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Week 3: Waiting for the Barbarians

Please write a brief response to the ending of this book(150-200 words). Below are a few sample questions to get you started:

1. What are your thoughts on the magistrate at the end of the book? Do you see him as more sympathetic? Did he learn anything at all from these experiences? Did you see him deserving the things that happened to him?

2. The inside cover of the book calls it “a startling allegory of the war between oppressor and oppressed.? If we’re defining allegory as an extended metaphor (an image that draws a parallel with something in reality), what do you think this novel is meant to represent?

3. Did you see any similarities between this book and The Road? Surely, we can see both of them as forms of the cautionary tale, but how are they both able to achieve this in different ways?

4. Other thoughts, questions you’d like to address in class?


First, I really couldn't get into this book as much as The Road. I did however find the magistrate an interesting character. I didn't think he deserved the treatment when he got back from his journey. I thought that he would go to trial and tell them the truth about what he was doing. I know why he didn't speak up though because Joll would never believe him. I found it fitting that the magistrate was put back at the head of town when Joll's war was a success. I thought that Joll was a terrible man and deserved to be tortured himself. Something I did not understand was when the rider came back dead with the cross holding him up on the horse. Was this the work of the barbarians? I was confused. I thought the army starved and froze to death and there wasn't even a war because they never could catch up the to barbarians just like the maistate when he went looking for them.

I think that the Magistrate’s character is extremely implausible and contradictory. He only cares about being at peace and having an easy life, yet he speaks out against Joll and the other officials. Speaking out against authority would make sense, if the Magistrate were passionate about his beliefs. However, throughout the book, it is stated over and over again how confused the Magistrate is about his own actions. Also, it is implausible that the Magistrate would defend better treatment of the prisoners, when he has thoughts about killing the prisoners just to save himself from the stress of having to listen to them scream. I have never met or heard of a wholly selfish person who defends other people at great personal risk to him/herself. I think that the Magistrate slightly redeems himself near the end of the book, when he escapes the prison to verbally defend the captive barbarians. However, even his actions at that point are not selfless, as he admits to himself that he would like to be written down in history as a martyr.

I found that the most interesting aspect of this book is the idea of fear and how it manifests it’s self into something that consumes the town. At the beginning of the book people were worried about the barbarians but realized that the nomads and fisher folk were of no real danger. With the arrival of more and more officers from the Empire, the chaos of the town grew. Constant warnings and events pushed the town further into their terror. Those who were thought to be barbarians suffered much torture (to the towns amusement), many soldiers died in the pursuit of the barbarians, the magistrate was tortured and humiliated for supposedly consorting with the barbarians, and the soldiers abruptly abandoned the town in fear of a barbarian attack. However, as the book continued it grew apparent that the fear turned the officers from the Empire and people in the town into the true “barbarians?.

The main characters in The Road and Waiting for the Barbarians show a certain amount of caution as they live their lives, but the reasons as to why are completely different. In The Road, the father and son must be wary of trusting others and walking about in the open because their lives depend on it. There is the chance for danger (or death) behind any door or tree. The father made a promise to his son to take any necessary steps and precautions to ensure his safety, so he needs to think carefully and not make irrational decisions.
In Waiting for the Barbarians, however, the Magistrate shows not necessarily ‘caution,’ but uncertainty as he tries to please everybody while exerting the least amount of force on his people. Perhaps the pressures of ruling the people have gotten to him (which would explain why he finds comfort and solace in women). Every decision the Magistrate makes, he questions or is surprised that he would make such a choice: he is surprised when he keeps talking to the lieutenant about the barbarians, he questions what he wants to find in the blind woman (and questions his decision to return her to her people), and he even proclaims, “never have I had the feeling of not living my own life on my own terms? (40) after failing to shoot the ram while hunting.
No matter the exact reasons, the father and son’s lives depend on their caution, but the Magistrate ceases to control his own life (which is shown when he is forced to live in the cell like a barbarian prisoner) as a result of his overly cautious behavior and his inability to make decisions.

I thought the magistrate character grew more and more sympathetic towards the natives throughout the book. Towards that the he thought the barbarian prisoners should been marched and dug their own graves so they could all move on. The sympathy that he had was the reason he was tortured because he basically forgotten about until he got out and tried the stop the public beatings of the prisoners. The magistrate was sympathetic until he was tortured in the tree; there I thought that he completely broke. Later when he was talking with Mandel he said that he had died once and that happened while hanging in the tree. After that he tried to help the fishing people by trying to explain to the soldiers that they had not permanently left their huts. Not shortly after the Mandel and the rest of the garrison vacated the settlement he goes back to his magistrate duties that he had at the beginning albeit without the formal authority from the empire. I thought that he learned something but he was so broken by the torture that he goes back to doing the same thing as before.

