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Age of Iron

Age of Iron


by J.M. Coetzee

Age of Iron Theme of Suffering

If Age of Iron were a store, we imagine that it would be like if Baskin Robbins opened up a suffering shop, where instead of 32 flavors of ice cream you could get countless varieties of suffering. We see a number of characters undergo suffering of the physical variety: Mrs. Curren's cancer spreads to her bones and causes her to suffer excruciating pain all the time; John splits his head open when the police cause him to have a bike "accident." We witness emotional suffering, too. Sometimes it is immediate and fierce, like when Florence realizes that her son, Bheki, has been brutally killed. Other times, it's quieter and more contemplative, like when Mrs. Curren thinks about her impending death and longs for her daughter. Suffering exists on a small and personal scale, as with these characters, but we also see whole communities suffer, like when Mrs. Curren sees the chaos that takes place in Gugulethu. Yup, 32 varieties of suffering here – and probably more.

Questions About Suffering

  1. Is there anyone in Age of Iron who does not experience suffering? Who? Why do you think they're spared?
  2. Which seems to be worse: the physical suffering we witness in the novel, or the emotional suffering? Why?
  3. What does it take for characters in this novel to sympathize with another person's suffering?
  4. Is there any value in the suffering that the novel's characters experience? If so, what is it? If not, why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Age of Iron shows us that nobody is immune to physical suffering.

Age of Iron shows us the ways in which emotional suffering is worse than physical suffering.

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