In J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians the theme of suffering is blatantly seen. The reader sees it in the lives of the magistrate, the town’s people, the fishing people, and the barbarians. However, suffering is presented most prominently in the book through two main characters, the Magistrate and the Barbarian Girl. There are many parallels between the afflictions of the Barbarian Girl and the Magistrate even though they come from different worlds and backgrounds and the literal types of their sufferings are so vastly different.
At the beginning of the novel, the Barbarian Girl that the Magistrate eventually takes in, suffers from the loss of her family, her home, her sight, and her well-being. Unbeknownst to him, the Magistrate causes her to suffer in a completely different way. On page 55, the Barbarian girl is trying to seduce the Magistrate. “ “You visit other girls,” she whispers. “You think I do not know?”… Though my heart goes out to her, there is nothing I can do. Yet what humiliation for her! She cannot even leave the apartment without tottering and fumbling while she dresses. She is as much a prisoner now as ever before. I pat her hand and sink deeper into gloom” (55). She loses her freedom, she loses her dignity.
In the second half of Waiting for the Barbarians, the roles become reversed. The Barbarian Girl is returned to her home, but the Magistrate is subjected to humiliation and physical pain. ““I want to say that no one deserves to die.” In my absurd frock and bag, with the nausea of cowardice in my mouth, I say: “I want to live. As every man wants to live. To live and live and live. No matter what.””
Both the Barbarian Girl and the Magistrate experience psychological suffering as well as endure physical affliction. The following passage, although spoken by the Magistrate, illustrates the distress both characters bear. "What freedom has been left to me? The freedom to eat or go hungry; to keep my silence...