Just One Man: Silence and Defiance in Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians

In: English and Literature

Submitted By blaine
Words 2178
Pages 9
Just One Man:
Silence and Defiance In J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians

This past summer, I had occasion to find myself in a number of airport terminals in various cities around the world. The scenes and memories of each mostly blend together in a mill of nondescript faces, foreign tongues, and ambling bodies. Much of the time I spent waiting, clutching a coach ticket, could be likened to an animated state of sleep. I was there to function, to shuffle into line and put my body in a seat and nothing more. I was awoken from this once in the international terminal in Milan, and it was a rather rude awakening. While sitting in one of the seemingly endless rows of black, plastic seats, I found myself six paces from a family speaking a language that I didn’t know and couldn’t identify; Eastern Europeans, perhaps. There was a small baby in the mother’s arms and the young boy, probably about the age of three or four years, was being wrangled back at the wrist by his father. For whatever reason, the boy was not happy: he screamed, he cried, he pulled his weight against his oppressor. For me, a child throwing a tantrum in an airport had become a very typical sight. And this one was no different, right up to the moment the father drew back and slapped the child hard across the face. I jerked in my seat, as if the slap had reached a further six feet and knocked me back as well. The boy became silent. I stayed silent. I was stunned and offended and angry…and I said nothing; I did nothing. My mind acted quickly in making many excuses for not involving myself: it is none of my business, I don’t know what their culture is like, I don’t even speak their language, I would not make a difference. I knew that all of my thoughts were logical. I also knew that what I had just seen was wrong. I knew that child had been hit hard in anger, not tapped gently…...

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