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Home  » Learning Paths » Postmodern and Postcolonial Fiction. J. Coetzee's Foe
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Acciarino - Postmodernism and Foe.
[author: Teresa Acciarino - postdate: 2007-10-11]

Text: Foe
Task: comparison between Foe's themes and Postmodernism's coventions


Cultural: Postmodernism
Linguistic: Improving Writing skills


Foe's analysis in comparison to Postmodernism



Cultural: Postmodernism
Linguistic: Improving Writing skills


Foe's analysis in comparison to Postmodernism


Postmodernisms a revived form of Modernism developed between the 1950s and the 1980s. One of the most important points considered by this movement is the concept of writing, always considered as a re-writing. As matter of fact  intertextuality is clearly shown in the Coetzee's text that may be considered a reshaping of Defoe "Robinson Crusoe". Its themes are strictly connected to the Postmodernist paradigms and the multilayer structure of Coetzee's novel shows a lot of inter-connections with texts beyond and besides the archetype.


The archetype has been transformed in terms of story line: the events of robinson's story have been reduced to the minimum and selected in space and time. Moreover language is simplified. According to the post-modern technical standards the novel "Foe" includes a multicultural language (French words, songs). In other words the re-adaptation of the language is connected to the presence of a multicultural [and multi-age: adolescents] audience. As a matter of fact Postmodernism combines the everybody aspects of popular culture with what has been considered "high" art (differently  from Modernism that privileged high culture such as literature, classical art and music).

The archetype is full of details that the review loses. The scenery is essential, everythingh becomes symbolic and the reader gains a most important role and the ability to imagine.

In postmodernism the time of reading acquires importance, therefore the role of themes examined prevails on the details of stories. The structure of  the story shows the technique btelling. As matter of fact it begins in medias res and the narration that in the archetypecovers the whole book, in "Foe"is totally there in the very first chapter.


Coetzee decides to describe emotions and sensation to make his story interesting for the reader. The reader has a central role because, according to the postmodernism's point of view, he is able to understand using his mind, without any conditioning.

At the same time he writer uses a fictional  technique to represent  reality and an allegorical use of language to permit a multiple interpretation (multiplicity of layers - multilayered writing).

The ideal reader is able to gather and understand all aspects that the novelist wants to transmit.


The voice of marginal people is an other crucial aspect of post-modern culture. The novelist wants to give voice to a woman and to Friday whose silence is used to express the exclusion of black perspectives from colonial history.

Friday is given no voice because his personality is filtered, never directly accessible.

Moreover Friday's silence seems to win on all narrators - because it only represents reality and it is the only one to possess  the truth.

Furthermore women have a key role in the post-modern tradition.

Therefore Coetzee decides to have a woman protagonist instead of the  Defoe's Crusoe.

If man generally  develops a linear way of thinking, woman develops a reticular way of thinking (theme of multitasking functioning mainly visible in women). So the way to perceive the world is different. The woman prefers a relativistic interpretation (other important point of  postmodernism).


An other important point is the concept of reality: according to post-modernism conventions (deconstruction, decentering), reality is considered something impossible to be known. As a matter of fact there are many realities, one for each person perceiving it. In other words, he only can interpret what he reads according to his way of thinking, looking at the world, his emotions and  his life.


Postmodernism emphasises fragmentation as a feature of XX century art and culture but differently from Modernism accepts  fragmentation and tries to find meaning in the absence of a centre. Modernism instead tries to find ways of re-establishing connections to traditions and find a centre of meaning.

In moving from Modernism to Postmodernism there is a change of perceiving investigation and discussion: Postmodernism celebrates the decentering of the subject. In addition, Postmodernism privileges disorder instead of order. Dominant and totalizing discourses were seen as repressive powers.  Postmodernists were to advocate the notion of the decentred subject rather than the notion of the individual, the centred subject.


Further more, considering that Coetzee seems to identify with Susan's point of view, the reader recognizes a female sensitivity in Coetzee's thought.

With post-modernism a shift from Logos to Pathos (that appeals to audience's emotions) can be recorded.

The novel begins describing the protagonist's shipwreck. The description uses stylistic choices trhat appeal to sight  that cpould also be considered  appropriate to cinematic devices: the event is narrated in such an exciiting to allow the reader to see the scene as if he were watching a film. The writer is able to provide lively  representations of scenes and he avoids to many details. Coetzee is able to identify himself with the protagonist considering emotions and sufferings as vital part of the story ("I drank, and he broughtmore. It was the best water I ever had.")


Considering the gap between reality and what is narrated, Foe becomes an enemy for Susan - because of his intention to transform Susan's adventure into  fiction. The etymological meaning of the word "foe" is just enemy, opposition, adversary. All that is probably connected to the differences between the writer that knows language and who is not able to communicate (Susan).