The part of the book that I would like to address is the title. A literal interpretation of it could be that the town was waiting for the barbarians, the nomads, to attack. But I saw it in a different, more symbolic way. At the end of the book, the remaining few townsfolk, including the magistrate were left by the soldiers and the rest of the townspeople to last out the winter, after which civilization would return. I say that this is where the title of the book comes from. The settlement was not waiting for the nomadic barbarians but rather the barbarians of the Empire. Throughout the book, we see no acts of cruelty from the nomads and fisher people. However, we see barbaric atrocities against the nomads and against its own people from the Empire. Take the torture of the old man and the boy in the beginning of the book and the deplorable behavior of the soldiers towards the end for example. The barbarians were not the nomads, but the men of the Empire.

Aside from the fact that both books are cautionary tales, I think that ‘The Road’ and ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ are similar in that they describe worlds and cultures that are either in the process of crumbling or that have already crumbled. ‘The Road,’ of course, is a very bleak narrative concerning a post-apocalyptic world. Human civilization has all but disappeared, and the few humans that do remain have all but lost their humanity, resorting to horrific acts such as murder and cannibalism. ‘Waiting for the Barbarians,’ on the other hand, is not so dark a tale. It describes a dual culture in which the civilized world and the barbaric world coexist, but not peacefully. Clearly, the uneasy status quo between the two cultures cannot be maintained forever: either the civilized frontier will eventually be annihilated by the desert or by barbarian forces; or the barbarians will be conquered and driven back for good. So, whereas one of the cautionary tales describes a destroyed world, the other describes a world on the verge of destruction.

I think it’s also interesting to compare the perspectives and styles of the two books. Stylistically, ‘The Road’ is very stripped-back. Not a lot of background information is given about the setting or even about the characters. This gives the story a sense of immediacy, making me feel as though the survival of the father and son is the only thing that matters. ‘Waiting for the Barbarians,’ on the other hand, is written from the magistrate’s perspective in typical modernist fashion, so there is essentially nothing hidden from us. Whatever motivations and thoughts the magistrate is aware of, we too are aware of. I think that both of these approaches to perspective are successful in conveying a sense of intimacy with the characters.

I thought this book was very different from The Road but still had some similarities. I thought authors writing style was better in "Waiting for the Barbarians" but the story itself I did not like or relate to as much. I thought the magistrate was a very odd character with depth but it was hard to really figure out what he really thought or felt. "The Road" I was able to relate to more and thought the story was more interesting but I did not like the writing style as much as "Waiting for the Barbarians" because in that book the author was more descriptive and the dialogue was better written i thought. Ultimately I would have liked to see more questions answered and background with "The Road" and to be able to relate to "Waiting for the Barbarians". Although I have enjoyed reading both books.

The magistrate of the beginning of the novel and the magistrate of the end seem to be completely different people. At the beginning, the magistrate was frustrating, always claiming to see the bad without acting. The turning point for this character, on page 104, occurred when he had to make the choice to act or not in response to the beating of the four barbarians. At first I was under the impression that he was not going to act, and was very angry with the character. However, with his statement “...that in the farthest outpost of the Empire of the light there existed one man who in his heart was not a barbarian,? he stopped feeling and started acting. From this point on, he was a character I could be proud of even though his actions were never enough. The end of the novel left me feeling depressed for the settlement. The Empire arrived, caused a conflict, unsuccessfully tried to resolve a conflict, and left, leaving the settlement with almost nothing. The ability of power to manipulate the masses is very evident in this novel and another source of frustration. I am not sure whether I should look at the end of the novel as hopeful or hopeless. It could be hopeful in that the settlement is able to rebuild, having learned from the mistakes of the Empire. Yet, it could also be that the settlement waits for the Empire to return in the spring, fresh, and ready once again to desiccate the settlement.

