Voicing the Feminine in J.M. Coetzee's Fiction



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JM Coetzee, the Nobel Prize-winning South African author, often defies categorization. His thirteen novels vary in style greatly, although all are written with a striking self-consciousness and anxiety of authority. My project deals mainly with his novel Foe (1986) inspired by Daniel Defoe, and his 1990 novel Age of Iron. Foe is often described as an allegory of colonial South Africa; however, this reading is complicated by the novel’s premise as a reworking of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Coetzee skillfully gives the story of Crusoe to a woman, Susan Barton, who may be read as a prefiguration of the main character of Defoe’s Roxana. In the hands of Susan Barton, the island story becomes a miasma of doubts over authorship and representations of political and social subordination and dominance, centering on the mute Friday. I explore this novel in relation to Age of Iron, which describes the experiences of a white woman in South Africa’s state of emergency during Apartheid. I read both novels as feminist works in which Coetzee consciously finds ways to voice the feminine against a history of silencing the feminine. Coetzee is able to creatively define the female voice in new ways by transforming characters who are traditionally underrepresented into figures of power by consciously reimagining canonical texts.



J.M. Coetzee, South Africa, Feminist Literature