Allegory in “Waiting for the Barbarians” by Coetzee

Attridge suggests that if we read Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians only as an allegory, we just confirm what we already know about operations of power. How might you think about this novel as working at both the allegorical level and also the level of “literature that invites an ethical response?”

To answer this question, you might want to think about how a character’s positionality shapes relationships to power. How do the relationships that Colonel Joll and the Magistrate have with the Barbarian girl work both allegorically but also as a space for ethical consideration? Be sure to point to examples in the text that explore the ways in which the symbols in the novel are not simply being translated into direct, corresponding meaning with our world, but rather they work to disrupt simple binary structures.