Age of Iron
by J.M. Coetzee
Age of Iron Theme of Race
A discussion of race is completely unavoidable when considering a novel that takes place during Apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was a system of racial segregation that was in place – legally – for nearly fifty years (for more, see our "Setting," "In a Nutshell," and "Best of the Web" sections). In Age of Iron, Mrs. Curren's life is affected by Apartheid in major ways, perhaps most importantly by the fact that her daughter, fed up with the atrocities she witnessed every day, decided to leave South Africa for good and moved to the United States. As a white woman in South Africa, Mrs. Curren feels a huge amount of guilt for the crimes that people of her race have committed against their black neighbors. She doesn't seem to have any other white companions in the novel. In fact, the only other white people she deals with are the officers who hatefully enforce these horrific policies. What's interesting is that Mrs. Curren's sympathies seem to lie wholly with her black counterparts, and yet they can't accept her because her race automatically makes her part of the machine that holds them down.
Questions About Race
- Why do you think the narrator never actually tells us about Vercueil's racial background?
- Which race do you think Vercueil belongs to? Does it matter?
- What does Mrs. Curren's attitude about race seem to be?
- How do you think the novel would have been different if Mrs. Curren weren't white?
Chew on This
Age of Iron is about the hate that springs from racial conflicts.
Mrs. Curren views people as individuals before she sees them as members of a specific race.