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“Disgrace” by John Coetzee: Analysis

“Disgrace” by John Coetzee is a novel about loss, pain, and the efforts to reconcile with oneself. The main characters are disgraced and deprived of all dignity in different circumstances. Even though the characters David Lurie and Lucy Lurie have in common the suffering of facing traumatic sexual experiences, their conflict-resolution styles are very dissimilar due to their social environments and sexual genres.

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The novel tells the story of David Lurie, a professor working at the University of Cape Town. He has an affair with his student named Melanie and loses his job and the respect of his peers. David decides to go to the farm of his lesbian daughter, Lucy. For a time, he attains inner peace, but it is soon disrupted when a group of three black men attacks him and his daughter, almost killing him and raping her. At that point, their relationship is ruined and after growing ever more distant, David returns to Cape Town only to find his house robbed. After a short while, he is informed that his daughter is pregnant by his friend Bev Shaw, who he used to help at a vet clinic and had an affair with. He returns only to find that Lucy has accepted her fate and is preparing to live with a man who raped her, named Pollux. David continues working at the clinic, abandoning all of his hopes and dreams. The plot of the novel is symbolic, representing the broken relationship between the natives and the colonial abuses. That is why Lucy sees losing everything as paying her debt.

Lucy’s Solution

Lucy is coping with being sexually abused by yielding. She realizes that the rapist is planning to force her into marriage and gain ownership of her farm. However, despite being initially horrified by the experience, Lucy chooses to simply accept her fate. She does not resist or run. She simply gives up. The author links that resignation with the fate of the former white overlords of the South Africa. She simply resigns herself to the fact that the criminals were motivated not by personal hatred but by a desire to avenge their own people. To her, the natives now rule everything, and it is easier to conform. She says: “But whatever I decide I want to decide by myself, without being pushed” (Coetzee 39). However, in the end, she seems to have decided not to decide at all. She simply accepted the circumstance and did not do anything to change the situation. Some critics describe this choice as a way towards a new life without guilt and punishment, a symbol of the forgiveness following the end of the Apartheid (Kossew 161). However, letting such crimes continue is no way towards a healthier society. If people hurt each other like that the Apartheid will continue in the hearts of people instead of the laws of the country.

David’s Solution

The father of Lucy solves his problems in a different way. He just runs from them. He does not make any attempts to resist or amend the troubles he encounters. When his predatory affair with Melanie is exposed, he does not argue or defend himself. He simply admits his guilt and leaves. He meets the rape of his only daughter with the same indifference. He even lectures Lucy on the context of the crime: “It was history speaking through them,” (Coetzee 39) he says. He convinces himself that rape is just a part of the everyday life and nothing can be done to change the reality around him. David might have pressed the charges himself, acting like an enraged father would. Instead, he chooses to distance himself from the entire situation.

Deep inside, he may be tortured, but he represses the anger and continues to run from one disgrace to another. Finding nothing to return to back at Cape Town, he goes back to Lucy. But even then, he continues running. He does give Pollux a smack in the face, but that amounts to nothing more than the powerless frustration of a man completely ruined. In the end, he allows Bev to euthanize the dog he has grown fond of, saying: “Yes, I am giving him up” (Coetzee 54). With that, he reconciles with himself by abandoning the last thoughts of resistance or revenge. That scene seems somewhat reminiscent of the Orwell’s “1984.” Just like Winston, talking with Julia, simply says “I betrayed you” (Orwell 321) admitting his final defeat, David gives up completely in a very similar fashion. The key difference is that Winston was broken by the torture while David broke himself by being unable to accept or resist the world he was living in.


While both characters handle their disgrace differently, it is hard not to find their ways of handling the situation revolting. David just runs away until he is too mentally exhausted to continue while Lucy simply conforms to the spirit of the society she lives in without any thought. Even though they are both broken in their own ways, suffering from their inability to find their place in the world, such mute acceptance of evil is hardly justified. They just seem to be paralyzed by their own views. Maybe they see themselves as being punished for the sins of the previous generations. However, simply allowing people, for whom rape and murder are a way to have some fun and profit, to go unpunished is impossible to justify. The novel shows no ways out and seems to imply that any resistance to violence is useless (Ogden 302). While it works as a larger metaphor for the post-Apartheid South Africa, the actions of the characters seem horrifying and depressing even in that context.

Works Cited

Coetzee, John Maxwell. Disgrace, London, UK: Penguin Books, 1999. Print.

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Kossew, Sue. “The Politics of Shame and Redemption in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Research in African Literatures 34.2 (2003): 155-166.

Ogden, Benjamin. “Reconcile, Reconciled: A New Reading of Reconciliation in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Ariel: a Review of International English Literature 42.3 (2012): 301–314.

Orwell, George. 1984, New York, NY: Signet Classic, 1961. Print.

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"“Disgrace” by John Coetzee: Analysis." StudyCorgi, 15 Jan. 2022,

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StudyCorgi. "“Disgrace” by John Coetzee: Analysis." January 15, 2022.


StudyCorgi. 2022. "“Disgrace” by John Coetzee: Analysis." January 15, 2022.


StudyCorgi. (2022) '“Disgrace” by John Coetzee: Analysis'. 15 January.

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