“Disgrace” by John Maxwell Coetzee: Character of Petrus


When the reader comes across Petrus, there is the development of the assumption that one is reading concerning a delegate of the countryside. In a given instance, David instantly recognizes his physical features as having a wrinkled, worn face and astute eyes, and estimated his age to be between forty and forty-five years. Having a face that has been weather-beaten by the outdoors, it seems challenging to estimate his actual age precisely. Petrus expresses himself to David with respect to his livelihood, which is centered particularly on rural tasks. Petrus states that he looks after the dogs and undertakes garden work when he says that, “I am the gardener and the dog-man” (Coetzee 17). After reflecting for a while, he reaffirmed working for the dog-man, this time savoring his expression. Petrus is recognized as a dog-man in the novel, but following the land he acquired from Lucy, he turns out to be an illustration of the varying fortunes of the people of South Africa subsequent to Apartheid.

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Petrus does not appear to enjoy his identification as the dog-man (Coetzee 48-54). This is evident in the manner in which he appears to reflect it in a tune that prompts him of his current occupation, who he is, and the future that he expects. Moreover, his resentment of being recognized as the dog-man is evident when he later articulates that he is no longer the dog-man as he embarks on celebrations of land transfer that will turn him into a rich and great man. He says, “No more dogs. I am not any more the dog-man” (Coetzee 33). Another concern that is apparent with regard to Petrus is social status. Through Petrus, the reader not only identifies the manner in which social dynamics swing amid the other characters but also all through the community and nation. Even prior to his affluence beginning to mount, Petrus is already unshakable, which is facilitated by the assistance of Lucy, who articulates that he will go far and that he is a man of substance.

Lucy does not make it clear as to her reasons for assisting Petrus to obtain the land, and she as well appears discomfited the moment Petrus refers to her as the benefactor of his family. This occurrence appears to abash David because of the resultant transfer of power; he believes that Lucy has been pressurized to let go of her interests with the purpose of atoning for past inequalities in the history of South Africa. In reality, the transfer of power dynamics is just one of the many significant concerns that Petrus assists illuminate in the novel (Kelly 160-178).

The greatest power struggle evident in the novel is the invasion by the two male adults and the boy. David and Lucy become defenseless, and the invaders are strengthened by the approach in which they get off with the crime scot-free. In this situation, Petrus’ voice could have been the deciding aspect in making things right, but he does nothing with such power. Irrespective of the occurrences that come after Lucy’s rape, Petrus appears unwilling to get entailed in the conflict. He does not even seem ready to give a view as to what occurred, which annoys and irritates David greatly. Petrus cunningly pretends not to have noticed that Lucy had been raped while telling David of the attack. He explains it as if it were just a typical robbery case (Coetzee 39-41).

Petrus’ craftiness is also apparent at the party the moment he decides not to consider David’s affirmation that the boy is being sought after by the police and just disregards any requests that David makes for him to intervene. Certainly, the reader is not aware at the moment that the boy is Petrus’ brother-in-law; “Anyway, Pollux turns out to be a brother of Petrus’ wife” (Coetzee 49). Nevertheless, it could be argued that the entire occurrences after the rape case could have been different if Petrus were a just man; he would have made the boy pay for the wrongdoing or, at least, show some concern. Petrus’ conduct (or lack of concern) shifts the dynamics of power distinctly in support of the invaders and to the detriment of David and Lucy. However, the actions by Petrus are not just influenced by the possible results of where power is pertained since it is later revealed that he had much stake with respect to the welfare of his family (Barnard 19-28).


By shielding Pollux (the boy), Petrus is not just concerned about a person of his ethnic group, but, most significantly, a relative. Though the reader does not discover Petrus’ feelings towards Lucy on personal grounds, his conducts are not in her favor. Through his actions, Petrus proves to care for the needs of the people close to him. Irrespective of being amid the most provoking characters in the novel, Petrus is also the most interesting. Petrus makes the reader discover an enormous extent of devotion, betrayal, and efforts to succeed in life.

Works Cited

Barnard, Lianne. “The politics of rape: Traces of radical feminism in Disgrace by JM Coetzee.” Tydskrif Vir letterkunde 50.2 (2013): 19-28. Print.

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Coetzee, John. Disgrace. New York: Vintage Books, 1999. Print.

Kelly, Michelle. “”Playing it by the book”: The rule of law in JM Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Research in African Literatures 46.1 (2015): 160-178. Print.

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