Volume 12, Issue 1, 2015
Allegories of Imperialism: Barbarians and World Cultures
Speaking (of) the Unspoken: Exploring the Mystery behind Friday’s Severed Tongue in Coetzee’s Foe
In his 1987 novel Foe, J. M. Coetzee re-introduces the figure of Friday, a speechless cannibal, who is Robinson Crusoe’s slave and who allegedly had his
tongue severed by slave-traders. Evidently, Friday’s bestialization and his peculiar position within the narrative are inextricably linked to his status as a nonspeaking character. In contrast to Susan, Coetzee’s “failed narrator” (MacLeod, 2006: 6), Friday narrates nothing in the novel. Hence, his silence can be seen as a site of resistance to the oppressive power that tries to define him, marking the limit of a language and a literature that seek to place him within western logocentrism. Thus, the enigma of Friday and the enigma that is Friday, are the major axis around which the novel and all relationships within it unfold. Susan’s -and by extension, Coetzee’s own- inability to interpret Friday’s silence does not incapacitate the narrative but quite the contrary: it is only through her (and Coetzee’s) productive failure to determine, to identify and to define the figure of Friday that Coetzee is able to restore agency and meaningfulness to Friday’s silence, opening up its void to the possibility of a restitution (and a justice) to come.