Classic English Literature
Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee is a gripping tale of apartheid and in South Africa. The story mainly deals by subtly hinting the various thoughts and opinions of the main protagonist, David Lurie, in the beginning of the novel and certain gripping incidences which finally bring about a transformation in David Lurie. He is a professor in a university in Cape Town. Twice divorced, Lurie is well aware that he does not get along with women and yet he craves to be in intimate relationship with women.
The story begins by David meeting Soraya, a prostitute in a restaurant and follows with his torrid affair with Melanie, a student. The novel reflects his thoughts and attitudes on women. He feels that a women’s beauty is one of the fundamental reasons for having intimate sexual relationship. He further believes that a woman’s beauty is something which needs to be shared. The following subtle analysis helps the reader to understand David’s character. “Because a woman’s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it” (Coetzee, 16). In fact, the novel deftly portrays David as a womanizer in the first few chapters. His relationships with Soraya, the prostitute and Melanie Isaacs, his student brings out the dark side of his character.
His illicit relationship and his refusal to publicly apologise to Melanie cost him his job and he goes to the countryside in South Africa to spend time with his daughter, Lucy. The reader gets a feeling that David did not enjoy a close connection with Lucy, his daughter. This is conveyed by David’s decision to stay with Lucy. The book also hints that Lucy may be the only family of David. This is another reason as to why he decides to stay with her as he reflects that staying in a different environment may help him to get some peace and tranquillity.
The novel further goes on to mention the abuse of David by some men and subsequent rape of Lucy. This event breaks down the little conversation that David had with Lucy. They both become evanescent for some time and none of them are able to speak (Brittan, 483). Lucy becomes stoic and withdrawn. This is another moment when the novel reflects David’s empathy for his daughter, Lucy. It also subtly depicts the feelings of a worried father for his daughter.
However, the more David shows his care and concern for his daughter Lucy, the more she becomes withdrawn and finally shuts him out from her life. “Never yet have they been so far and so bitterly apart. He is shaken” (Coetzee, 112). This is another point where David has to start life afresh. It finally dawns on David that he and his daughter does not get along well and this is when he decides to go back to Cape Town.
The novel by Coetzee portrays another situation wherein David learns about Lucy’s pregnancy and comes back to join her. He loses his powers over her, and has to accept to be the grandfather to this child. This is because; David could not try and persuade her to abort the unborn child. The following lines display this sentiment. “What kind of child can seed like that give life to, seed driven into the woman not
in love but in hatred, mixed chaotically, meant to soil her, to mark her, like a
dog’s urine? Standing against the wall outside the kitchen, hiding his face in his hands, he heaves and heaves and finally cries” (Coetzee, 199). Hence, he resigns and accepts whatever fate has in store for Lucy and again deals and lives with Lucy.
The novel ultimately shows that initially David enjoys power over his own position. Be it his position about being a womanizer or being a respectful professor in a university, he enjoys being in power. However, his position changes as the reader peruses through the novel. He is unable to control certain incidences which happen with him and his daughter Lucy. The rape of his daughter and his abuse by three men are incidences which show that he does not have control over particular situations.
A delve into his character further hints that the very things which were once under his control turns him in a position of disgrace, shame and weakness. Be it the incidence which leads him to resign from his job as a professor or the incidences which shaken him and his daughter Lucy.
The novel does a vivid character sketch of portraying apartheid in South Africa. Here, the main protagonist is David Lurie who is abused by three black men. This displays the political tensions in the nation. Also the issue of apartheid is subtly hinted during the conversation between Lucy and David when David insists on reporting the incidence of rape to the police and Lucy firmly denies it.
Another notable relationship with the main protagonist is the manner in which he cares and tends to the dogs. This is not a quality which is done with an ease or impulse, nor is this shown as a desirable outcome. This quality is reflected only after David is first disgraced and made to resign from his lectureship and further incidences following his abuse and the rape of his daughter Lucy. This incidents force him to meet with real animals and hence there is a small flicker of sympathy and love which is echoed by his actions towards the dogs he tended (Herron, 471).
All through the novel has displayed the shifting power equations in David Lurie’s life. He was once a man who had both control and power over the women and his life. His life slowly and gradually shifts from being a person in power to be a victim of power. This is apparent in the last chapter of the book when David decides to stay with Lucy till the child is born and resigns to his fate.
Brittan, A. “Death and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace”. Contemporary Literature, 51.3(2010): 477 – 502. Print.
Coetzee, J.M. Disgrace. 1999. London: Vintage, 2000.
Herron, Tom. “The dog man: becoming animal in Coetzee’s Disgrace”. Twentieth-Century Literature, 51.4(2005): 467 – 490. Print.