First Advisor

Sarah Lincoln

Date of Award

Winter 2-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in English and University Honors






postcolonial, spatial, identity, geography, self-identity, place-identity




Occupying colonial governments establish and maintain power through the demarcation and control of space, a process Sara Upstone terms "overwriting". In Life & Times of Michael K, Coetzee imagines the complication of establishing and maintaining a self-identity amid the strict control of space in post-apartheid, wartime South Africa, and it is this conflict of identity which comprises the novel’s subplot. The reader follows Michael K's odyssey over hundreds of miles in his quest to find the farm on which his mother was born and raised. His journey is repeatedly thwarted by state actors who enforce a strict control of movement through spaces designated and ordered by the South Africa government, reflecting how oppressive state power structures impose arbitrary constructs of space which disrupt pre-existing spatial connotations within the same geography. In this essay, I employ a close reading of Coetzee's fourth novel and incorporate spatial theory, self-identity and place-identity theory, as well as preceding scholarly inquiry into the novel, to argue that the influence of spatial contexts on the protagonist's struggle to form and maintain his self-identity, comprises the novel's central theme.


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