How can we explain the novel's important metaphors? To what extent can these metaphors extend to the novel's criticism of patriarchy, colonization and Magda's place within both?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many of the metaphors in Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country speak to the unsettled condition in which Magda lives.  Coetzee makes the case that Magda lives a life in flux.  This is seen in her perception of reality.  Magda does not see reality in a manner that is coherent.  Her perception of reality is one rooted in schism, division from what might be and what is.  The condition of patriarchy that has denied her a voice, and colonialism that has denied it from others has created a reality for Magda where little is clear.  This is where Magda is both victim and perpetrator of the configuration that surrounds her.  She has power under the Colonial condition that represses indigenous individuals, and has little power under the patriarchal system that does the same to women like her.

The choice of metaphors explore this dynamic and serve as important points of criticism against the systems that envelop Magda and her condition of being. They reflect a challenging duality where Magda is both victim and perpetrator. "The beast" is an example of a metaphor that can criticize the patriarchal and Colonial structure surrounding Magda.  When she seeks to understand what exactly "the beast" is, one sees how the intense level of confusion within the issues of race, gender, and power and their effect on the individual:  "The father? Hendrik? Klein-Anna?"  These reflections show how the metaphor of the beast in the Magda's setting reflect a reality where little is clear, except for the denial of authentic voice.  

The hermit- crab is another metaphor that reflects a divided reality.  The crab's ability "to migrate from one shell to another" underscores the lack of a home for Magda, one that is evident in her vision of burning down the farm and yet staying on it. The hermit- crab metaphor is one where a perpetually divided consciousness is the only constant, something Magda experiences with her distorted and fragmented view of reality.  The metaphors of insects like flies reflect a desire to enter a realm free from the curses of divided consciousness. Magda reflects that the flies are happy because they cannot think.  Being free from consciousness and the pain it inflicts on Magda as being both perpetrator and victim is where the insect metaphor critiques the social condition that envelops here. The metaphors help to express a spirit of being trapped in a divided consciousness, something that emerges from Magda's positioning as both a perpetrator of colonialism and a victim of patriarchy within it.  The metaphors are used to communicate a desire to flee to a world devoid of such division.

Magda's place within this world is one where she identifies with both the aggressors and the victims of patriarchy and colonialism.  She is trapped in this condition.  On one hand, Magda wishes to find a transcendent realm where she can be relieved of the pain of division within her being.  Her envy of the flies' lack of consciousness, the desire to unlearn what was taught, and the communication in white pebbles with the "extraterrestrial beings" are examples of a desire to be free.  Yet, the persistent metaphor of the farm and the "dying world" that it represents lingers and Magda finds that she is unable to be free from such a condition of being in the world.  Such a reality is communicated through the metaphors and helps helps to reflect Magda's agonizing condition of being both perpetrator and victim, having voice and being silenced from it. 

taxi889 | Student

What about the metaphore of sea ? Could you explain the metaphore generally .not in the situation when Madga is both victime and perpetrator?

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In the Heart of the Country

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