Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Do a detailed critical analysis of the opening of Coetzee’s Foe
A successful analysis of an opening to any novel can not occur without taking into consideration what sort of journey the author is going to take their audience on. Openings can be deceiving and the point of close is needed to successfully determine the true meanings behind the foundations that the author lays at the start. This is definitely the case in Coetzee's Foe. Hindsight is the analysists greatest ally when looking in detail at the devices and subtext that Coetzee is employing to open this novel. In opening it appears to begin as an alternative story of Daniel Defoe's classic, Robinson Crusoe. However as the novel unfolds it becomes clear that it is an allegory for many pressing issues of today's society such as gender, race, politics and power. But not stopping there Coetzee has also created a piece of metafiction attacking the way in which fiction is created. It can also be seen as an attack on the claimed father of the novel Daniel Defoe. With hindsight all these issues can been seen in Coetzee's opening however I will begin by giving some ideas as to what Coetzee possibly wanted to achieve from the entire novel as it will help shed light upon the structure, devices and meanings that lie in the opening. Coetzee is questioning realism in novel writing, throughout he is proving that, just as Defoe did, he can create realistic characters and setting but he is showing that he too has the power to destroy them. As a piece of metafiction, Foe looks inwardly on its self as a novel and questions itself throughout. Coetzee creates things just to break them down. He is out to prove that Defoe and other authors are, as Paula Burnett described, Ã¢â¬Å"the giver of false witnessÃ¢â¬ and in effect the enemy of reality thus the title and pun Ã¢â¬ËFoe'. The attack is on Defoe, the so-called Ã¢â¬Ëfather of the novel', perhaps because he tried to sell Robinson Crusoe off as a real life biography. Coetzee is trying to show that even if Crusoe was real the writer of the novel he would still hold the power to create and destroy what the want to, so fiction can never be taken as reality. The key central issues in the novel are the themes of gender and racial difference and power. Throughout the book there is a strong feeling that Friday represents a lot more than just the slave of Robinson Crusoe. It is through Friday and his treatment in the hands of his white masters that Coetzee is addressing the way the white people have handled there relations with the Negro race. Coetzee probably wrote this particularly with South Africa in mind as it is where he is from but it can be related to any time in history when the whites have tried to help or enslave the black race. Through Susan Barton he also addresses women and their struggles for equality and recognition. A feminist reading of the text would to claim that Coetzee in providing a narrator is showing that the novels has Ã¢â¬Ëmothers' as well as fathers such as Defoe and Fielding. Also, her struggle to establish herself as the main character of the story and the only true story teller can be seen to represent women's struggle to establish themselves as credible novelists in the early periods of novel writing. So with these underlying issues in mind the structure of the novel is also worth briefly looking at so the opening can be put into context. It must be taken into consideration the stylistically the opening chapter is very different from the rest of the novel. The first chapter is set on Crusoe's island and is a written account as to what occurred. The style is very realistic and detailed. The second chapter is slightly more removed and is written before our very eyes in a set of letters to Mr Foe. The writing style is still detailed and realistic however towards the end of the chapter a few questions are raised as to who Susan Barton is and who is the child following her around. The third part of the novel is set at Foes house and is again a first hand account but has a very different feel to the opening. It becomes slightly more surreal and raising many questions as to whether Foe exists or is a creation of Susan's or whether Susan is a creation of his. The final scene is set in a room and under water. It could not detach the reader any more as we lose who is narrating. We know its is not Susan as she appears to be dead. This is Coetzee destroying the realistic world he had created. Out of the four parts the opening is extremely significant as it crucial for creating the world in which Coetzee can put across the points that he is raising. So what is Coetzee beginning to create at the start of the novel? With his opening chapter he creates the foundations for his attacks on Defoe and the cultural and gender issues of today's society. However my use of the word attacks should not be taken too literally because directly no issues are addressed however it is clear in the subtext what points he wants to throw into debate. The main function of the opening is to throw Defoe's apparent true novel of Crusoe into debate and also to create a realistic foundation that can crumble in on itself as the novel develops. Anything self-critical has to reflect on itself inwardly and the opening sets Coetzee up to be able to do this. From the very opening it is clear that this is a vivid realistic account. Ã¢â¬Å"There I lay sprawled on the hot sand, my head filled with the orange blazing sun, my petticoat (which was all I had escaped with) baking dry upon me, tired, grateful like the saved. Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Ë It is clear immediately from this quotation that the narrator appears to physically feeling what she is describing. The opening few pages include many of these vivid descriptions which lay the setting for Defoe's attack on Crusoe's story. The reader can not doubt her version, as it appears so real. His first attack on Defoe's novel appears early on. Ã¢â¬ For readers reared on travellers' tales, the words desert isle may conjure up a place of soft sands and shady trees where brooks run to quench the castaways thirstÃ¢â¬ ¦ But the island on which I was cast away was quite another place: a great rocky hill with a flat topÃ¢â¬ ¦ There were ants scurrying everywhere, of the same kind we had in Bahia, and another pest too, living in the dunes: a tiny insect that hid between your toes and ate its way into your flesh. Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Ë This account is a great example of the realism used to put the whole of Defoe's work into question. This is a direct attack by Coetzee on how realistic Defoe's island really is. The reader will of course believe Susan Bartons account as it appeals through realism. It is a clever device used by Coetzee because he knows himself that what he is writing is not true. Another area that lays doubt upon Defoe's story is the figure Crusoe. His name is depleted to Cruso to show he is nothing like the man that Defoe creates. Not only is he a shadow of the main that Defoe created he is also unsure of his own history. Ã¢â¬Ë Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬ ¦ he stories he told me were so various, and so hard to reconcile one with another, that I was more and more driven to conclude that age and isolation had taken their toll on his memory, and he no longer knew for sure what was truthÃ¢â¬ ¦ Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Ë This throws again Defoe's account into doubt and would make a reader believe Coetzee's version. Another example of Coetzee trying to strengthen Susan's account is her repetition of the line: Ã¢â¬Å"Then at last I could row no further. My hands were raw, my back was burned, my body ached. Ã¢â¬ This repetition of the same account to both the reader and Crusoe shows that she knows her story and uses the exact same wording both times she tells it. This is a clever device used by Coetzee to show that Crusoe's story is fragile and various where as Susan's is stabile and unchanging. The other main instrument used by Coetzee in the opening of the book to express his subtext is the use of Susan as the narrator and the way she perceives things. Through realism he sets up his attack on Defoe and novel writing but through the narrator he brings in the allegorical themes such as gender and race. From a feminist point of view Susan Barton is, as Patrick Corcoran stated, Ã¢â¬Å"a representative of her sex who has suffered at the hands of men and who struggles to assert herself in a male dominated society. Ã¢â¬ To expand upon this comment, she does definitely appear to represent the women of society and how even though she shared the island with Crusoe she always felt that she was not there Ã¢â¬ When I reflect upon my story I seem to exist only as the one who came, the one who witnessedÃ¢â¬ ¦ Ã¢â¬ She feels that it is Crusoe's story despite the fact that she is as easily as active as Crusoe and manages to escape, which he does not. Upon arrival she assumes that she is his subject. Ã¢â¬Å"With these words I presented myself to Robinson Cruso, in the days when he still ruled over his island, and became his second, the first being his man servant Friday Ã¢â¬ She does not even question the fact that he is the master of the island she just excepts that Friday and herself are under his rule. This is put in by Coetzee to question the role of women in Defoe's novel. There is no place for women in Robinson Crusoe and Coetzee provides us with an idea of what Crusoe would have been like with a woman on the island. Also Coetzee leaves it to the audience to decide what type of woman Susan is. He gives us no social background so we expect nothing from her. Throughout the book it is unclear what she is, whether she is a lady, a whore or a gypsy. This uncertainty is thrown into confusion many times, as she seems very educated and full of ideas Ã¢â¬Ë Ã¢â¬Å"You are mistaken! Ã¢â¬ I cried Ã¢â¬ I do not wish to dispute, but you have forgotten very much, and with every day that passes you forget more! Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Ë This extract shows that Susan Barton's type of language is not uneducated and her ability to speak up to and man and disagree shows strength. This may be a result of her life experience gained on her travels. However it is more likely that it is Coetzee toying with the idea of how putting a female on the island would effect Crusoe's power. These power battles are an important theme in the novel and Susan faces them throughout first chapter with Crusoe then Friday in the second and then Defoe in the third. The other major issue raised by Coetzee is the idea of slavery and race difference. Friday is a shadow that hangs over the story throughout and cannot be ignored, as his silence is perhaps the most telling and powerful factor in the novel. The majority of these issues are raised in the second and third chapters in Susan's handling of Friday. However they are present in the early stages of the novel in Crusoe's approach to Friday. Ã¢â¬Ë Ã¢â¬Å"How many words of English does Friday know? Ã¢â¬ I asked Ã¢â¬Å"As many as he needs,Ã¢â¬ replied Cruso. Ã¢â¬Å"This is not England, we have no need of great stock of wordsÃ¢â¬ . Ã¢â¬Ë Dispite Fridays disability this shows that Crusoe has no intention of making a companion of Friday and only wishes to treat him as an inhuman slave. Crusoe's views on Friday can be seen to represent the whites treatment of the African race in the early part of the nineteen hundreds. When Susan takes over the role of master she can be seen to represent the white liberals in South Africa who tried to help the Africans but only tried to help them by trying to make them like white men and by doing so enslaved them further. RM. Post's view on the political level of the novel is that Crusoe represents the stubborn and corrupt Afrikaner government, with Susan Barton the white sympathetic liberal and Friday the black people. He even goes as far as to compare Susan to Mother Africa as she is searching for a child who is searching for her. He justifies his claim that Foe is an allegory of contemporary South Africa by pointing out the crucial fact that Friday is of completely different race in Coetzee's Foe than he is in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Ã¢â¬ The fact that the latter Friday is a black man helps us see Foe, set primarily in England in the eighteenth century, as an allegory of contemporary South Africa. Ã¢â¬ Defoe's Friday has olive skin with straight long hair; Coetzee s Friday is black with a Ã¢â¬Å"head of fuzzy wool. Ã¢â¬ There are other hints in the opening of the story to suggest some link with the treatment of the blacks in South Africa. The removal of Fridays tongue is perhaps one of the most obvious symbols in the book. He can be seen as having no voice like the Negro's in post colonial Africa. Susan and Crusoe's failure to communicate with Friday successfully is of course down to lack of understanding of his culture. However the fact that Crusoe manages to communicate with Friday better than Susan could be seen to flaw RM. Post's argument as could the fact that Friday was apparently happier on the island before Susan tried to free him. The opening to Coetzee's foe is a vital part of the novel. As discussed it lays the foundations for all of Coetzee's allegorical meanings. The opening is essential to understanding the race, gender and power struggles that are central themes in the novel. In terms of realism it sets Coetzee up to question the fundamentals of the novel and how far can an author go in terms of making a book appear an accurate reflection of real life. From this foundation he also highlights the author's ability to create and destroy there own work no matter how realistic it may appear to be.