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

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What is the relationship between the barbarian girl and the magistrate?  

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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J. M. Coetzee explores the relationship between the Magistrate and the girl from the indigenous “barbarians” from the point he takes her in to his home, through his caring for her while she recovers from her injuries—sustained from the soldiers’ torture—even as she works as his kitchen maid, to her return to her people.

Although the Magistrate had been having sexual relations with prostitutes in the town and intellectually desires the girl, he finds that he cannot be aroused to desire her sexually, even though he touches her body while rubbing it with oil. When it comes time for her to be returned to her people, they travel outside the city; he asks her to stay with him but she does not want to do so and goes off with the group of men they had contacted.

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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The girl is left an orphan and the magistrate wants to take care of her as an act of redemption for his town's cruelty. The magistrate is involved in an ongoing meditation on age and identity and the girl offers an intriguing figure to him, representing a youth, innocence and need for help which he feels he no longer possesses.

Later, he bitterly discovers he has retained these qualities.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This link to a summary might help you. http://www.enotes.com/waiting-for-barbarians-salem/waiting-for-barbarians. If I understand your question, the relationship between the barbarian girl and the magistrate is complicated. He cares for her (meaning physically takes care of her), but is still basically still her captor. She forces him to face the reality of his situation, that he is just as complicit as those who hurt her.

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