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The Unknown

Posted on February 26, 2018

The final chapters of the story Waiting for The Barbarians hold a much more melancholic vibe as it is known that the arrival of the Barbarians is imminent. What strikes me as unsettling is how incompetent the Empire’s army truly is. Once it was known to them that the threat was closing in they simply vanished off with all the food they could. It goes to show you what man will do during times of distress. What fascinates me about their behavior is how little belief they had in themselves even before witnessing an actual army. It reminds me of part one of Sigmund Freud’s “Uncanny” in which he touches upon the fear behind the unknown. Of course mankind will always fear what is unbeknownst to them, not knowing makes us doubt our abilities. But to see an entire army of grown man collectively agree to running from a threat they haven’t assessed troubled me. It had me question what truly makes someone competent to hold their job title. In this case it was a soldier for an army, which I would assume are strong minded individuals but it didn’t seem to be the case here. Does competence come from the actions of a person in the fact of a new challenge or danger? That of which they had no previous experience dealing with? Is it the ability to assess the situation with only your pre-existing knowledge and facing it head on? This question can be addressed to anybody in any profession. Now that I write this I do realize there is no single right answer, just what people in their current situation make of it. But I digress.


What truly struck me as powerful this chapter was the sense of the “unknown”. Freud hit it spot on in his “Uncanny” essay. The idea of not knowing is what creates the fear itself. It doesn’t matter what the actual circumstances portray, as humans we do the most we can to seek knowledge and to logically answer problems with solutions. But in the case of “Waiting for the Barbarians” the Empire’s army was simply toyed with mentally. Being so used to formal combat perhaps gave them different notions as to what sort of fight they may walk into with the Barbarians. But I suppose being ambushed and placed in a situation to wait for the threat to approach them would be enough to drive any person mad.



  1. Jessica Hautsch

    Good discussion of the “unknown” at the end of this novel. The barbarians do remain a relatively unknown factor throughout this book. How does that make them seem more threatening? Also, your discussion of the army is well done. Does their perceived cowardice seem to be making a larger point about the empire and how it functions?

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