Waiting For The Barbarians Essay

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Waiting for the Barbarians is a novel by John Maxwell Coetzee that tells the story of a colonialist regime settled in an ambiguous part of the world. The story follows a civil servant, a Magistrate, as he struggles to balance his duties and his morals when rumors swirl around the empire about the barbarians planning an offensive. To investigate, a colonel named Joll is sent by a secret faction of the police to investigate. While the Magistrate believes the rumors to be false, as he had been living at his outpost for years in peace, Joll, unconvinced and ready to do his job, decides to interrogate the barbarians in ways the Magistrate finds horrifying, and often leading to false information fabricated for the torture to cease. Along with other…show more content…
As a sexual tension starts to develop between them, he struggles to see her as human rather than just a barbarian. On page 49 he tells her: "I have been trying to remember you as you were before all this happened," explaining to her that he finds it difficult to remember her without her scars. On one hand, this is a perfect representation of how one can be turned into the ‘other,' (or in this case the ‘barbarian'). It is also further shown when he says: "On that day she was still unmarked […]," on page 33, as well as "However kindly she may be treated by her own people, she will never be courted and married in the normal way; she is marked for life as the property of a stranger," on page 135. In fact, as a normal girl she could belong to her people and could pass as a member of the empire had she been dressed in appropriate attire. With the scars, both physical and emotional, inflicted to her by Joll, she could now neither belong to the empire, with her wounds that showed her past nor belong to her people as she will carry forever the marks of the oppressors on her body. For that, and the knowledge he further gains about the empire and its methods because of the girl, the magistrate declares on page 78: "my alliance with the guardians of the Empire is over, I have set myself in opposition," becoming himself, after much self-analysis, an ‘other' too; neither a barbarian, as they will forever hold him responsible and call him guilty, nor a member of the empire, as they brand him a traitor and publicly humiliate him on page 120 (even as he takes back his post at the very end of the book). On the other hand, this pushes him to question whether he is as evil or monstrous as Joll and the many others working for the empire. However, his true
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