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Race Relations In J.M. Coetzee's In The Heart Of The Country

2160 words - 9 pages

Discuss race with reference to - In the Heart of the Country. -

In accordance with the Oxford Dictionary ‘race’ is defined as being
‘each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical
characteristics.[1]’ Hence race became an important factor in
postcolonial fiction because race was after all the most obvious
indicator in all colonial situations. ‘While in the Eurocentric world,
skin-colour carries an automatic cultural content, it nevertheless
masks ‘true’ identity. The frustrated desire to make skin colour
identify (which is racism) was a linchpin of colonial authority,
sustaining the cohesiveness of the ruling group.’[2] Plus the
acceptance of racial identities had obviously been unavoidable in the
apartheid state.

Postcolonial literature includes all literature written in English by
writers from the former colonies and I have chosen to focus upon In
the Heart of the Country (1976) by Afrrikaan writer J.M. Coetzee. The
history of Coetzee’s native country has provided him with much raw
material for his work. He is renowned for his eloquent protest against
political and social conditions in South Africa, particularly the
suffering caused by imperialism, apartheid and post apartheid
violence. ‘In the most obvious sense Coetzee, as a white man, is
necessarily associated with the most dominant group in a colonial
society, and as a white man who is also a ‘liberal,’ he is uniquely
vulnerable.’[3]

In the Heart of the Country tells the story of a sheep farmer who
seeks private salvation in a black concubine, it is told through the
eyes and words of his daughter, Magda; who plots and executes a
sinister and bloody revenge. Magda can be interpreted as a medium for
Coetzee to oppose the order of apartheid, to be a disobedient
coloniser. Through this medium the novel explores themes of human
violence and loss, weakness and defeat, isolation and survival. Race
is a key factor within these themes and it is viewed that ‘The primary
South African literary genre that Coetzee ia analysing, deconstructing
and contesting here is that of South African novels dealing with
inter-racial sexuality.’[4]

Coetzee does not delve straight into the expected stereotypical
subject matter of race, instead we are told of the tragedy of Madga's
life which begins from the moment of her birth as she is not the male
heir that her father has long wished for and who will keep the lineage
alive. Therefore, Magda's only way of making a show of resistance to
this authoritarian patriarch is to write her story and make her voice
heard. Coetzee methodically breaks the conventions of narration as
Magda writes in structured fragments numbered from one to two hundred
and sixty six; to convey a seeming sense of linearity and thus give
the reader a precarious structure to hold on to. Through his use of a
female narrator Coetzee explores the contradictory position of the
following; ‘What has been called a “half-colonization”...

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