In J. M. Coetzee’S Waiting For The Barbarians, The Magistrate

1766 WordsMay 2, 20178 Pages
In J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting For the Barbarians, the magistrate is highly concerned with being recognized as a good and just man. In “Existentialism is a Humanism”, Jean-Paul Sartre discusses how people should be held accountable for their actions and that it is one’s actions that defines them. Both Coetzee and Sartre discuss what it means to be a good person and what defines an action as good. From an existential viewpoint, if one only causes harm, they would be viewed as a harmful person even if their intentions were perfectly harmless. One the other hand, one who mostly commits good deed would be seen as a fine individual. This idea can be applied to the magistrate in Waiting For the Barbarians. Though the magistrate would like to be…show more content…
The magistrate could have saved them from Colonel Joll and the soldier, but instead, the magistrate chose to protect his job and his relationship with the Empire. Although the magistrate did not torture the barbarians himself, by allowing the torturing to occur, his actions cannot be seen as much better than those of Colonel Joll. When the Empire soldiers decided to publicly torture barbarians, the magistrate received another opportunity to act as a good person and prevent the soldiers from committing such savage acts, but instead, he chose to waste his potential and watch the spectacle alongside the rest of the crowd. While observing the soldiers’ actions, the magistrate states, “Let it at the very least be said, if it ever comes to be said, if there is ever anyone in some remote future interested to know the way we lived, that in this farthest outpost of the Empire of light there existed one man who in his heart was not a barbarian” (Coetzee 104). Though the magistrate may believe that he alone was not a barbarian in terms of how he was feeling, that does not mean that he was a good man. He still chose to stand in the crowd and watch the nomads be tortured and therefore was no better than the rest of the town. As the leader of town, the magistrate had the potential to go up to the military men and stop them from going through with the public display of torture, but the magistrate chose to waste that potential and only reacted once it

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