Foe by J.M. Coetzee
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Context: Foe (1986) is a post colonial novel by J.M. Coetzee. The author reinvents Robinson Crusoe’s story and while doing so, the attention of the reader is directed to the despotism and seduction of storytelling itself. His novels present the effects of colonization.
Synopsis: Susan Bartan, a castaway on a desert island approaches, Daniel Foe an eminent man of letters, in the year 1720. Susan is on a mission to find her kidnapped daughter, though she believes has been taken into the New World. During a mutiny on a ship to Lisbon, Susan is set adrift. On reaching the shore she meets Friday – the tongueless and Crusoe who has turned content and complacent to not recollect the past and continue living on the island with Friday. Former slave owners have committed the act of cutting off Crusoe’s tongue. The trio is rescued, taken to England but Cruso is unable to survive the voyage to England.
She feels that Foe should tell her story as well as the story of Cruso, a mysterious man who is now her master, rescuer, at times her lover and at times her companion. Susan then convinces Daniel Foe to help her with the manuscript which he fabulates adventures of Crusoe instead of relating the facts.
Cruso is dead and Friday his manservant is not able to speak. Susan takes the effort of relating the truth about him. Barton is ambitious and cannot resist turning Robinson Cruso into her invention. When Foe becomes her lover, he hardly has much energy or time to write anything and is preoccupied with debt. Susan’s story takes a twist when a girl returns claiming to be her missing daughter.
The story indeed is elegant, treacherous and unexpectedly touching. Themes of the colonized and the colonizer are explored in the novel. The narrator arrives to new conclusions about otherness, power and finally sums up that just like chains, language too can enslave.
Other works by the Author:
1999 – Disgrace
1990 – Waiting for the Barbarians
1983 – Life & Times of Michael K
2003 – Elizabeth Costello