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Write a critical appreciation of this extract from “Waiting for the barbarians” by J.M. Coetzee, focusing on Coetzee’s appreciation of Colonel Joll

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  1. Introduction
  2. Colonel Joll
  3. The interaction between the narrator and Colonel Joll
  4. Conclusion

This extract from Waiting for the Barbarians is a first-person narrative which recounts the narrator’s meeting with a colonel. A person can be defined and described through multiple techniques, several of which are combined in this extract to give as full an appreciation as possible of the latter character. Indeed, Coetzee manages to convey a complex appreciation of Colonel Joll through his relation to and contrast with the narrator, the language used to describe him and Joll’s own way of behaving. How he is seen by others can seem to be a misleading way to describe a character, since nobody can take in the full scope of someone else’s personality: personal feelings will interfere with an objective judgement. An internal point of view can nonetheless be useful as it enables the reader to observe a character through the eyes of another human being, who can reflect on what he sees and translate details into an explanation of one’s personality.

From the narrator’s point of view, Colonel Joll is at the same time an enigmatic visitor and a familiar figure. Indeed, from the beginning of the extract, the use of negation and oppositions reflects the narrator’s lack of understanding and the fact that he is walking on unknown grounds: “never”, “anything”, “I could understand it if […] But”, “they look […] but”. The rhetorical question he asks himself “Is he blind?” also depicts an attempt to make sense of what he sees, but without success. The references to “home” and the peculiar customs of where he lives also indicate that he is a foreigner for the narrator, and from a different culture altogether: “At home everyone wears them”, “where people eat certain snakes as a delicacy”, “among the strange furniture”.

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