No Succession in Oppression
J.M. Coetzee is seen as one of South Africa’s most accomplished and important contemporary novelists, who examines the effects of racism and colonial oppression in his work. He is able to relate the trauma stemming from South Africa to similar things outside of his homeland in a subtle, yet powerful fashion. In his novel Foe, Coetzee uses the complex relationship between Cruso and Friday to embody the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed in South Africa at the time this novel was written. This relationship can be analyzed in a number of ways, whether it is master to slave or father to son, but Coetzee is ultimately looking to show that apartheid takes away the freedom and disclosure of oppressed South Africans, just as slavers and Cruso take away the freedom and disclosure of Friday.
The narrator of Foe is Susan Barton, a female castaway who washes up on the island inhabited by Cruso, an English adventurer, and Friday, an African slave. When Susan first meets Cruso and Friday, she analyzes their relationship and judges it based off of her first impression. She comments that Friday is Cruso’s “manservant” (Coetzee 11). This demonstrates that her first impression of the relationship between Cruso and Friday was that of a master and a servant, not of a friendship. This interaction between the two seems to recur throughout the novel, with Coetzee just ordering Friday around. Time passed on the island, and one day, Susan needed more wood for the fire to cook dinner, so she asked Friday to pass her wood. She repeated herself multiple times, but Friday would not respond to her request. Puzzled by this, her “first thought was that Friday was like a dog that heeds but one master, yet it was not so” (21). Susan has already established Friday as a servant to Cruso and now herself, and she is surprised by Friday’s lack of obedience. Cruso later explains that Friday only understands the word “firewood,” not “wood.” Susan then...
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