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

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What is the meaning or significance of the faceless children playing in the snow in Waiting for the Barbarians by Coetzee? What does it represent?

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The blank faces of the children in the repeated dream are ambiguous in their meaning to some degree. One way to explain the blankness is to connect it to the conclusion that the magistrate comes to in the end of the narrative.

After going to great lengths to separate himself from the society of the empire (by resisting Colonel Joll’s initiatives, by embarking on a mission to return the nameless barbarian girl to her people, and finally by spending time as a prisoner of the empire), the magistrate realizes that his attempts have been fruitless.

He is intimately and intractably connected to the society (the culture and the history) of the empire. He relies on this society for the whole of his identity.

“I wanted to live outside history. I wanted to live outside the history that Empire imposes on its subjects, even its lost subjects. I never wished it for the barbarians that they should have the history of the Empire laid upon them.”

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