- 英文学研究. 支部統合号 (ISSN:18837115)
- vol.3, pp.149-167, 2011-01-20
In J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, the barbarian girl, one of the main characters, suddenly begins to menstruate during the journey to the territory of her people, the barbarians. This scene of menstruation might seem irrelevant to the rest of the novel, which deals with the conflict between the Empire and the barbarians. Few critics have mentioned the menstruation in this novel, although Waiting for the Barbarians has been the subject of considerable commentary. However, if it is irrelevant to the novel's plot, why does Coetzee go out of his way to describe menstruation, even though literature seldom mentions it? In fact, some haunting images in Waiting for the Barbarians, such as children and blood, are closely linked to menstruation. This paper discusses how menstruation, a phenomenon that has many layers of meaning, works in this novel, focusing mainly on its physiological and symbolic meanings. On the physiological level of meaning, menstruation in Waiting for the Barbarians means that the barbarian girl is not pregnant; and it serves as a kind of foreshadowing of her clear break with the Magistrate, an officer of the Empire and the novel's narrator. After the Magistrate has sex with the barbarian girl, for a quick moment he dreams of making a family with her; but her menstruation shows that it is impossible for them to have children together. She leaves him and returns to her people just after menstruating. On the symbolic level of meaning, the barbarian girl's menstruation means that the "flow," which the Empire's control blocked, returns at the "margin," or the boundary, where the Empire's power intertwines with that of the barbarians. Under the Empire's control, blood is described as stagnant and clotted, and natural phenomena's flow is also disrupted. The flow, however, is visualized as menstruation when the barbarian girl reaches the boundary between the Empire and the barbarians' territory. Menstruation, the physiological phenomenon of blood leaking from a woman's body at its margin, symbolises boundary-crossing and overlaps with the act of geographic boundary-crossing, the barbarian girl's and the Magistrate's transition from the Empire to the barbarians' territory. Although both the Magistrate and the barbarian girl become boundary-crossers by being involved in geographic boundary-crossing and menstruation, the barbarian girl achieves greater fluidity than the Magistrate. This is because fluidity, a dangerous attribute, is traditionally ascribed to women in literature. In Waiting for the Barbarians, menstruation is used to symbolise the contrast between the Empire as a patriarchal, solid order and the margin where the Empire and the barbarians encounter each other, creating fluidity. It also symbolises the contrast between the woman who can achieve great fluidity, and the man who cannot escape from the Empire's solid order. Menstruation, which is fluid and cyclic, also symbolises the cycle of nature, especially reproduction, which the Empire hinders. In Waiting for the Barbarians, the Magistrate thinks that the Empire does not respect nature's cycle and that it deprives its people and its land of fertility. As Julia Kristeva points out in "Women's Time," the time of history is linear and often is ascribed to men, but the time of nature is cyclic and often is ascribed to women. The Magistrate feels antipathy toward the time of history of the Empire, and he hopes that the barbarian girl, who achieves great fluidity through menstruation, will have children and regain nature's cycle.