Age of Iron
by J.M. Coetzee
Age of Iron Mortality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
There is something about it that does not bear thinking of. To have fallen pregnant with these growths, these cold, obscene swellings; to have carried and carried this brood beyond any unnatural term, unable to bear them, unable to sate their hunger: children inside me eating more every day, not growing but bloating, toothed, clawed, forever cold and ravenous. Dry, dry: to feel them turning at night in my dry body, not stretching and kicking as a human child does but changing their angle, finding a new place to gnaw. (2.200)
Mrs. Curren has a tendency to describe her cancer as a kind of pregnancy. In most cases, pregnancy is a way to perpetuate life: a child grows inside a woman and then is born. Here, Mrs. Curren turns that image upside-down. The thing growing inside her isn't going to create new life; instead, it's going to bring about her death.
Inside the hall was a mess of rubble and charred beams. Against the far wall, shielded from the worst of the rain, were five bodies neatly laid out. The body in the middle was that of Florence's Bheki. He still wore the gray flannel trousers, white shirt, and maroon pullover of his school, but his feet were bare. His eyes were open and staring, his mouth open too. The rain had been beating on him for hours, on him and his comrades, not only here but wherever they had been when they met their deaths; their clothes, their very hair, had a flattened, dead look. In the corners of his eyes there were grains of sand. There was sand in his mouth. (3.158)
We spend so much time immersed in thoughts of Mrs. Curren's death that we forget how fragile other people's lives are too – anyone can die. While Mrs. Curren's death is long and drawn out, Bheki's death is sudden and violent. He doesn't get the same opportunity to come to terms with his death – it just happens to him.
I might as well ask: Do the dead know they are dead? No: to the dead it is not given to know anything. But in our dead sleep we may at least be visited by intimations. I have intimations older than any memory, unshakable, that once upon a time I was alive. Was alive and then was stolen from life. From the cradle a theft took place: a child was taken and a doll left in its place to be nursed and reared, and that doll is what I call I. (3.210)
As Mrs. Curren gets closer and closer to her own death, she starts wondering more and more about what life after death is like. She ponders whether she'll be able to sense anything. She also seems to be thinking really carefully about how fleeting life is. Her current self is a figure who replaces her former childhood self.