“The Blow” by J.M. Coetzee (2005)

A man in his later years, riding his bicycle, gets slammed by a car. He is rushed to the hospital, where doctors decide he must have his right leg amputated. We learn how he enters upon the long process of dealing with this loss as, after a while, he prepares to return to his apartment.

Thus begins one of the more poorly written articles that I’ve read in a serious news source. It reads more like a freshman’s first college essay than an entertainment feature in a newspaper. Geez.

So is this a castration metaphor? Because I’m having a hard time thinking that it isn’t.

The main character finds himself in a particularly vulnerable position from the beginning of his ordeal. The doctor tells him while he’s under the haze of shock and anaesthesia that he must have his leg amputated. When Paul becomes fully conscious again, he feels as though the doctor stole something from him, even if the purpose of the procedure was to help him.

Paul’s relationships with his nurses seem to relate directly to his penis. ….Er, that sounds odd. Anyway, Paul mentions that his first nurse is “competant” but Coetzee’s tone indicates that her competancy is a negative rather than positive thing. She humiliates Paul by using baby talk, calling his penis a “willy” and jokingly telling him to ask permission for her to clean “his willy” when she bathes him. Marijana, however, is respectful of Paul’s privacy when she bathes him, adverting her eyes from his so that “he doesn’t see her seeing him.”

His amputation seems to emasculate Paul and yet he refuses to try prothesis so that he might be able to walk again. And without his leg, he is first belittled by Sheena, his first nurse, and then by an old lover who he feels would no longer be willing to sleep with him because of his stump. Paul seems to like Marijana because of her submissive tendencies around him — her presence does not threaten his masculinity as the competancy of Sheena and his lover.

When he meets Marijana’s children, he reflects that he will not be able to have children now. Paul is not very old so I suspect his amputation causes him to feel as such. Feeling unable to produce a family of his own, Paul adopts Marijana and her family. Lonely in his new confinement, he forms a bond with Marijana’s family. Marijana becomes his wife in a way and her children his grandchildren. He appreciate Marijana’s nursing, her care of him and he seems to want to reciprocate that care to her family. He loves Marijana, but it is not a love of passion or lust. He merely seems to like loving her because it makes him feel good.