J. M. Coetzee: Waiting for the Barbarians

(2479 words)

Overseeing the burial rites of two soldiers who froze to death while attempting to desert, the Magistrate who narrates J. M. Coetzee’s 1980 novel Waiting for the Barbarians tells us that “by insisting on correct treatment of the bones I am trying to show these young men that death is no annihilation, that we survive as filiations in the memory of those we knew” (53). Coetzee’s novel serves as such a filiation, as an allegorical elegy for the victims of Empire, but it simultaneously recognizes the self-serving nature of such memorializing; the Magistrate, who remains nameless throughout the novel, immediately asks, “Am I not also comforting myself?” (53) The Magistrate’s quandary illustrates a…

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Citation:
Urquhart, Troy. "Waiting for the Barbarians". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 07 October 2008
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=8667, accessed 19 December 2014.]