I thought that the magistrate grew a lot more sympathetic as the book went on. I really noticed this when there was public beatings going on. As this was happening, he went up and spoke his mind to Joll and the others preforming the hateful beatings. This is not something he would have done at the beginning of the book. Even though the magistrate tried to help the barbarian people from the beatings, I think it was not in the wrong that he was beat himself. Because he was unfair before, and things suddenly changed with him when he was put into a imprisonment situation. I was a little confused in why he became the leader of the empire again, after Joll was successful with his war. But I thought that overall he learned things throughout the book, but he just took a such a toll due to the torturing he received.

As an extended metaphor, Waiting for the Barbarians has multiple parallels throughout history. It speaks to both the power that is given to people, and the ease with which it is misused. Colonel Joll poses a threat not only to the feral tribes surrounding the Empire, but to anyone within the Empire who would dare question his motivations and the execution of his will. Thus, more than any wild band of people, Colonel Joll becomes the barbarian. As a cliché, the person who questions the power above him takes the role of a hero, a man of strength and courage in a situation that demands it. The Magistrate, however, does not fit this role – and that is what is so fascinating about him. The fact that he doesn’t have a clear rationale behind his actions poses profound questions to any reader. Did the events, as they unfolded, appeal to a subconscious morality? Was his initial outrage aimed at the manner in which the hunt was conducted? Did he return the girl out of altruism, or in an act of self-preservation? Did he act in principled benevolence, or out or a selfishness that only happened to indicate good intentions? No matter, the Magistrate’s outcries certainly seem to contradict his aloof nature and self-doubt. I suppose it is hard to read a man who cannot read himself

As with most books, you see a dramatic change within the protagonist of the novel as the book progresses from beginning to end. In this case, the magistrate changes from an indifferent government official who defers to the judgment of his superiors to a man who openly challenged the actions of those he believed to be unjust. With his intervention of the beatings of the four barbarians, the magistrate becomes a character who does not simply look on anymore, but takes an active role in projecting his own beliefs in the matter of the barbarian torture. However, this book also demonstrates the futility of rebellion against a established institution. A statement made in protest can always be silenced, and the village is no exception. Do we see the magistrate as a man who once continued in blissful ignorance? Or because of his later actions, is he a man who Kohler describes in his scale of Moral Development as having a Post-Conventional morality, where he rises against the institutions and laws of a government because they are inherently unjust? The evolution of a main character within novels is one of the best reasons for reading books. They mirror the experiences and evolving nature of our own lives, and hopefully, we can follow the path of the magistrate and find the courage to stand up against things we feel to be unjust.

As with most books, you see a dramatic change within the protagonist of the novel as the book progresses from beginning to end. In this case, the magistrate changes from an indifferent government official who defers to the judgment of his superiors to a man who openly challenged the actions of those he believed to be unjust. With his intervention of the beatings of the four barbarians, the magistrate becomes a character who does not simply look on anymore, but takes an active role in projecting his own beliefs in the matter of the barbarian torture. However, this book also demonstrates the futility of rebellion against a established institution. A statement made in protest can always be silenced, and the village is no exception. Do we see the magistrate as a man who once continued in blissful ignorance? Or because of his later actions, is he a man who Kohler describes in his scale of Moral Development as having a Post-Conventional morality, where he rises against the institutions and laws of a government because they are inherently unjust? The evolution of a main character within novels is one of the best reasons for reading books. They mirror the experiences and evolving nature of our own lives, and hopefully, we can follow the path of the magistrate and find the courage to stand up against things we feel to be unjust.

First off, I would like to say that I did not get into this book as much as ‘The Road’; I believe this is mainly because of the style of writing. I felt as though the magistrate was not the most morally correct individual but seemed to be because of the comparison to Joll. The magistrate is very unsure and weak in he beginning. One can even see this when he is with the barbarian woman that he is very unsure of the way he feels; this is seen through the rest of the book with his struggle to find morality. On the other side, Joll has a very clear, evil way of living--torture until he obtains the truth. It’s funny how the more morally correct character is the one who is tortured in the end. I also thought the title of the book was interesting because the Empire is supposed to be the one waiting for the barbarians, but in reality, they are the true barbarians because of the evil things they have done to the modest nomads. As I was reading, I could not help but relate this situation to real life situations. The one that most readily came to mind was the Holocaust. Just as how the people of the Empire were brainwashed to hate the barbarians, the German people during the Holocaust were brainwashed into hating Jewish people. I believe this occurs because it is part of human nature to have to feel superior over other people in some aspect.

