Defining Evil

The Monist 85 (2):210-238 (2002)
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Abstract

In J. M. Coetzee’s novel, Waiting for the Barbarians, the main protagonist, the elderly Magistrate of a small frontier town of the Empire, is caught up in an impending war with the so-called barbarians. After witnessing the brutality of Colonel Joll, a member of the Bureau sent by the Civil Guard, the Magistrate puzzles over how Joll is able to torture his victims, yet show no signs of moral pollution. He wonders how Joll felt the very first time he administered torture. Did he “shudder even a little knowing he was trespassing into the forbidden?” Does Joll have a “private ritual of purification, carried out behind closed doors, to enable him to return and break bread with other men?” Does he “wash his hands very carefully, perhaps, or change all his clothes; or has the Bureau created new men who can pass without disquiet between the unclean and the clean?” Later, after being tortured himself, the Magistrate confronts Joll’s sidekick Mandel. This time he demands an answer to his incomprehension.

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Stephen De Wijze
University of Manchester

Citations of this work

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