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What do we learn about the character of the young John Coetzee in “Boyhood”

“Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life” by J.M. Coetzee is a semi-autobiographical novel about the author’s childhood and formative years. The book, set mostly in Worcester and in parts, in Cape Town, focuses on his experiences and attitudes while growing up and the events that transformed Coetzee the boy into Coetzee the adult and how his views and opinions changed throughout the years described closely in the novel. Coetzee spotlights the, arguably, most difficult years in our lives as childhood is the time when we are most undecided about our destination.The novel provides a very high level of insight into Coetzee’s mind and his view of himself as a child growing up. Coetzee strikes the reader as an unusual and almost strange child that both relishes and hates being different. While he secretly believes he is better than the other boys, he feels “alien” to the activities the other boys at his school find ordinary, such as walking barefoot, playing cricket or swimming. For him, childhood in Worcester is all about “gritting teeth and enduring.” His constant, almost subconscious, need to be at polar opposites of the general opinion, such as support for Russia in the Cold War earns him the status of an outsider.Coetzee relates to other children in a strangely egotistical way. He starts conversations with his supposed friends Greenberg and Goldstein only to allow him to talk about himself. His conviction that he is better and his stories of first memories “more magnificent”, while his friends’ “pointless” and not worth listening to and deserve to be ignored, emphasises the appearance of the young John Coetzee as selfish and reasonably outcast within his peers. His physical differences, such as being unable to swim and play cricket, as well as his “soft feet” and not being beaten at home or school, also make him very different from his classmates.I think that although, secretly young Coetzee relished being different, he also desperately wanted to fit in and be popular, be like his much-idolised heroes of Greek and Roman mythology, or even the Coloured boys he admires so much from a distance. His self-esteem is always at a low, calling himself things like a “spider” and a “crab” at regular intervals of the book. However, from slightly selfish and shy at the beginning, he becomes more confident and self-assured, he discovers his own characteristics, which allow his to be happy in his position as a class outcast.

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