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May 1, 2008

Journal 1

Waiting for the Barbarians – p. 1-76

In the first half of this book, Colonel Joll is introduced, a man from the empire who wears sunglasses all the time. The fact that he is described this way immediately gives a sense of separation, since no one can see into his eyes. When he interrogates the prisoners he has captured, this also gives him a sense of distance from the terrible acts he is committing by torturing and (sometimes) killing them. It is almost as if he wears them to shield himself from the rest of the world and the terrible deeds he must commit.

The magistrate that lives in the village sees the terrible acts that Colonel Joll commits and tries to distance himself from them. Yet, he knows that he has already witnessed too much, and that he can never be free of the torturous acts that are committed. He is caught up in a vicious cycle of wanting to be oblivious of what is going on around him, but he feels at the same time that he cannot ignore these things because that would be inhuman (p. 21). Because he cannot honestly be in a state of oblivion but only a state of denial, he is tormented by what he has witnessed and the fact that he does nothing to stop it.

The question of “truth? comes up several times in the text. On p.5, Colonel Joll explains that his method of torture is what brings the truth to the surface. He correlates infliction of pain with the discovery of truth, which is not always the case. Many of the prisoners tell Colonel Joll what he wants to hear in order to make the torture stop. Therefore, both parties get what they think they want. For the prisoners, it is getting the torture to stop. For Colonel Joll it is the “truth,? or at least what he thinks is the truth. He is looking for a certain predetermined answer from the prisoner, whether or not it is really the truth. When the magistrate takes the barbarian girl back to her people, he instructs her to tell her people the “truth? (p.71), then tells her to tell them whatever she likes. The truth again is buried in order to avoid conflict. However, the truth can only remain concealed for so long. Burying the truth always comes at a price. For the magistrate, he endured internal turmoil because he tried to bury the truth, to deny his complicity in the torture of innocent people.

In the entire first half of the book, the barbarians are not actually seen committing any heinous acts. The Empire has cast this cloud upon them, painting them as unruly, bloodthirsty people, but the only encounters that people from the Empire have with them are voluntary; they seek the barbarians out for trade or to imprison them for imagined crimes. The “truth? again seems to be buried under this unfounded common belief that the barbarians are uncivilized, violent people. However, the magistrate sees that civilization does not equate to humanity. Colonel Joll is “civilized,? yet he commits more heinous acts against other human beings than the barbarians are ever witnessed committing. The magistrate mentions several times that if this is “civilization,? then he would rather not be a part of civilization. “Civilization? acted out in this manner is at the very least distasteful and sickening.

The relationship that the magistrate has with the barbarian girl is somewhat confusing. On the one hand he has sympathy for her because her father was killed and she was maimed. However, at other times she repulses him. He seems to enjoy her companionship at times, but casts her away like an old sock at others. In either case, there is not much passion in his relationship with her. His relationship with her in some way characterizes his interaction with the prisoners as a whole. While he sometimes feels sympathy and even some affinity for her, he cannot bring himself to be intimate with her and create a bond with her. In the same way, he felt some sympathy and caring for the prisoners that Colonel Joll was torturing, yet he pushed away these feelings, living in denial so that he could distance himself from everything that was going on. As the story progresses, he struggles with his own humanity, or lack of it. His passions and desires become less, and he becomes somewhat numb to other people. Yet he wrestles greatly with these emotions, tormented by the fact that he does not really desire and love the girl, yet wants her with him.

Word Count: 780