n English in Africa - Schopenhauer and secular salvation in the work of J. M. Coetzee

Volume 41, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



The verses in the epigraph are from a Christian hymn written by the former captain of a slave ship involved in the Atlantic slave trade who eventually converted to Christianity and repented his role in the slave trade for the rest of his life. His hymn is based on a prayer by King David (1 Chronicles 17: 16-17) and expresses gratitude for moments of grace in which he was saved from sin. His work as a priest inspired William Wilberforce, whose efforts to abolish the slave trade in Britain eventually succeeded in 1823. Newton's story raises interesting questions about personal and general complicity in an evil institution such as slavery considered normal at the time (hence analogous to our contemporary animal exploitation industries), and about whether there is a need for divine intervention, or moments of grace, to achieve salvation, questions at the heart of much of Coetzee's writing.

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