Characters of John M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace”


Coetzee’s “Disgrace” is a reflection of the extent to which brutality and sexual violence characterized the famous South African era of apartheid. This novel features David Lurie as the central character whose negative perceptions of women, racist attitudes, and cases associating him with rape depict the level of moral decadence in South Africa during the period of apartheid. Coetzee presents another character, Lucy Lurie, who has to undergo traumatizing episodes because of her sexual standing at a time when authorities could not intervene.

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Hence, although the above highlight depicts these two characters as having experienced devastating sexual encounters, differences observed regarding conflict resolution were highly dependent on David Lurie and Lucy Lurie’s sexual genres and social environments.

Main Body

David Lurie is depicted as a South African lecturer of literature who ends up losing his teaching job due to cases of rape linked to him. He is caught up in a sexual disgrace that involves him raping one of his students, namely, Melanie Isaacs. This victim is a young and delicate student who is forced to engage in sexual acts, despite efforts to resist such a move as marked by her words, “No, not now” (Coetzee 25).

She is “too surprised to resist the intruder” (Coetzee 24) who abuses his social position as a man to find his way to Melanie’s house uninvited to rape her. David Lurie is expected to admit that he engaged in wrongdoing to make the conflict resolution process between him and the school’s administration easier. However, because of his masculine nature and the senior position he holds as a professor of literature, Lurie decides to handle this matter by distancing himself from any offense committed. This conflict management strategy paves the way for more tribulations, including losing his job and being attacked by other men.

Coetzee presents another character, Lucy Lurie, who is forced to engage in sexual activities by several black men. According to this novel, “Lucy is raped by three men as they rob her house…the rape is a violent, hate-filled act” (Coetzee 85). Lucy’s sexual genre seems to play a huge role in tempting these offenders to rape her. She has to cope with this predicament because of her social environment where authorities are never interested in helping women who report rape cases (Boese 249). The justice system before and during the apartheid period in South Africa did not value the need for helping women who were facing sex-related tortures from their male counterparts.

Although Lucy is aware that these systems are put in place to deal with conflicts facing all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientations, she has no hope in getting justice. She asserts, “What if that is the price one has to pay for staying on? … They see themselves as debt collectors, tax collectors” (Coetzee 158). As a female, Lucy goes through traumatic sexual encounters that she has to handle by forgetting them and choosing to move on with her life.

Lucy laments, “I wish I could explain, but I can’t” (Coetzee 155). Hence, unlike David who fails to admit that he is a wrongdoer to ease the conflict resolution process, Lucy is aware of offenses committed against her wish and even willing to have these problems handled by the appropriate authority (Boese 251). However, her knowledge that no justice will be granted because of her gender informs the decision to move on by forgetting whatever happened in her life.

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Conclusively, Coetzee presents instances of David Lurie and Lucy Lurie being placed at the center of crime scenes involving sexual violence. For instance, David has been caught up in a case that depicts him as a rapist. Lucy is also a victim of sexual violence. As it has been revealed in this paper, variations observed in the manner of solving the above issues is solely dependent on the two characters’ social environments and sexual orientations.

Works Cited

Boese, Stefanie. “J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the Temporality of Injury.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, vol. 58, no. 3, 2017, pp. 248-257.

Coetzee, John M. Disgrace. Penguin Books, 2005.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Characters of John M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace”'. 20 April.

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