Waiting for the Barbarians

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 in his authority, and brutal and apathetic in his torture tactics—embodies the opposite of the magistrate’s character. Joll is fully convinced that the barbarians are plotting to attack and undermine the Empire, and he’s willing to use any means necessary in order to acquire information about it. But Joll is so blindly and unquestioningly invested in his military campaign that he seems to only seek ‘truth’ from his torture victims that confirms his suspicions. Though he claims, in conversation with the magistrate, to be an expert in distinguishing what’s true from false, purporting to be able to perceive the ‘tone of truth’ in his interrogation of victims, Joll seems to apply pain to his victims in such a way that they are forced to lie and tell him whatever he wants to hear. Uninterested in the real truth of the nomadic people, Joll is intoxicated by his own authority, and caught up in his unfounded evaluation of them as debase and barbaric. His blindness to the truth and horrifying inscrutability is also symbolized by his use of sunglasses.

Colonel Joll Quotes in Waiting for the Barbarians

The Waiting for the Barbarians quotes below are all either spoken by Colonel Joll or refer to Colonel Joll. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Waiting for the Barbarians published in 2010.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“Looking at him I wonder how he felt the very first time: did he, invited as an apprentice to twist the pincers or turn the screw or whatever it is they do, shudder even a little to know that at that instant he was trespassing into the forbidden? I find myself wondering too whether he has a private ritual of purification, carried out behind closed doors, to enable him to return and break bread with other men.”

Related Characters: The Magistrate (speaker), Colonel Joll
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Waiting for the Barbarians quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Chapter 2 Quotes

“It is I who am seducing myself, out of vanity, into these meanings and correspondences. What depravity is it that is creeping upon me? I search for secrets and answers, no matter how bizarre, like an old woman reading tea-leaves. There is nothing to link me with torturers, people who sit waiting like beetles in dark cellars. How can I believe that a bed is anything but a bed, a woman’s body anything but a site of joy? I must assert my distance from Colonel Joll! I will not suffer for his crimes!”

Related Characters: The Magistrate (speaker), The Barbarian Girl, Colonel Joll
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 4 Quotes

“Nevertheless, I should never have allowed the gates of the town to be opened to people who assert that there are higher considerations than those of decency. They exposed her father to her naked and made him quiver with pain; they hurt her and he could not stop them (on a day I spent occupied with the ledgers in my office). Thereafter she was no longer fully human, sister to all of us. Certain sympathies died, certain movements of the heart became no longer possible to her. I, too, if I live long enough in this cell with its ghosts not only of the father and the daughter but of the man who even by lamplight did not remove the black discs from his eyes and the subordinate whose work it was to keep the brazier fed, will be touched with the contagion and turned into a creature that believes in nothing.”

Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire Waiting for the Barbarians LitChart as a printable PDF.
Waiting for the barbarians.pdf.medium

