Waiting for the Barbarians


J. M. Coetzee

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Waiting for the Barbarians Characters

The Magistrate

A civil servant of the Empire who’s looking forward to retiring soon, the magistrate is the narrator and protagonist (though his proper name is never revealed) of Waiting for the Barbarians. The magistrate’s dream… read analysis of The Magistrate

The Barbarian Girl

Captured (along with her father and several others) by Colonel Joll’s men during the first days of their military campaign against the nomads, the nameless barbarian girl comes to play a central role in… read analysis of The Barbarian Girl

Colonel Joll

A colonel in the Empire’s army, Joll visits the Empire’s frontier settlements in order to interrogate any barbarians who have been taken prisoner, hoping to gain information about the barbarians’ raiding plans. Joll—commandeering and overbearing… read analysis of Colonel Joll

Warrant Officer Mandel

A warrant officer for the Empire, Mandel is sent to replace the magistrate’s position after the magistrate has been charged with treason (consorting with the barbarians). The magistrate describes Mandel as highly affected and self-conscious… read analysis of Warrant Officer Mandel

The Girl at the Inn

The magistrate visits a “girl at the inn” (probably a prostitute) regularly, and even continues to visit her when he’s involved with the barbarian girl. Though he’s aware that she is probably feigning her… read analysis of The Girl at the Inn
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The Two Soldiers

Conscripted by the magistrate to accompany him on his expedition to deliver the barbarian girl back to her people, the two soldiers ultimately serve an integral role in the magistrate’s incrimination. When they return from… read analysis of The Two Soldiers

The Barbarian Man

Captured along with his nephew, the barbarian boy, this nameless man is ultimately killed during his interrogation by Colonel Joll. When explaining the man’s death, Joll says that his victim had grown violent… read analysis of The Barbarian Man

The barbarian girl's father

The father of the barbarian girl. He dies while being interrogated. When the magistrates investigates, he is told by guards that the barbarian girl's father went "berserk" and attacked Joll and his men, but… read analysis of The barbarian girl's father
Minor Characters
Mai cooks at the inn located in the settlement under the magistrate’s jurisdiction (before his arrest). When the magistrate is released from jail, assuming leadership of the fort again, he sleeps with her—the two having been sexually involved in the past.
The Guide
To lead his expedition to return the barbarian girl to her people, the magistrate hires a hunter and horseman as a guide, since he’s familiar with the vast stretch of land between the magistrate’s settlement and the mountains where the barbarians live.
The Warder
While the magistrate is imprisoned, he’s supervised by a warder who brings him his breakfast and releases him every two days for an hour of exercise.
The Barbarian Boy
A boy captured along with his uncle, the barbarian man, at the start of the book. After his uncle is killed, the boy is tortured by Colonel Joll and then taken along with Joll to act as a “guide.”
The Little Boy
While the magistrate is imprisoned, a little boy brings him his dinner every night, escorted by a guard. The boy, for a while, becomes one of the magistrate’s only contact with other human beings—a daily interaction to which he looks forward.
The Doctor
The only doctor in the settlement, and not a very skilled one.