Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

J. M. Coetzee, Foe (1987)

J M Coetzee’s novel Foe (1987) is a postmodern and post-colonial reworking of the classic text by Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719). This makes it essentially a story about storytelling, which invites readers to be sceptical about claims about ‘truth’ in history and literature. 

While the value of stories in society is acknowledged, the novel draws attention to how unequal power and power struggles shape the composition of a text, and to the consequent silences in mainstream literature in the Western world regarding the omission of the authentic voices of women and blacks.  Language is regarded as powerful, and access to language and the ability to shape the discourses that define an individual’s identity and social roles is considered vitally important to achieving success and social justice. 

In addition, the novel examines how the pressures of commerciality can impact on the writing process to compromise truthfulness.  As well as this, the novel also draws attention to the problematic nature of memory and to how a lack of evidence or ambiguous evidence can compromise claims about a text’s validity. 

Texts are also shown to be open to multiple interpretations.  When critically examined, a text can be shown to reveal much about the psychology and circumstances of the author, perhaps more so than what the text claims to reveal about the nature of the world or the human condition. 

As a postmodern and post-colonial novel, Foe also advances feminist and anti-racist messages, criticising patriarchy, imperialism, liberal notions of enterprise and freedom, socio-economic inequality, and the rationalisations European whites use to justify race-based slavery.  

In addition, by reworking a classic text in the canon of great Western literature, Robinson Crusoe, the author invites his readers to critically reassess this classic text in the light of the postmodern and post-colonial critical theories advanced in this novel, to instead see it as not so much an adventure story celebrating courage, ingenuity and endurance but as reflecting unsavoury and unjust attitudes and behaviours lurking under the shiny surface of Western civilisation. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2019 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Foe meaning, Foe themes, Foe analysis, Foe notes