Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Dana J. Ringuette


In both In the Heart of the Country (1977) by J. M. Coetzee and The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) by Doris Lessing, a female narrator fabricates a sanctuary—mental rather than physical—that enables each woman to challenge, deflect, or adapt to a conflict and that shelters her from a hostile, patriarchal society. For Coetzee's narrator (Magda) in In the Heart of the Country, writing, rewriting, and editing provide the necessary devices to establish her asylum in her quest for identity. For Lessing's narrator (the survivor) in The Memoirs of a Survivor, escaping behind the wall allows her to find refuge from and to bring order to a rapidly disintegrating society.

Because the relationship between the author and narrator in these two novels influences the development of these particular features and characteristics of each narrator, an examination of voice provides evidence that the gender of the author does indeed affect the development of the narrators, evident primarily in the images of time and the engendered perceptions of the narrators. Magda writes from the masculine perspective; her voice represents the male-dominated world of Coetzee controlling the situation from a position of power. A dominant first person "I" helps the reader view her not simply as a spinster in the middle of nowhere, but rather as a member of the patriarchal system found in the outside world.

In the situation of Lessing's survivor, her feminine perspective and feminine empowerment project a strong woman who makes the transition from a patriarchal outside world to a matriarchal world behind the wall. Her actions behind the wall show an acceptance of the past and the present, but also a projection of a better future when dealing with both environments. Without this particular attitude and exacting strength, the survivor could not have successfully moved into the world of the wall. This feminine perspective and empowerment influence her writing style and require the inclusion of others' stories.

The shelters fabricated by the narrators, examined in the second section of the paper, are defined by the nature of the spatial dimensions (figurative and literal) of the sanctuaries. This concept of sanctuary evolves from writings about ancient Greek cities in which sanctuaries represent places of asylum and refuge. The narrators' sanctuaries are discussed in terms of an asylum for Magda and a refuge for the survivor.

Magda establishes an asylum to adapt to her masculine fight against nature, evidenced by the voice she employs to deal with the outside world. In contrast to Magda's mental asylum, the corporeal nature of the refuge behind the wall represents the unity of the survivor's joining of feminine perception and feminine power. Within the two novels, the personalities, actions, thoughts, relationships, decisions, writing style, voice, and construction of the sanctuaries must be understood within the framework of the perspective and empowerment afforded the narrators by their authors.