Life and Times of Michael K

Major character analysis

Michael K (K)

A simple man born in South Africa, K bears the deformity of a hare lip. K's central role is underscored by his appearance—he is deformed and because of this, people look down upon him. His mother, the police, and Visagie's grandson all treat him with respect of a lesser human on the basis that he looks and acts slow. This is shown by the fact that K's mother institutionalizes him until she needs him, the police let him wander around unnoticed because he has a childish innocence, and Visagie's grandson treats him as a common servant.

But K is also dedicated to being true to his beliefs. When K's mother becomes very ill, he dedicates his life to taking her home at whatever the cost. And when she dies along the way, K continues to show his dedication by carrying her ashes all the way to Prince Albert so she can finally be home.

When K is institutionalized he becomes a gardener, where he learns to enjoy isolation and the freedom it grants him. We see K's isolation and freedom continue throughout the book, starting at the Visagie's house where he first begins to learn to live off the land. But when his freedom is encroached on, K flees even further from society, maintaining his freewill. In the mountains he understands how he wants to live his life, which involves only eating food he has grown from the Earth. K ultimately returns to Cape Town and to his mother's old apartment, never giving up his longing for freedom.

Anna K

Michael K's mother disliked him since she saw his disfigurement. Anna put K into a government institution and ignored him until she had no one else to turn to because of her health. Though she seems to have been uncaring and absent during his childhood, K shows his unconditional love for her by taking care of her until her death. Anna lived her life in fear: fear of losing her job, getting sick, or being put out on the street.

The Medical Officer

The infirmary medical officer at the rehabilitation camp is responsible for taking care of K when he is brought in. The medical officer was the only one of the staff at the hospital to realize K is an innocent civilian, being unfairly treated for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The medical officer becomes fascinated by K and his childish nature and his reasons for not eating.

The medical officer originally thinks K wants to kill himself — hence his reason for not eating — but he comes to understand that K does want to live, just on his own terms. After K's escape, the medical officer realizes that because the camp is becoming under more strict military control, he is envious of K's freedom. K changes the medical officer's outlook on life: the medical officer fantasizes about following K and begging K to let him live like him.

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