Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (ii, 94 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Richard A Barney

Committee Members

Michael K Hill


Landscapes in literature, Space and time in literature, Imperialism in literature, Possessiveness in literature

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


This thesis examines the first three novels published by the South African author J.M Coetzee: Dusklands (1974), In the Heart of the Country (1977), and Waiting for the Barbarians (1980). My analyses is structured around how the narrators engage with a vast and threatening landscape in ways that seek to validate an illusion of spatial control and mastery and uphold the colonial metaphor of emptied landscapes. Although only Jacobus in Dusklands embodies the archetypal explorer that “penetrates” the heart of darkness, his counterparts in the next two novels uphold the same kind of self-mythologizing process in which their desire to dominate, control and inscribe meanings to the landscape is an inevitable consequence of their position in the annals of colonialism. My objective throughout this thesis is to illuminate the dialectical tensions between narrative topographies of blankness and colonialism’s imperatives of spatial control. This recurring narrative tension is reconciled through myths of possession and dominance that are primarily sustained by violent metaphors- and concrete forms- of penetration and annihilation. The first chapter establishes the theoretical lens of spatiality and colonial tropes and discourses related to the landscape of South Africa and how the topography was constructed to appeal to white myths of belonging and conquest. The second chapter focuses on boundaries and boundary-crossings in each narrative and examines how the protagonists define and uphold both spatial and ideological boundaries. The final chapter addresses the metaphor of “emptied landscapes” and the relationship between imperial dominance and the desire to penetrate an interior or possess the landscape.