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Narrative Codes in Waiting for the Barbarians

Author JinXiaoRong
Tutor ShiYunLong
School Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords J. M. Coetzee Waiting for the Barbarians narrative point of view narrative tense unreliable narration
Type Master's thesis
Year 2013
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John Maxwell Coetzee, an outstanding contemporary South African writer, isknown for his works featured by multiple thematic coverage and diverse writingstrategies. As a master of narrative style and strategy, he employs unique narrativemode in every single work, adopting different narrative point of view, voice, tense,narrative time and space to shape distinct themes. Waiting for the Barbarians, one ofhis most influential novels, occupies a central position in his oeuvre. Since itspublication, related research papers and monographs have emerged in large number.Yet, few scholars have focused on the study of the narrative techniques in the novel ina systematic way. After a detailed study of narrative strategies, the thesis argues thatCoetzee’s idea of the unity between form and content is fully realized in the novel,demonstrating a perfect combination of intellectual power and stylistic poise.The thesis deals with the novel from three aspects. Part one delves into thenarrative point of view of the novel, analyzing the focalization mode based on thetypology of Gérard Genette and Shen Dan. After clarifying the narrative point of viewin the novel, the thesis discusses the narrative effects of first-person limited point ofview, i.e. narrowing the distance between the narrator and the reader, creatingnarrative tension and suspension, and revealing Coetzee’s anti-colonial consciousness.In the second part, the thesis discusses the narration in present tense, one of themost distinctive features of form in the novel. With the help of “simultaneousnarration” by Dorrit Cohn, the thesis probes into the effects of present tense narrationon the narrator, the positioning of the reader and the deepening of thematicunderstanding of “complicity,” and further offers alternative strategies to make up forthe interpretive limits of simultaneous narration.As both absolute focalization of first-person limited point of view and theindeterminacy of the semantic implications of its narrative tense lead to unreliability,the thesis takes up unreliable narration in the third part, conducting a systematicanalysis of unreliability in the novel, which leads to the discovery of some distinctivefeatures of unreliable narration in first-person present tense narrative text (FPPT). Apart from the thematic richness of the novel, Coetzee employs various narrativetechniques, i.e. narrative point of view, narrative tense and unreliable, to shape anddeepen the thematic penetration in the novel, revealing his brilliance as a writer withthe mastery of narrative tension and elegance.

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