Main | Week 3: The Beggar Maid »


Welcome to ENGL 1701. Each week, we will be making posts on the blog about our assigned readings. Each student will be expected to make a post of approximately 150-200 words and it will be due an hour before the start of the Tuesday lecture. In addition, I'm asking that everyone responds to at least one blog post before we meet for our discussion section.

Here's some ideas for what to write about:

1)Questions you have about the reading. Did a character act in an unexpected way, did the plot take a turn you didn't anticipate?

2)Compare and contrast the readings. How does our reading of "Beloved" connect with "The Road?" How do "Maus" and "Fun Home" use the graphic novel form to convey different meanings?

3)Connect the readings to your life/educational experience. Look for ways to connect these books of "fiction" to our culture and society. For example, how does "Maus" line up with the way the Holocaust is taught in a history course? Which is more effective?

4)Anything else you can think of! We can use these blogs in a creative/fun way, just make sure to bring up a good discussion point or two that will get our class room discussions going.


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.

The Road and Waiting for the Barbarians both had a very strict set of morals. The “good? in The Road was found by not eating human flesh; the same was found in Waiting for the Barbarians by not torturing your fellow man. Both of these moral standards are highly simplistic, reflecting the barren nature of the scenery in each of the novels. These stripped down standards can be found in almost every modern culture. They are the basis for civilized society. Cormac McCarthy and J.M. Coetzee make their scenes and landscapes as barren and empty as possible so that the unadorned morals are able to shine through. Had they created any lavish settings or more elegant characters, the theme of morality would have been lost. In modern civilized cultures we are held to stricter standards, without which our societies would crumble. By making the settings in these novels already crumbled or crumbling we are able to view unadulterated human nature. When faced with the choices that were forced upon the characters in Waiting for the Barbarians and The Road we can imagine what we would do in that situation, but we can never truly know because we still see the circumstances through our overly-ethical eyes.

I felt that the strongest difference between ‘The Road’ and ‘Waiting for Barbarians’ was the way they were written. ‘The Road’ was in a way, as we discussed in lecture, rushed. The lack of punctuation and chapters lead it to be so. But I don’t think ‘The Road’ was any less detailed than ‘Waiting for Barbarians’ was. They were both very detailed books, but ‘Waiting for Barbarians’ seemed like such a long, dreadful read. In ‘The Road’, not much happened, and when something did happen, it caught you by surprise, and got you that much more into the reading (especially, when they went into the basement, only to find fodder people, and when they ran out, the “bad guys? were on their way into the house. My heart skipped a beat or three). On the other hand, in ‘Barbarians’, I had to resort to all kinds of things to keep myself awake while reading the book. Throughout the book, every event seemed equally important/unimportant as the next.
Concerning the Magistrate, sure he was creepy, lazy, dirty, wimpy, bossy, and did I mention creepy? But I instantly felt that he was a ‘real’ person. Real in the sense, that he was struggling immensely to figure out who he was and what he wanted in life. There was a battle between his morals, his desires, and his responsibilities going on in his head throughout the book. The first person narrative couldn’t have been more effective in conveying this. It was interesting how when asked if we liked the father in 'The Road', basically everyone agreed that it was hard not to admire him; but when asked about the magistrate, people had all sorts of mixed feelings- the same reaction a real person would have on others.

'Waiting for the Barbarians' had more of a plot than 'The Road'. There was more action and one did not have to sit around just waiting for something to happen every twenty pages. 'The Road' was easier to read. It was written in a simple for and there was not too much to it. I did have to watch out for those flashbacks. They were sometimes tricky to spot out. 'Waiting for the Barbarians' took effort to read. I was not into the whole plot of an old man trying to get with a young woman. That is just not okay in my mind. I mean yes he just wanted to live out the last of his life but still, when there is more than a twenty year age different, move on and do not be a creep.
I did like the fact that the Magistrate seemed like a realistic character. In 'The Road', the father just happened to be good at whatever he needed to be good at. That seems like a little too much of a coincidence to me. Magistrate has a weakness for women. He also is a coward when it comes to things he does not want to deal with. The people in the prison are an example of this. He does try to stand of for the barbarians though. I give him credit there. It must have been hard to know that you were just going to be beaten and still have the courage to say "No! Stop! You cannot do this!" He is embarrassed time and time again and yet he does not just lie down and die. He begs and suffers and dreams of a better tomorrow.

In lecture we talked a lot about “morality? and whether or not the narrator in “Waiting For The Barbarians? is a admirable character. It seemed that many students, as well as the professor thought that the narrator was morally weak and that his faults were in his indecision. The reason that I enjoyed the narrator so much was because of these same moments of indecision and “weakness.?

The narrator is one of the most honest and human characters that I have encountered in modern fiction. To call the narrator weak, is to hold him to a standard of fictional heroes like those of earlier works. The narrator’s “weakness? is what makes him authentic and human. The narrator holds moral beliefs like any human, cannot live those morals at every point of his existence. This does not make him weak, it makes him real. Even Catholic priests lust for children, but they hold one of the most supposedly “moral? roles in our society.

This is why I like the narrator in “Waiting? more than the man in “The Road.? The father in “The Road? shows little weakness in trying to support his son, but this does not make him any more admirable, just a little bit less believable. Are we really to believe that he never hit his son, or cheated on his wife, or lusted for a younger girl? I think that the characters in “The Road? are less human for this reason, and therefore less enjoyable to read about.

The book ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ is about colonialism and imperialism, human race, humanism and violence. It is about an empire that needs an enemy to be defined. Without an enemy the empire doesn’t mean anything. So to continue to exist, the empire needed to make an enemy to repress, even though there really isn’t any enemy. There is where the barbarians come out. The empire makes up an enemy, barbarian, that doesn’t exist. They make up fake information and spread it out to the citizen of the empire. They captured innocent people like fishers and nomads, and torture them, make the citizens believe that they are barbarians so that the empire could exist. In the book the barbarians that they are waiting exist only in the imagination of the imperialist. As reading this book and looking at some website I thought of the Iraq War which is similar to the story. The United States and United Kingdom invaded Iraq on the purpose of finding chemical weapons and a large amount of weapons, nuclear weapons, which really didn’t exist.

One question I have is why the magistrate has no sense of direction? He had the girl in his bed all the time and would constantly think of sleeping with her but never did, he would always go back and forth on his reasoning, it is rather annoying, I wish Coetzee would have made him a more direct character.
I think “The Road? and “Waiting for the Barbarians? are very much alike when it comes to the writing style of the book. The main characters run the books with their thoughts and are both quite unique.
I thought that the book showed a good psychological side to solitary confinement. One does loose themselves after a period of being alone for too long. It is almost sad really, especially when he really didn’t talk to people to begin with.
I think he should have made the barbarians attack the outpost anyway personally. So they are a peaceful people and make a living on their own but they were attacked. I think it would have been a great change of pace if the magistrate was wrong about their ambitions and the Empire was correct. It would have been a great change in pace.