Analysis of Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee

Title: Waiting for the Barbarians

Author: J.M. Coetzee

Context: Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) is a post colonial novel by J.M. Coetzee. The novel is a shocking analogy of a war between the oppressed and the oppressor. When Colonel Joll visits his fort, the Magistrates life falls into disarray.

Synopsis: A nameless civil servant is the main protagonist of ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’. A nameless empire appoints him Magistrate of a frontier settlement. A vague colonialist regime is followed by the Empire thus opposing the mysterious nomadic people, ‘the barbarians’ who reside in the wilds at the border of the Empire.

The Magistrate has been working for years together as a loyal and honest servant of the Empire. He looks into matters of a small frontier settlement but does not pay heed to the imminent war with the barbarians. When the Colonel Joll, an expert comes for questioning, the Magistrate finds his life falling into disarray. He sees that the prisoners of war are being given the most unjust and cruel treatment. Brutal and vicious torture investigation tactics are used by Joll, which the Magistrate finds very disturbing.  A young barbarian girl is one such victim whose father lost his life at the hands of the Joll. She is found begging on the streets of the fort, after she is released. Joll’s torture techniques had left her vision and walking greatly impaired.

Feeling sympathy for the prisoners of war, the Magistrate indulges in an idealistic rebellion act which labels him as an opponent of the state. The Magistrate goes through a crisis of conscience in remote times in an obscure place. He is living just like all the other men in involvement with regimes that are completely unbearable ignoring decency and justice towards mankind.

Other works by the Author:

1999 – Disgrace

1983 – Life & Times of Michael K

2003 – Elizabeth Costello

1986 –  Foe

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