Discuss the following comment on the autodiegetic character Magda from In the Heart of the Country: "The character of Magda seems to have a dual function:  She is both a victim and a perpetrator...

Discuss the following comment on the autodiegetic character Magda from In the Heart of the Country:

"The character of Magda seems to have a dual function:  She is both a victim and a perpetrator of the colonial structure. Nevertheless,her account is said to be transgressive"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several moving parts to the quote regarding Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country.  The first element is Magda's condition of being "both victim and perpetrator of the colonial structure."  Magda speaks as both victim and perpetrator because she is White and a woman.  On one hand, she is a perpetrator of the colonial structure.  She owns the farm in which Black Africans work.  She does not have a clear and coherent approach that allows for people of color's voice to emerge.  At the same time, she is victimized as a woman.  Her narrative explores the closed doors, lack of opportunity, and the denial of voice that women endured at the time.  Magda's entire reaction to her father's new bride is a reflection of what it means to be a victim of a social order that marginalizes women's voice.  Magda feels replaced, unwanted, forlorn, and used up with the presence of a new woman.  

Even Magda's autodiogetic voice is a reflection of the dual function of victim and perpetrator.  She narrates the action of which she is a part.   Magda would suggest her choice of words is a reflection of her oppression.  The words she chooses are not reflective of full liberation or a sense of transformation.  They are pebbles that merely build different visions, but prevent Magda from finding a world of life.  They confine her to articulate a condition of dying and death with little to do about it.  In many respects, this might be Coetzee's statement about Magda and the condition of racial injustice that enveloped South Africa.  It might also serve to speak for any society steeped in discrimination and denial of voice.  Those who are the perpetrators of social injustice are trapped by it, themselves.  Coetzee does not refer to Magda as mad or insane.  Rather, she is reflective of a condition where reality is difficult to define.  For Magda, she cannot fully define her reality because she experiences it as both victim and perpetrator.  The same structure that has silenced the voice of indigenous people has also done the same to women, and within this, Magda's reality is constantly shifting between active agent and passive recipient, between perpetrator and victim.

Coetzee constructs a narrative where Magda operates as victim and perpetrator.  It has contributed to a challenging construction of reality in determining what "truth" is.  The only real understanding that can be gained is that Magda's narrative is transgressive.  It is transgressive because she recognizes her own condition as victim and perpetrator.  She is not able to fully embrace either condition, but acknowledges that this social configuration is not unifying.  She understands that there are intense reactions of neglect, abandonment, and anger that she experiences.  The vision of slaughtering her father, her preoccupation with inter- racial sex and sex, in general, and the resentment of  the predicament in which she lives (“the uses I was not put to”) all reflect a transgressive reality.  Her own communication to something larger, extraterrestrial beings or God, is done in a transgressive vein.  Magda speaks to a condition in which established boundaries are challenged. Her words call into question the existing system of what is.  This questioning and lack of affirmation is where her characterization is transgressive, even though she might be a part of it.  

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In the Heart of the Country

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