Waiting for Freedom in J.M. Coetzee's "Waiting for the barbarians"

Essay by therealhrisA+, April 2004

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The consequences of colonialism are remarkably comparable in different parts of the world and among different cultures. Because basic concepts like national or ethnic identity and sovereignty are being violated, the natural instinct for achieving recognition and self-determination suppressed and pride in oneself hurt, people tend to respond in similar ways. This notion of the similarity of postcolonial issues is employed by J.M. Coetzee's in his novel Waiting for the Barbarians. A story pertaining to no specific timeframe or historical place and with anonymous protagonists, it portrays an allegory of any postcolonial empire-dominion relationship, which transcends through geographical boundaries and resonates today every bit as powerful as in the past.

The story depicts post-colonialism as a parallel and clash between an individual and national conflict. The micro conflict is presented in the personal struggle of the main character the Magistrate, an appointee of the Empire assigned to govern an outpost at its Far Frontier, and the dynamics between him and Colonel Joll, whereas the macrocosm is the background but equally important conflict between the barbarians (part of the indigenous people) and the Empire.

Thus, they represent two aspects that are present in all postcolonial societies and enforce the main thesis of the story that postcolonialism is in itself a cruel exploitation of smaller states and indigenous people for the grand purpose of Empires that sacrifice inadvertently human lives, change destinies, assimilates nations.

The personal torment of the Magistrate who has long been "a responsible official in the service of the Empire" and has not "asked for more than a quiet life in quiet times" starts with the coming of Colonel Joll to put out a supposed barbarian rebellion, frightening the people and threatening to overthrow the imperial rule (8). During the years of his service, he grows to...