Waiting for the Barbarians Questions and Answers
by J. M. Coetzee

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Comment on the relationship between a barbarian girl and the magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians.

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Waiting for the Barbarians is considered to be an allegory , or a story that reveals a hidden moral or political meaning through it's extensive use symbols and motifs. In this case, it is an allegory of apartheid in South Africa. The magistrate symbolizes the bureaucratic servants that benefit from the empire even if they are removed from some of its greatest abuses, and the girl represents the natives of the empire with her literal scars and injuries symbolizing the damage done. The washing ritual the magistrate operates on the girl and his efforts to return her to her people represent his desire to gain salvation from his culpability within the post-colonial system of oppression. However, especially given the allegorical and symbolic nature of every aspect of their relationship, the reader is left uncomfortable with the way he sexualizes the girl, the way he asks her to stay with him after all, and the way he refuses to see her injuries, instead choosing to think of her as how she was...

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