“Age of Iron” by J.M. Coetzee Essay
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The extract from the prose “Age of Iron” written by J.M. Coetzee is about the depiction of different generations conflicting with one another. This extract is set up as an old wise woman a one-way conversation during the 1990’s. This extract illustrates the young boy being forced in listening to the old wise woman’s opinion about the cons of the apartheid, more specifically being the war. Throughout the prose, the young boy refuses to listen to the voice of authority and shows the old wise woman that with stubbornness and self-determination, young children do not accept what they are told from authority.
With the portrayal of the two generations conflicting, the extract suggests that the immense amount of influence of authority can play a major role on younger generations leading them to choose the wrong path.
This prose is shown as a one-way conversation and is during the time period of the 1990’s which is also known as the South African Apartheid. With the Apartheid regime, the tone of the extract is in a depressed mood because of their struggle to freedom. The old wise woman’s opinions are demonstrated through her stream of consciousness and moves from quick dialogue with the young boy to descriptions showing the vivid imagery of the war. The depressed plot of this extract shows the social activism of the younger generation and the minorities in South Africa fighting for their own rights. The old woman’s advice is however being ignored from the young boy who refuses; due to his stubbornness and goes onto the wrong path putting himself into great danger.
The setting of this prose most likely takes place in the old woman’s house because of the depiction that the old woman “do[esn’t] have bandages in the house.” This shows that the young boy illustrates the dramatic beginning by making “splashing noises” indicating that it was rainy day outside and he needed to go inside somewhere dry. Since the young boy went inside the old woman’s house without knocking, this shows that there is a family connection between the old woman and the boy however not a strong connection because of the one-way dialogue throughout the prose. However, they do have family connection where the boy visits often because she notices “the bandage [is] off and with surprise [she] noticed that the stitches were still in.”
This line depicts that she cares for the boy and that there is a family connection between the two characters because of the connection of the boy being able to go into her house and the fact that he has visited before with a bandage on. The prose then continues into short dialogue, demonstrating that the narrator is represented as a motherly figure because of the tone of caring in the dialogue such as “when did you leave the hospital and you must keep that cut covered, otherwise it will get infected…” The protagonist in this prose is represented as a mother figure because of the consecutive questions she asks the boy about his cut and exaggerates that it will leave “a memento” on “his forehead for the rest of his life.”
The protagonist is shown as a “hen that loses its chicks” because in the prose, the young boy that steps into the protagonist’s house isn’t blood-related to the old woman however, this line depicts that the old woman will still treat him as her own son because of the theme nature vs. nurture. The old woman also recommends to the young boy to “go [see] a doctor soon, or a clinic to have the stitches taken out.” This quotation also initiates the spark of the young boy choosing the wrong path in life, leading him into great danger because he cleverly moves away from the topic by saying that he “must rest [his] arm” and his “head is not sore.” By saying this to the old woman, she immediately thinks that he is “running away from someone” and by being silent, she starts to show her caring and loving for the boy by telling him advice.
Since she asked the young boy with care and love if he was running away from someone, and with no reply, the old woman got worried and starts to explain to the young boy again that he is “too young for this kind of thing”. The old woman starts to tell explain to the young boy that it is not a good thing to die and that even though he is fighting for his own rights during the war, he should be careful because “[they are] throwing away [their] lives before [they] know what life can [really] be.”
It is also indicated in the prose, that she is an old person because she says so herself when she is explaining to the young boy. She also talks about “Bheki”, her son who died at a young age because he fought in the war however when she explained to the young boy that war isn’t a good thing to participate; he didn’t understand because he asked after she had explained about the cons of war. The vivid imagery is brought out into that particular paragraph because she illustrates the war as an “age of chivalry” where “men [hack] other men to death.” However her strong opinion against the war didn’t work on the young boy because he wasn’t influenced at all because his desires were very strong about war.
In the prose, the young boy has rebelled against the voice of authority (old woman_ by not paying attention to her when she was talking as she explained through dialogue and imagery that war isn’t something to be proud about. However, the young boy’s desire grew and he became more passionate about the war showing that all of the immense influencing she did was a waste of time. Consequently, she gets furious when he asks “where is Bheki.” This shows that the young boy wasn’t paying attention to the old woman and shows that he is also immature. This specific quotation indicates that the young boy isn’t mature because he didn’t understand her hint when she said that “I told Bheki so [I’ll] tell you again.”
This being the turning point of the prose, the old woman changes her voice of tone from soft and sweet into more of a demanding voice by telling him to “sit down”. As he follows her orders, she starts to explain that Bheki is actually “in a box in a hole with earth heaped on top of him.” She says this with great pain and as she quickly brushes that off her shoulders, she then changes her way of explaining to the boy into a more childish way. She starts to use basic terms for the young boy to understand as her diction goes from complex to simple.
Her voice changes immediately and the old woman start to explain to the boy as if he was a little child who was learning to ride a bike. As the conclusion starts to approach, her mood also becomes more furious because she knows that compassions is the most important thing and pushes that war is a struggle and pain. With her great influence upon the young boy, “he threw off [the] talk” and chooses the path of war as a sign of discipline.
In the prose “Age of Iron” the influence of authority is shown throughout the prose. With the old woman trying to lure the young boy out from war is not successful as all the young boys listen to discipline and nothing else. However with him refusing the talk which had “weighed down the generation of his grandparents and his generation of his parents”; he decided to choose the wrong path leading him into a great deal of danger. Even though, the old wise woman knew what she was talking about and had heard about past experiences through memory and sense-perception, her influence upon the boy was very significant however with the two generations conflicting, the immense amount of influence of the old wise woman wasn’t successful which lead the young boy in choosing the wrong path.