I liked the magistrate more at the end of the book than at the beginning. In the end he came to some conclusions about himself that he had been toying with throughout the book. In a way I could sort of relate to him, because I’m very indecisive about most things, and he didn’t seem to have a clue about anything he did. I think he learned more about himself, but still did things the way he’s always done them. He started out as magistrate and ended up being magistrate again. As for deserving the things that happened to him, I don’t think he did. But they needed to happen because they pushed him to new limits and he grew from that. Without being imprisoned I don’t think he would have realized the cruelty that the barbarians had to take. By being in their place he had a sort of oneness with them that helped him be more on their side. He already was on their side, but more so after being imprisoned. So in that sense it needed to happen. He needed to feel the injustice that the Empire bestowed on the barbarians, or just people who didn’t believe in what they believed in.

Waiting for the Barbarians did not really seem like it should have been a Nobel Prize winning novel. In my opinion it sets to convey a message that is far deeper than actually explored. Instead of going deeper into the idea of the allegory of oppressor and oppressed, the author focuses too deeply on the sexual contacts of the magistrate. Too much time is dealt with erotic excitation and the magistrate's longing for it to whole-heartedly explore the thematic concept of oppression. The magistrate is an unlikable character that's few heroic qualities are overcast by his questionable motives and morals. Ultimately I believe his sole motivation for his actions is personal gratification. By returning the woman back to the "Barbarians" he is satisfying his own compulsion to do the right thing not because it is the right thing to do but he will feel better about himself by doing it. The character is well-defined but is not a suitable character to explore the theme. Although he narrates his opinions and seems to realize that the "Barbarians" are less barbaric than the empire, he doesn't really attempt to act morally to correct the situation, instead he squabbles in his own self misery until it blows over.

Today in class the question was posed: “What do you think of the magistrate? Is he moral, admired, or a little puddle of a man.? I disagree to some extent with all of these. I believe that the magistrate was a selfish man. You can see it in the way he treats his community. Responding lethargically to their problems and taking care of his personal business before the community’s. His selfishness is also demonstrated in the way he takes care of the Barbarian girl. He toys with the thought of having her as his own, never digging to see what she wants. He does have a sense that he is using her, but prefers to look at it as if he is helping her. Then he begins to believe he loves her, however he does shows no act of love, only of confusion, towards her. He tries to justify himself by returning her to her people. At this point he turns from being completely selfish. However, later on in the book when he begins to lead again, and begins to be more “moral,? you could say that he is doing it in a selfish manner. Doing it not because he sympathizes for his community, but knows it is what must be done to save himself.

In “Waiting for the Barbarians,? Coetzee leaves many ‘open ends’ so that allegorically, the book is able to represent a wide array of situations or events. As we were discussing in lecture, there is no time frame given, no nationalities of the barbarians or civilized, no distinction as to where the book takes place, and no distinctive words such as apartheid, which would allow us to draw conclusions as to what event Coetzee was aiming to represent. In leaving these open ends, Coetzee allows the book to represent many different situations where the ‘civilized’ people brought havoc onto both the barbarians and themselves. Although I am not very familiar with these situations, the one instance that stands out (because I live here!) is the war between Native Americans and the Englishmen, but I am sure that the same type of situation had occurred numerous times in different areas of the globe.

Waiting for the Barbarians isn't a book I would recommend because unless you have relationship problems dealing with five different women and jumping from prostitute to prostitute, it’s very hard to relate to. It’s even harder when the main character isn’t lovable and you have no feelings of sympathy for him. Getting into the book, we find out that the magistrate feels horrible about what’s being done to the captives and it seems like as you read further, he does more and more to prevent them from being hurt. This is only when he has already lost his job and now has nothing to lose. Risks are what make people true heroes; when they have something on the line to lose but do it anyway. Towards the end, I still wanted the magistrate to be heard and I wanted people to understand what he was saying even when he was as pitiful and weak as he was at that point. He still had good intentions. And I will also admit I felt bad when he lost the girl; so clearly I was rooting for him at least a little bit. The thing that really ruined the book for me is the majority of it was him thinking and pouting about what was wrong with the world. That got very repetitive and annoying. Nothing really happened in the book, everything was in his head. Boring.

