settlers tremble at the news of the looming barbarian uprising and leave the town for the capital. Mandel is killed when he tries to leave the place with his family (143). The Magistrate gets his old home again. Colonel Joll returns disappointed from the desert. He is not able to find the barbarians. Most of his men are not able to find their way out while Joll and few men in his company are lucky enough to escape from the desert. He returns to the capital in utter disappointment (161). The narrator continues to live in the town with the few men of his community with the hope that peace would be restored between the settlers and the natives soon.

The plot of the novel shows that at the heart of the novel lie three main characters: the Magistrate, the Barbarian girl and Colonel Joll. In some of the experiences of the Magistrate, there can be traced echoes of the Life and Passion of Christ. First, the Magistrate is sympathetic towards the ‘barbarians’ and even identifies with them. He takes in a barbarian girl and later takes her back to her people. This echoes the life and ministry of Jesus where he identified himself with the lowly, poor and sinners and worked to restore their dignity in the community. Just like Jesus who was accused for eating with sinner, the Magistrate was considered, by the servants of the empire, to be a barbarian himself because of his sympathy towards the...

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