Thursday, September 30, 2010

Domination, Even Before Colonization Occurs

In J.M. Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country, colonization is thought to be the power struggle that occurs. This, however, does not seem to be the first case of a dominant force ruling over a submissive body within the novel. Early in the book, the narrator describes the relationship between her mother and father, where her father clearly is the only one to represent power: "My father's first wife, my mother, was a frail gentle loving woman who lived and died under her husband's thumb. Her husband never forgave her for failing to bear him a son" (Coetzee 2). Two major instances (specifically dynamics) of power are presented here, the first being the power that the father has over the narrator's mother. Due to the extreme stresses the narrator's mother faced as being a wife, including excess amounts of sexual demands, she becomes too frail and fragile to live any longer. There is also the instance of "failing to bear him a son," speaking to the dynamic of (more broadly than the first dynamic) men and women in this context. This speaks to the concept of "double colonization," where women not only face oppression as the colonized but also face general discrimination as women. The narrator's father does not want daughters because only a son would make a worthy "boy-heir," showing the type of gender hegemony that is present within this society. In this hegemony, of course, the women are subaltern, meaning they are the inferior group that cannot enter into the group of power.

1 comment:

  1. Though for the most part I agree with you, I have to say your final sentence, "In this hegemony, of course, the women are subaltern, meaning they are the inferior group that cannot enter into the group of power," presents issues. First is that they "cannot enter into the group of power," we must remember that Magda is already in a group of power, that is, the white people in South Africa. By being white, she has an inherent control over the servants on the farm. It is true that this deteriorates, but I don't think it is because she is a member of the traditional and oft used term, "other." I feel that it is because of her white social expectations that she is so depressed. White colonizer women were expected to purify their men and race by protecting both. Magda loses all control of this by allowing her father, the only white male on the farm, to lay with his African "concubine." Her sole purpose was protection of the purity of the race and South African nation, but she failed at that. Because of that she regards herself as less than human, not simply because she is a woman, but because through this failure she is without a purpose as a human being.