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

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Why couldn't the magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians see the young girl as a whole person, as he never calls her by name?  

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In postcolonial literature, naming takes on a different dimension than in other novels. Often, the colonizer would give their own name to the colonized as a means of asserting control. Think of the famous scene from the novel/miniseries Roots, when Kunta Kinte is whipped until he accepts his new name will be Toby. Stripping colonized people of their names is the ultimate way to erase their former lives. Their identities, once independent of the oppressor, are now merely an extension of the oppressor.

Another reason, as has been mentioned, is that several characters in the novel are unnamed, including the Magistrate. This convention is likely applied by Coetzee because the story is meant to be applied to imperial withdrawal around the world. In most of these places, the withdrawal of the empire—whether peaceful or via revolt—was a time of tumultuous uncertainty for both the administrators and the native peoples. The anticipation of something horrible happening, akin to the end of the...

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