Age of Iron
by J.M. Coetzee
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
What is Mrs. Curren's fascination with crustaceans, you might ask? We haven't seen so many references to crabs since The Little Mermaid (and we're pretty sure Mr. Coetzee wouldn't appreciate the comparison – but we digress). Mrs. Curren repeatedly compares her cancer to a crab eating up her insides. She also seems to enjoy using crab-like words to describe herself from time to time: "This is my life, these words, these tracings of the movements of crabbed digits over the page" (3.356). She can also be quite crabby (OK, we'll stop now).
So what's up with all these crabs? Well, if you've ever checked your horoscope in a trashy magazine before, you might be familiar with the astrological signs of the zodiac. Basically, there are twelve signs that are based on the position of the sun and the stars in this sort of star calendar. You won't need to know this to understand the crab imagery, we promise. All you need to know is that there's an astrological sign called Cancer, and the symbol of Cancer is the crab. Mrs. Curren seems to equate cancer the disease with Cancer the astrological sign. This means she's come to view her cancer as a crab that's eating up her insides: "Were I to be opened up they would find me hollow as a doll, a doll with a crab sitting inside licking its lips, dazed by the flood of light" (3.221) Yup. Aren't you glad you asked?