Colonel Joll Character Timeline in Waiting for the Barbarians

The timeline below shows where the character Colonel Joll appears in Waiting for the Barbarians. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Waiting for the Barbarians opens onto a conversation between the magistrate and Colonel Joll; the magistrate narrates, beginning the novel with a comment on Joll’s sunglasses—he’s never seen... (full context)
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Joll describes a hunt he participated in, and killing a “mountain” of animals. The magistrate discusses... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate’s narration then cuts to another conversation with Joll. They are in a hut next to the settlement’s granary; two prisoners are being held... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...but again gets no response—though he notes that the boy stares over his shoulder at Colonel Joll. Trying to explain why the boy is staring, the magistrate tells Joll that the... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
...then turns to the barbarian man, and explains why he’s been arrested. He explains that Joll visits all the forts on the frontier, his job being to “find out the truth.”... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate tells Joll that they haven’t taken any prisoners in a very long time, and explains that the... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...that he’s becoming conscious of the fact that he’s pleading for their innocence, and asks Joll what use, even if the prisoners are lying, they would be to him. Joll, the... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
The magistrate’s narration then shifts to a point after Joll’s interrogation. He notes that, despite peoples’ claims to having heard screaming coming from the granary... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
The magistrate quotes the report that Colonel Joll gave him regarding the interrogation. With robotic formality and brevity, Joll announces that, as... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...the interrogation to make a statement, since it’s required by law. The guard’s comments confirm Joll’s account about the barbarian man’s attack on the investigative officer, and the magistrate asks the... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...duty who told him to leave the body in the room. The guard replies that Colonel Joll ordered him to leave it there, and that Joll had also told the boy... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...to the boy in the granary, and informs him that he will be interrogated by Joll as well; he advises the boy to tell the truth, as this will prevent him... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...had simply handed over the two prisoners (the barbarian boy and the barbarian man) to Colonel Joll, and, instead of sticking around and tip-toeing around Joll, that he had left the... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...and he asks the guard what his interrogators did to him. The guard replies that Joll (and presumably another interrogator) took a small knife and made shallow punctures in the boy’s... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...hundred little scabs,” and says that, within a week, he’ll be able to walk. However, Colonel Joll, the magistrate adds, is impatient, as he wants to quickly launch a raid on... (full context)
Sexuality, Anxiety, and Old Age Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
While Joll hears the magistrate out, the magistrate thinks that the Colonel is leading him on a... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate notes that Colonel Joll and his company of soldiers begin to make preparations for their trip, and says... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate notes that, since Joll’s second day at his fort, he’s been too upset by Joll’s presence to be anything... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate then says that his last act of courtesy to Colonel Joll is to ride out with him and his company of soldiers for a certain... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
The magistrate’s narration then shifts to the fourth day after Colonel Joll’s campaign has departed, and he says that the first of his prisoners have arrived.... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
...the town. Finally fed up, the magistrate writes a letter to the Third Bureau denouncing Colonel Joll, but rips it up. (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Then, in the middle of the night, Colonel Joll returns. The magistrate looks upon Joll’s company of men with dread: they’ve brought back... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
After Colonel Joll takes a day to rest, he begins his interrogations. The magistrate mentions that, though... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate describes a meeting he has with Joll in his office back at the barracks. Wearing his “dark eyeshades” indoors, Joll tells the... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The first thing the magistrate does after Joll’s departure is to release the prisoners back into the yard. When he opens the door... (full context)
Chapter 2
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Sexuality, Anxiety, and Old Age Theme Icon
...The magistrate then asks her to show him her feet, so he can see what Joll and his interrogation assistants did to her. After she unwraps both feet, she reveals that... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
...of her eyes, she can see when she looks sideways. When the magistrate asks what Joll and his men did to her, she shrugs and doesn’t respond. He continues to watch... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...Then, after noting that winter is approaching and mentioning that it’s been two months since Colonel Joll’s visit, the magistrate says that he interviewed the guards again, asking them to tell... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Sexuality, Anxiety, and Old Age Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
...from this turn of conversation, the girl decides to finally inform the magistrate about how Joll and his torture assistants blinded her. She says that the men held her eyelids open... (full context)
Sexuality, Anxiety, and Old Age Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
...to recall the first time he saw her—when she was led into the barracks by Joll’s soldiers—but he’s unable to. Frustrated out of his wits, the magistrate shouts in his sleep,... (full context)
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate gets news of the fate of two soldiers who deserted Joll’s company—they froze to death in a rough shelter about thirty miles east of the settlement.... (full context)
Chapter 4
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...him if there’s something in particular he’s looking for, or if he could speak to Colonel Joll. Eventually, the man accuses the magistrate of “treasonously consorting with the enemy,” and the... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...himself that he turns his attention to others—to those who were imprisoned and tortured by Joll, like the barbarian girl and her murdered father. No wonder her father grew detached and... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...he considers this to be a noble action of his, he regrets having ever allowed Joll’s men to enter his settlement. He further remarks about the girl, saying that—upon witnessing the... (full context)
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...warder if he could wash his clothes in order to make himself decent for the Colonel—apparently he’s going to appear before Joll soon. The warder reluctantly leads the magistrate into the... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Later that night, Joll’s expedition force returns, and the magistrate decides to give into temptation and leave his cell... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate then catches sight of Colonel Joll. Feeling like he’s going to be sick, the magistrate fetches a bucket of water... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate sees Colonel Joll holding up a four-pound hammer, displaying it to the audience—and they trade glances. In... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate then describes a scene in his old office. Joll sits behind his desk, and Officer Mandel—though the magistrate still does not yet know his... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...up some translations of various slips, saying things that vaguely reflect the gruesome effects of Joll’s torture. He translates a couple of the slips as ancient letters to a barbarian whose... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
Unamused by the magistrate’s translations, Joll asks him what he envisions of his future at the post, since he’s disgraced himself.... (full context)
Chapter 5
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
...to take charge of and enforce order among his soldiers (since he’s in charge while Joll’s away) he fails to ultimately act. (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
...he is infected by this virus of thought, propagated by the Empire, no less than Colonel Joll is. Even though their priorities in life are drastically different, they are nonetheless equally... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Sexuality, Anxiety, and Old Age Theme Icon
...learn how to torture her, he should simply ask his “friend with the black eyes,” Joll—and if he “had been in a position to understand her,” he “might have saved [him]self... (full context)
Chapter 6
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
The magistrate then describes a visit by Colonel Joll. One night, at two o’clock in the morning, the magistrate awakes to a pounding... (full context)
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
...any attention to him. The magistrate stares through the window and observes the silhouette of Joll. Though he feels an urge to “smash the glass, to reach in and drag the... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
Independence, Duty, and Betrayal Theme Icon
After another brick hits Joll’s carriage, thrown from townsfolk watching from above, an assistant of the Colonel’s comes running up... (full context)
The Empire and Fear of the Other Theme Icon
Torture, Inhumanity, and Civility Theme Icon
Truth, Power, and Recorded Reputation Theme Icon
History and Time Theme Icon
After Joll’s carriage and company leave, the magistrate’s narration shifts, and he says that digging on one... (full context)