There are many similarities between The Road and Waiting for the Barbarians’ especially in the preservation and peace morals of the story. They both hit at cautioning the reader on the consequences of mankind and people in power’s decisions. Both books use scare and inhumanity tactics to hit at these ideas but do approach this in one different manner. The Road is a very modern idea and includes all mankind as to make the reader think that this could happen to them in the future. Waiting for the Barbarians is a more of a story that takes place in history, but still is easily applied to the future, but doesn’t give the reader as much of the idea that it is a possibility. That is about the only difference I could find in the two, besides the style and format of the writing. Really both books are very similar, in their small glimpses of hope, in power ruining the peace between mankind which results in the ruin of nature. At first the books do not seem the same because immediately they are two different moods but really in nearly all aspects they can be compared very closely. The moral throughout the stories is the same and accounts for the same feelings throughout the book for me although there are some more differences between the books, in the end I generally felt they had the same effect and were more similar once broken down.

I found the magistrate to be extremely hypocritical. Throughout the first half of the book he showed concern regarding the torture but he never took any actions to stop it. He was more concerned with living his life peacefully and not getting too involved with the prisoners. I did not find his petty attempts to help the prisoners anything worthwhile. I still considered him an accomplice to the torture; by not doing or saying anything he was just as bad as the torturers themselves. After he was imprisoned he began to speak out against Joll and Mandel. I found it ironic that once he was in a place of no power he decided to speak his mind. If he would have spoke out against them earlier he may have made a small impact, but now his words mean nothing. I also did not like how after he was released and started to go about his normal duties he went back to the way he use to be. He became silent again and did nothing to speak his mind. I also find this ironic because even after he had been placed down at the level of the barbarians he still didn’t feel for them. It is almost as if he forgot completely the torture that he had endured.

I think that the Magistrate's views of the Empire changed quite a bit throughout the book. He only seemed to change when he was directly affected. The Magistrate knew it was wrong how the boy and grandfather were treated in the beginning of the book, but did not really act on anything to stop it. I believe when he had that strange attraction to barbarian girl he began to have stronger feelings on the Empire's views, but yet didn't really act out on his feelings still. Only when the magistrate was locked up and punished did he begin to say more of what was on his mind and feel more sympathetic towards the barbarians. While in his cell he suffered which made him bring more light upon the wrong doings of the Empire. At the end of the book he somewhat settled back into his own ways the best he could. I think his thoughts of the Empire stuck with him. I don't really think the magistrate deserved all that happened to him, but if it didn't he would not have the same sympathetic feelings towards the barbarians he developed from the experiences.

While The Road and Waiting for the Barbarians are both cautionary tales, the part that made me think of The Road the most was when the magistrate made the trip to return the barbarian woman to her people. In both cases, the characters traveled through a harsh environment. However, the magistrate’s trip was less than a month, compared to the over ten year period that the man and boy spent in a more desolate world. Yet the boy tolerated his traveling better than the conscripts and guild that went with the magistrate. I’m not sure if that is due to the boy being born into such a world, not knowing what a better way of life is like, or if it’s a testament to the strength of his character. Also the boy would have never allowed his father to slaughter the dead horse unlike how the magistrate allowed his men to. This contrasts the boy’s strong morals despite his situation constantly challenging them to the magistrate’s questionable morals and how he only takes a stand because he is forced into such a position.

I had a rough time trying to figure out the magistrate throughout the entire book. His character still seems to puzzle me. I feel like he has good intentions, although is not always strong enough to stand up for them and do what he knows is right. I agree with what Mariah stated in lecture today that he is a moral person. Moral, but weak in many respects. The magistrate is nearing his retirement and simply doesn’t have the drive to make his life more complicated. I feel like he ended up doing the right thing by bringing the barbarian girl back to her people, and was prepared to face the consequences of this act, however unfair and truly barbaric they might have been. I think one of the themes that Waiting for the Barbarians shares with The Road is the idea of an imperfect world. Even with “good? people (and I am using this term very generally) the capacity for them to experience the “bad? still exists in large amounts. Basically, the world (both in modern and post-apocalyptic time) is by no means fair, even though much of the time we wish it was.

At the end of the book I felt that the magistrate was a more caring individual. I felt that he understood how it felt for one to endure pain or torture, and he felt how the "Barbarians" were treated. I feel that the magistrate was more sympathetic at the end of the book because he was caring more himself rather than for other people. The magistrate was the one that was enduring the torture, starvation, neglect, etc and personal experience drew him to become more sympathetic towards situations such as the one that he finds himself in. The magistrate was able to learn that torture is wrong and that there are other ways to go about solving issues. I do see the magistrate deserving some of the things that are happening to him, because he did allow these same actions to happen towards the "Barbarians" when they were held captive. Although he may not have fully agreed with it I do believe that he could have done more in his power to prevent what was happening.