Summary Of ' Waiting For The Barbarians '

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In J.M. Coetzee’s novel Waiting for the Barbarians, a Magistrate and his outpost fall into turmoil subsequent to the Empire’s endeavor to subjugate the barbarians. The Magistrate believes that the Empirespecifically Captain Joll, a higher-ranking officialhas unscrupulously entered his area of power and unjustifiably tortures the barbarians so as to “interrogate” them. During the Empire’s effort to capture the barbarians and forcefully remove them from “their” land, the Magistrate struggles to understand both his and Captain Joll’s behavior as well as the true nature of the Empire. Though the Magistrate and Captain Joll together represent the Empire, they approach the realities of imperial rule discordantly. In other words, they are two…show more content…
Evidently, the Magistrate’s ordinary hunt develops into a point of great moral awareness; Coetzee’s description of the hunt being “robbed of its savour” and “stand[ing] for something else” accentuates this idea (Coetzee 39). The Magistrate’s virtuous act here distinguishes him from the rest of the Empire. In other words, by refusing to kill the buck, he rejects the Empire and thus decides to diverge from its cruel practices. Unlike the Magistrate, who understands the consequences of his conduct, the Empireas represented by Captain Jolldemonstrates neither empathy nor responsibility. In fact, we are immediately introduced to the lack of concern that Captain Joll has for animals in the beginning of the novel when he reminisces on his hunting experience during which he killed so many animals that “a mountain of carcasses had to be left to rot” (Coetzee 1). Such negligence can be compared to Captain Joll’s and other, similar imperial officer’s unlawful treatment of the barbarians, who they have displaced from their homes, publicly shamed, and tortured so as to prevent an alleged oncoming war from occurring. Hence, similar to the buck, the barbarians lie in plain sight of the empire, “suspended in immobility” (Coetzee 39). By characterizing the buck as “suspended,” Coetzee emphasizes not only its helplessness in the face of
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