Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Jill Durey


This thesis is an examination of the fictional works of J.M. Coetzee to date. By focusing my gaze upon either the lack of encounter or the encounters between the 'Self' and the 'Other', I explore the relationship between confrontation and the fluid formation and erosion of identity. This exploration takes place against a dual background: the history of the apartheid government in South Africa, the legacy of oppression and the post-apartheid opportunities and challenges; and Coetzee's own acknowledgement of complicity with the past and commitment to a reconciled future. This study not only examines a broad range of criticism on Coetzee but also provides an integrated response to Coetzee's own writing, both fictional and nonfictional. A crack or flaw is revealed in the identity of each of the main characters in the texts. These aporias resist interrogation and establish what I perceive to be a metafictional objective. The limitations of rational engagement are eloquently represented in Coetzee's novels in the presence of the suffering body. It is the aim of this thesis to trace a trajectory which begins in this metalingual space and leads to a metaphysical challenge to Western philosophical tradition. On close textual scrutiny of three of the novels: In the Heart of the Country, Age of Iron and The Master of Petersburg, I have identified widening cracks in the identities of the protagonists. Using a metaphor of leakage, it is my thesis that these gaps offer creative opportunities of sharing which dissolve judgement and allow for imaginative understanding of otherness. This study is then read back into Coetzee's world. It reaffirms the significance of his voice locally and globally, both in the academy and society. I concur with most recent comment that Coetzee's fiction transgresses critical containment and offers metafictional extension to post-colonial theories. This thesis synthesises some of this current debate. The ethical implications of his work are also extended in this thesis, by honouring his commitment to self-scrutiny throughout the novel sequence and in his personal confession in Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life. In the specific narratives of his characters and the stories from his own past, he provides fragments of hope which transcend the confines of all discourse. I conclude that his example invites and encourages a brave response.