Age of Iron
by J.M. Coetzee
Character Role Analysis
Florence to Mrs. Curren
Florence and Mrs. Curren may spend a substantial chunk of their time living side-by-side, but that doesn't mean they have anything in common. In fact, the more we get to know Florence, the more we realize how different she sure is from Mrs. Curren, especially in terms of how she views the world. Mrs. Curren seems to live a lot of her life sheltered from the atrocities around her. Yeah, OK, she sees the news and hears tidbits of what's going on, but none of these events are really her problem. Florence opens up this hidden world to Mrs. Curren by bringing it right into her own home. When Florence brings Bheki and his friend to Mrs. Curren's house, she blurs the line between "here" and "there." Florence's distaste for Vercueil also provides a way for us to look at the differences between the two women. When she denounces Vercueil as a slob and "rubbish" person, Mrs. Curren gets all upset and bothered about it. Florence pushes Mrs. Curren to think about aspects of her life that she had never before considered and thus changes the way Mrs. Curren approaches the world around her.
Mrs. Curren to Vercueil and vice versa
Mrs. Curren and Vercueil seem to be the classic "odd couple." She's a cat person; he's a dog person. She's old; he's not quite so old. She has a huge house with room to spare; he's homeless. It seems hard to believe that fate could throw two people together who are just so different but who seem to complement each other so well in spite of those differences – pretty cool.
When we first get to know Vercueil, he seems like a nuisance. In fact, if we were in Mrs. Curren's shoes, we'd probably try to find ways to get rid of him too. That said, we figure out pretty quickly that he fulfills some sort of need that she has. On a practical level, she would love to somebody around; she's dying of cancer and isn't quite as strong as she used to be. She needs someone who can save her in a pinch. She could use someone to protect her. She also needs someone to send her final letters to her daughter. We have to wonder, though, if it might be possible that Vercueil also needs someone to look out for him, too? At the end of the novel, for example, Mrs. Curren worries about who will look after him once she's gone. The man can barely feed himself properly, for goodness' sake! The more we look at ways that Mrs. Curren and Vercueil are different, the more we realize how similar they are.