Wishful Thinking Essay

921 words - 4 pages

The contrast between the characters of the Magistrate who is the protagonist in the novel, Waiting for the Barbarians, and Colonel Joll who is the antagonist is a perfect example of an antithesis based on their personality and moral outlook. The conflicting attributes of the characters form the basic elements of the antithesis. Throughout the novel, the Magistrate is portrayed as a truth-seeking person whereas Colonel Joll is described as a perpetrator of violence and injustice. In the sentence, “I was the lie that Empire tells itself when times are easy, he the truth that Empire tells when harsh winds blow.” J.M Coetzee tries to introduce an antithesis to the readers by contrasting the roles of the two characters. This sentence also indicates the Empire’s hypocrisy and duplicity. In the passage, the Magistrate comes to a conclusion that he is actually similar to Colonel Joll in a way that they both are part of the Empire’s machinery. The Magistrate’s character is simply a mask that hides the ugly face of the Empire, which is represented by Colonel Joll’s image. Concisely, the Magistrate and Colonel Joll are the two sides of the same coin, as the Magistrate puts it, “Two sides of imperial rule, no more, no less.” The contrast between ‘lie’ and ‘truth’ in the second sentence of the passage is very significant because it is the fundamental element of the antithesis introduced by Coetzee. The sentence implies that the role of the Magistrate in the Empire is merely superficial and the image of Colonel Joll is the reality. In the same sentence, Coetzee uses the phrases “when times are easy” to describe a ‘peaceful time’, and “when harsh winds blow” to depict a ‘trying period’. This choice of words is effective because it gives an active meaning to the sentence and I believe that the sentence would sound dull and dry if Coetzee used ‘peaceful time’ and ‘trying period’ instead of “when times are easy” and “when harsh winds blow”.
The passage that I choose demonstrates the conflict between idealism and realism. The Magistrate hopes that eventually the problems that were created by the presence of The Third Bureau and the mysterious threat by the barbarians will go away. The Magistrate knows that the situation in the frontier is deteriorating since Colonel Joll came but he cannot confirm that it is going to get better. Coetzee uses the word ‘temporize’ in the passage to indicate the shift from pessimism to optimism. Coetzee manipulates the Magistrate’s defense mechanism to support his ‘wishful thinking’. The Magistrate believes that the little frontier is indeed ‘peaceful’ and cannot be ‘disturbed’ by the interference. He tries to convince himself that everything will be fine. At first, he notices...

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