The Magistrate's Relationship With The Barbarian Girl Through A Close Reading Of "Waiting For The Barbarians" By J. M. Coetzee.

1463 words - 6 pages

"All this erotic behavior of mine is indirect: I prowl about her, touching her face, caressing her body, without entering her or finding the urge to do so. ... But with this woman it is as if there is no interior, only a surface across which I hunt back and forth seeking entry. Is this how her torturers felt hunting their secret, whatever they thought it was?" - pg.43.One of the central figures in J. M. Coetzee's "Waiting for the Barbarians" is the barbarian girl. The Magistrate finds the girl maimed and nearly blind after being interrogated and tortured by the ruthless Colonel Joll, and takes her in. The Magistrate's relationship with the girl revolves around his search for the girl's significance; he questions her about her torture, he attempts to understand her through her physical surface, and tries to use her as the key to unlocking his own meaning. Ultimately, the Magistrate's treatment of the barbarian girl mirrors her treatment by Colonel Joll; they both use her as a tool in their respective searches for knowledge.The parallels between Joll and the Magistrate's behavior towards the barbarian girl can be seen in the selected passage. The Magistrate is going over his conduct towards the girl in his head, and expressing some puzzlement as to the motivation behind his actions as well as over their lack of fruition. He puts effort into making romantic gestures towards her, but does not sleep with her, nor does he really want to. He seems to want something from her, but is unsure about what that is or how to go about getting it. This makes the woman seem mysteriously full of meaning and yet impenetrable to him, in more ways than one.His last thought is to compare his search for meaning in his relationship with the girl to her torturers' search for an elusive secret from her.By describing his own behavior as "indirect," we get a sense of the Magistrate's own lack of clarity towards the subject. He makes "erotic" overtures towards the girl, but he makes them "indirect[ly]," implying that his goal is not to seduce the girl... but what his true intentions are remain unclear, even to him. The Magistrate does not understand his fascination with the barbarian girl. This can be illustrated on pg. 40 where he asks her not only why she is with him, but also, "why do I want you here?" He tries to analyze his relationship to the girl and use it to somehow get a better understanding of who he is. However, his philosophical questions get few answers from her, and none that satisfy him. He focuses his interest on her scars and what transpired during her torture sessions, questioning her incessantly. He bathes her and massages her with almond oil, paying special attention to her injuries. Using his hands to feel all over her body, repeatedly he tries to recreate in his mind the 'whole' of what she was like before the torture, the 'whole' of the person she is and was. Yet it seems to him as if she has "no interior, only a surface across which I hunt back and...

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