The Duality Of Human Mentality In Waiting For The Barbarians By John Maxwell Coetzee

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The lingering notion of expectancy, craving for self-atonement, ever-present exoticism and a foggy, yet limpid discord of alien libido baffled with covet for power: a dark yet elucidating sphere that depicts the ideology concealed in the novel, Waiting for the Barbarians, written by J.M. Coetzee. Wait, ‘the rust of soul’ as penned by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and its transition with otherness, barbarism, depicts the realm that engulfs the fundamental intuition of characters entangled in the text.

The author demonstrates a domain that illustrates itself through the prospect of an individual, magistrate, unsure of his reasonings and the developing dynamic of the world around him, probing for answers in the otherness residing within him and his interaction with the alien subjects. This essay clarifies latent context and meditates around the indifference in the judgment of the characters, an insight to uncertain tides of events: provoking self-assessment within the characters, and the ambiguity in content because of symbolism that masks Coetzee’s perspective.

This essay’s foundation is laid upon the pivotal sentiment of otherness in the novel that centralizes itself against the shifting speculations of the subjects. The male-dominated society, insecure and hesitant, yet full of greed for power over all. Although magistrate’s eyes formulate a world with an incentive for peace, rational thinking and buried sympathy: his quest for understanding the unknown(unexpected) drives him towards an everlasting crusade to grasp his own orientation. The writer Erik Pevernagie caught his understanding of otherness as ‘looking for the unexpected, we are only looking for the unexpected in ourselves...’.

The novel initiates with the Magistrate, scrutinizing through the aged ruins of a civilization that appears foreign, yet very intimate. Years of endeavors and doubted ambitions prompt questions within him that address his own individuality that writer composes as “lacking civilized vices with which to fill my leisure, I pamper my melancholy and try to find in the vacuousness of the desert a special historical poignancy. Vain, idle, misguided!” (Coetzee 16).

These conclusions spark an ideology that is indeed so suffused with the sense of fleeting and the fragmentary, that a number of profound consequences follow. This hidden revelation erupts a notion of humanitarian view towards the ones who weren’t even close to ladder of power that he was on top of. What follows is a mirage where the magistrate is reluctant to abandon his influence but is continuously captivated by the sinking feeling of self-guilt and incompetence. The arrival of unknown girl who holds minute to no apparent perspective is a lantern that enlightens the mysterious mind set of the magistrate. Her arrival in the city and into the magistrate’s life arcs the lives of the narrator and most citizens of the town, having little to no effect on Empire’s conduct towards the Barbarians. An aura of restlessness surrounds the magistrate, satisfied at moments yet muddled into a void unaware about the motivation behind his actions. The mighty wall eclipsing him from differentiating between the good and the bad, binding him to his responsibilities, an obstacle that he overcomes after every conversation, slumber and inspection of the barbarian women revealing the reality of his existence; differentiating the oppressor from the oppressed.

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He states these experiences as “It is I who am seducing myself, out of vanity, into these meanings and correspondences… I search for secrets and answers, no matter how bizarre…” (Coetzee 61). Magistrates first contact with the barbarians ignites a spark for uncalled affection towards the creatures. Although he is not responsible for their happiness still, he gets immersed into a pit of self-guilt, stimulated by his inaction against the persecutors. He narrates these experiences as “how contingent my unease is, how dependent on a baby that wails beneath my window one day and does not wail the next, that brings the worst shame to me” (Coetzee 54). Coetzee uses such scenarios to clarify that passivity during injustice breeds more oppression. Paulo Freire depicts the same idea by stating “Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral” (The Politics of Education, 122). Such wavering mentality arises a certain degree of bipolarity in the magistrate. His resolve to help others relies on the helping the abused while maximizing his personal satisfaction. These contradicting psychologies explain the second part of my essay: indifference in the judgement of characters.

