The Impotent Magistrate

When we begin I am sure that the time is right; I embrace her in the most intense pleasure and pride of life; but halfway through I seem to lose touch with her, and the act peters out vacantly. My institutions are clearly fallible. (75)

In class yesterday we discussed the ways in which the Magistrate evades difficult situations. He attempts to ignore the screams of the barbarian man when Colonel Joll is torturing him in the granary. He does not help the young barbarian boy escape or stand up to the colonel. The passage above alludes to a possible reason for why the Magistrate has an evasive nature. The author sets up the line with the Magistrates reflection on his feelings in the moment right before he is about to make love with the Barbarian girl for a second time, “When we begin I am sure that the time is right” (75). The wording Coetzee uses, especially his use of the word “sure”, illustrates the Magistrates indecisiveness. The fact that halfway through making love to the barbarian girl he loses “touch” with her alludes to his impotence. He is not only sexually impotent but also impotent in his speech and actions throughout the novel.

The impotence that is reflected in the passage above is also mirrored in several other situations for the Magistrate. Several times he refers to his inability to form words or speak. When he has finally delivered the girl to a group of Barbarians he tells the reader, “I cannot make out a word” (84). His inability to speak or decide on a way to word something is directly related to his indecisive nature. The Magistrates impotence could be a result of his inability to find meaning in his life or a lack of self-understanding and identity. In the final line of the passage he says, “My institutions are clearly fallible” (75). This statement insinuates that he is plagued by self-doubt and insecurity.

In fact, taking the barbarian girl to find her family is the strongest and most decisive action he has taken, at least in the sections of the novel we have read thus far. It is interesting that in talking about his decision to take the girl back to her family, the Magistrate says, “Now that I have committed myself to a course I sleep more easily and even detect within myself something like happiness” (66). This quotation illustrates that the one time that he feels self-assured and seems to have a strong sense of his own purpose is when he is taking action. It could be that the Magistrate is impotent both verbally and sexually because of the lack of self-identity and meaning in his life or perhaps his indecisive nature is the reason he has no sense of himself.


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