Portrayals of the South African hero
: the inarticulate, the mute and the evolving voice in J.M. Coetzee's fiction, 1983-1990

  • John Bruce Sarev

    Student thesis: Other thesis - CDU


    With full democratic elections granted to both white and black South Africans for April 1994, the next four months are going to be crucial in deciding who will hold the balance of power in the South African Parliament. Despite the internal opposition to South Africa's move towards democracy, it is predicted that Nelson Mandela will be South Africa's first black President. With an interim bipartisan constitution in place, the elections of 1994 will officially mark the abolition of Apartheid: a system that has denied black South Africans an active role in their country. 

    The ramifications of the election will, I believe, be important to the way in which we interpret the role of the Other in South African literature. At any rate, we must ask ourselves whether South Africa, emerging from the interregnum, is ready to accept the presence of the black consciousness. Nelson Mandela is obviously a hero in black eyes, a hero who has endured twenty seven years of enforced silence, cut off from mainstream South African history. Since his release, a strong black voice has been emerging in South Africa and it has already entrenched itself within society. Under the aegis of Mandela, black South Africans will most certainly regain the voice that has been denied them for three hundred years.

    J .M. Coetzee's fiction spanning the period between 1983-1990 conveys the emerging black consciousness in as much as we can follow the ways in which a white author/story-teller responds to the contracting and expanding black presence. The dominant motif that arises from Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K, Foe, and Age of Iron is one focusing on the matter of silence. Susan VanZanten Gallagher and David Attwell provide an interesting coverage on Coetzee's fiction in that silence is seen to be an enigmatic "mystery" resisting interpretation. Both of these critics focus on Coetzee's problems as a white South African writer who is trying to come to terms with the black consciousness. Coetzee is more than aware of the problems confronting him as a South African author and we find that his dilemmas gain their most powerful expression in the fiction spanning 1983-1990. While this paper is not concerned with Coetzee's writing problems, it does take into consideration the role of these dilemmas in his fiction. 

    Moreover, this paper seeks to define the context in which the black consciousness is seen to emerge. We should be alert of Coetzee's attempts to create an archetypal black South African hero, who, on the one hand, serves the black consciousness, and who, on the other hand, struggles against the omnipotence of white authority. In the course of examining the fiction of this period, we realize that Coetzee is focusing on the evolution of the black consciousness; taking us through its period of infancy, into its period of "enforced silence", and finally into the state that we see it in Age of Iron. What we have, in the end, is a collection of novels conveying the social and artistic problems inherent in the portrayal of black consciousness.
    Date of Award1993
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDerek Wright (Supervisor)

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