Throughout the novel the magistrate is occupied in conflicted thoughts about his feelings towards the unknown: barbarians in general and the maltreated barbarian girl. The oblivion within his mind draws him towards the lady or the unknown, having no justification for his peculiar actions, and at the same time a sub-conscious repulsion towards the alien entities drags him deeper into a constant state of unrest. This altering dynamic is elaborated by Coetzee at multiple locations through sentences such as “space is space, life is life, everywhere the same.” (Coetzee 43) and “…leaving them buried there forever and forever, to come back to the walled town full of new intentions…” (Coetzee 63). Although self-contradicting, magistrates’ views were cloaked in order to give contravening mentalities contrasting views and understand the complexity behind trivial matters that raise questions within the current era. Rituals of washing and healing of the collapsed body of the barbarian women along with frequent visits to the young lady (girl at the inn) magnify the sexual impact that prevailing circumstances and old age had on the magistrate. Such situations are elaborated in the novel as “who picks her up off the streets and installs her in his apartment so…, may seem nothing but evidences of impotence, indecisiveness, alienation from his own desires.” (Coetzee 76,77).

In later chapters of the novel a very unique personality of the magistrate emerges as he stands up for the barbarians enduring pain and humiliation, but a lingering thought of saving his own individuality surrounds him as he states, “I cannot save the prisoners, therefore let me save myself” (Coetzee 140). This trade of compassion with the selfish psyche brings out the reluctance hidden within every consciousness. Khalil Gibran writes this of as “Desire is half of life; indifference is half of death.” (Sand and Foam). Magistrate sees his dreams as a portal through which he explores his true desires, and loss of this fantasy leaves him devastated and in disregard. He mentions “These dreamless spells are like death to me, or enchantment, black, outside time.” (Coetzee 43). Magistrates deteriorating condition and his thirst for mental solitude drives him to harsh journeys and persecutions. Going sideways with mentality the third portion of my essay- ambiguous symbolism-that takes roots through description of bizarre weather circumstances, solitude, masked actions and unclear mentality explains symbolism that is not clear yet brings out the true essence of the novel.

The terrifying journey feeding on the travelers basically quenches the thirst for justice that magistrate pursues. The storm depicts the true face of nature that is immersed into the conscience of the other. The terrified men hiding from the storm, neglecting their own origin, hiding behind the cloak of modernization: playing God, implementing their desires upon those that do not follow the same ideology or appear too complex to their confined thinking. The magistrate describes her actions as “The girl stands with her arms stretched like wings over the necks of two horses. She seems to be talking to them; though their eyeballs glare, they are still.” (Coetzee 66). A remote sense of exploration surrounds the magistrate during the, observing the girl (who he no longer addresses as women) and her interaction with the environment depicting a sense of exoticism with the magistrate.

His rituals of massaging the women’s body transitions with that of an artist exploring flaws within the broken sculpture, analyzing a way to fix the crippled body, a incident that he could have prevented are evolutionary milestones that lead him deeper into his mind’s orientation, giving him an insight to his exploration of the unknown, the nameless, uncharted, intriguing his desires yet pushing him into never ending gloom as he states “ that it is the marks on her which drew me to her but which, to my disappointment, I find, do not go deep enough? Too much or too little: is it she I want or the traces of a history her body bears?” (Coetzee 88). The magistrate’s imprisonment represents the cost and consequences of seeking out the peace- mind and body-and the small moment of utter calmness that resides within the body once someone struggles for those believes. Although it is fulfilling but disperses as quickly. This drive for our desires marks the irony behind pursuing peace and the inner conflict that resolves at last but gives rise to a never-ending puzzle of seeking quiet.

The novel concludes with a figurative question mark, proposing a dilemma within ourselves about how our mentalities have two entities within ourselves, one strives to explore the other, and the contrary is full of despair and fear for the unknown. He raises and issue that has concerned very nation before us and will concern every civilization after us. The complexity of the topic was simplified yet intrigued using ironic statements, imagery and injustice.

The novel’s central idea targets the humanity between us, eradicating the bonds of race and creed, and highlights the trivial matter of peace and unity. The Novel highlights how a society dominated by the powerful may abandon the humanity and objectify others for their uniqueness. The Novel also projects the idea of abandoning the self-absorbed ideologies and going above and beyond for others because it lets us explore the true nature of our existence. To sum things up Waiting for the Barbarians concludes the idea that there is no true justification for committing or bearing violence for it leads towards doom and makes us abandon our humanity.

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