J. M. Coetzee Foe (3)
Writing, Identity and History
Starting Questions
Structure of the Novel
Story-telling and writing
Susan’s desire & purposes
Her story-telling and
Her writing vs. Foe’s
The central mysteries
Ways of making sense of the past
Friday and his language
Diving into the Wreck
Starting Questions
What do you think of Susan Barton’s
rejection of the young girl named Susan
What do you think about the depiction of
Friday? Should he be mute and irresponsive?
What do you think about the ending? Who is
the narrator? Why is it repetitive?
How do we deal with our own
Island-isolation (71); confinement (81);
lack of knowledge about the past;
Emptiness & “substance” of existence. (82; 152)
Foe: Structure
Chap 1: her experience on the island; (Barton’s “speech” to Foe)
Chap 2: Barton and Friday in London
(epistolary form)
in Clock Lane,
Foe’s attic; writing letters to Foe & waiting
the young girl pp. 72 – 77;
Speech to Friday 77-87
To Foe pp. 87 –on writing;
To the forest with the girl 89 –
To Foe -- Robe and Friday’s dance
Attempts to teach Friday –music 95- 97;
Set Friday free
Foe: Structure
Chap 3: Barton & Friday in Foe’s hiding place,
Struggle for authorship (B’s narration)
1. Susan and Foe
discussion of plot;
Three parables of women and writing: 1) deathbed confession; 2) daughter as a way to extend
one’s life; 3) Barton’s: Muse as both goddess and
Meeting the girl again
Muse and sex
2. Friday’s silence -The untold stories buried in Friday
teaching him to write “Africa,” “House” “Mother”
Foe: Structure
Chap 4: from Foe’s attic to “dive into
the sea wrecks”; a first-person narration
in the attic and under the sea;
listening for Friday’s voice.
Variation – from voices of the island to
an ongoing stream
Barton’s Desire and Purposes
Sense of urgency, getting the story
told is her primary concern
Memory –longing for the island;
Fame and Immortality;
Money to send Friday back to Africa;
Identity: acquire “substance” of her
identity (51) –not just a fictional
Barton’s story-telling
sense of immediacy:
address to “you” –Foe, the girl, Friday
expecting audience response (7)
Re-telling the stories to remember them
(repetition p. 5; 11; Friday’s tongue)
“imagine” things into existence: p. 49;
53, 61, etc.
Wants her story to be “truthful” 40;
acknowledge her ignorance.
Barton’s writing: multiple interpretation
Moment to assume writing position: p. 65
Need to explain Friday’s loss of tongue (blank
page)  multiple interpretation (Cruso or slave
trader, mutilation or tribal custom)
1. Two paintings & Friday’s past pp. 68-69; 842. The use of “kiss” and “desire” in communicating
with Friday p. 79;-81;
Barton’s writing: reconstruction
Like their work on the terraces 87
Like a painter –adding hues to show
contrast //episodes and their hidden
Establishing the poles, the here and there
 easy 93
Barton’s writing vs. Foe’s
the more “dramatic” elements –
cannibal, musket, carpenter’s chest,
younger Cruso, love for Barton p. 83
Barton’s writing vs. Foe’s
Susan – wants to be her own author
different plots –reunion of mother and
daughter, or survival on an island;
Chap 3– p. 129 meets the young girl
with her nurse Amy  struggle for
Barton’s authorship vs. Foe’s
1. The “daughter” episode:
p. 131 “I am a free woman who asserts her
freedom by telling her story according to her
own desire.”
(p. 133 daughter like ghost coming back to life - losing her sense of authorship )– “now all my
life grows to be story and there is nothing of my
own left to me.”
2. Three stories  muse as begetter
3. Sex: Foe’s “preying” on the living;
p. 150 Foe as a slaver turning his deaf ear to
p. 152 Susan thinks of Foe “as a mistress, as a
Acknowledges her lack of understanding
The central mysteries
pp. 83- 87
the terraces –like tombs
The tongue pp. 84;
Friday’s submission
No desire
The scattering of petals
Ways of making sense of the past
Foe – p. 135 -- also lost in the maze of
Make a sign of one’s blindness and return to
it all the time.
“plant a sign or marker in the ground where I
stand so that in my future wanderings I shall
have something to return to, . . .the more
often I come back to the mark, . . .the more
certainly I know I am lost. . .” (135-36)
Friday and his language/silence
Multiple interpretation of his (lack of)
(1) Forever enslaved
After the “unnatural years” with Cruso,
he is like “an animal wrapt entirely in
itself” (70) ;
eternal obedience? 98;
Friday and his language/silence
(2) His silence= loss
1. Like a whale and a spider p. 59;
2. Connection to the time before Cruso p.
60; true stories buried in him (118)
3. Tongue (vs. heart)– a member of play
4. “defenseless” silence (p. 121)
Friday’s languages & Identity
(3) Has his languages but cannot
communicate with them
1. Dance – 92
2. Bass recorder
3. Dance like Friday 103-104—
understanding him –”seeing” 119
Teaching Friday
Teaching him to write – is teaching him
white’s language a way to establish
Susan—understands him, and
acknowledges her lack of complete
Is he stupid or laughing at me? 146;
Foe – not teaching him is to keep his
desires dark to us;
Susan – “He desires to be liberated, and I
do too.” 148
Friday’s languages & identity
Susan – teaches him but questions
How does he know “freedom”? How is
Friday to recover his freedom? Are we free?
“There will always be a voice in him to
whisper doubts, whether in words or
nameless sounds or tunes or tones.” (149)
Friday is not free, but he is not in
subjection. 150
Diving into the “Wreck” Twice
(p. 142 “It is for us to open Friday’s
mouth and hear what it holds: silence,
perhaps, or a roar,” Foe. “Who?”)
People –
1) straw-and-paper-like existence; their
2) A plague of the “author” with writing
too small to read;
Diving into the “Wreck” Three times
1) His heart, his body,
2) Scar on his neck; (Susan’s writing)
 the narrator diving to see the kraken,
shark (or a guardian wrapped in rotting
 Susan and the captain
What is this ship?  the Middle Passage

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