Forgot your password?  

Waiting for the Barbarians Study Guide & Plot Summary

This Study Guide consists of approximately 35 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Waiting for the Barbarians.
This section contains 529 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Waiting for the Barbarians Study Guide

Waiting for the Barbarians Summary & Study Guide Description

Waiting for the Barbarians Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Waiting for the Barbarians by John Maxwell Coetzee.

Plot Summary

A magistrate in charge of administering the law in a colonial town witnesses the torture of the invaded indigenous population. The colony or the place is unspecified. Most characters have no names, although the circumstances surrounding the events indicate that the colony is South Africa while the barbarians indicate the black population. The magistrate is of unspecified age although he refers to himself as approaching retirement. At first loyal and dutiful the magistrate becomes skeptical about the legal system he represents. He questions its effectiveness, but if he were to leave his successor could be more ruthless.

The magistrate is content with his life until the investigation to examine the alleged barbarian uprising occurs. Colonel Joll is sent to establish the extent of danger that the barbarians, who live behind the border may pose to the colony. He captures natives to extract information from them about any uprising. Colonel Joll's methods to obtain evidence is by torture. How effective such methods may be is questionable even for the magistrate.

The magistrate meets one of the victims of these interrogations, a young girl, on the street. She was abandoned by her people when they were released from prison. The magistrate, partly attracted to the girl and partly feeling responsible for the torture inflicted on her, offers her work in his house.

He examines her injuries, washes her, and takes care of her. Despite his good intentions towards her he becomes confused about his feelings for her. He is attracted to her and tries to inspire the same feelings in her. Their relationship lacks mutual understanding of each other. They often fail to communicate what they feel towards each other. Their confusion leads to frustration. The magistrate goes back to having sex with his previous casual partner. His frustration grows, however, both with himself and with the girl. He decides to take her back to her own people.

Upon his return the magistrate is imprisoned for the alleged conspiracy with barbarians, becoming the victim of the system he once represented himself. He is kept in prison without trial, tortured, and eventually released. After a mock-up execution he is set free, but not allowed to work he leads the life of a vagrant and a beggar.

The army sent to fight the barbarians is trapped and left to die in the desert without food and water. The remaining soldiers loot the town, leaving it exposed to attacks. Those who were to protect the town now engage in crime themselves. Even those in charge become corrupt, choosing the support of their soldiers over what is right.

The magistrate eventually regains his previous position. Together with the inhabitants he devises various means of protection, where they fake the presence of soldiers. Peace returns, but the magistrate has many regrets about the past, realizing his mistakes while feeling ashamed about the treatment of the barbarians. He realizes he is unable to provide a historical account of what happened. The reality of life on the frontier is to live through seasons and cycles rather than events with beginnings and ends. A historical account would fail to express his admiration for the place he considers a paradise on earth.

Read more from the Study Guide

This section contains 529 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Waiting for the Barbarians Study Guide
Copyrights
Waiting for the Barbarians from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
Follow Us on Facebook