A protagonist is the major character who let readers follow the story. The protagonist is the person whose actions and choices influence outcomes of the story, and in Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee tells the story through the lead character, David Lurie. Through the protagonist of Disgrace, readers must understand all information and actions of David. While David is the lead character of the novel, this does not necessarily imply that, though, that he is the hero or a likable character.
David presents unusual traits, especially when he tries to have an affair with Melanie. In some instances, David could irritate readers with his arrogance, for instance, he presents a slack attitude during the investigation of Melanie’s issue. At other times, readers cannot help but feel sorry for what the professor of Romantic poetry has become as he falls from social grace, down from a well-respected professor to a common village person who shows much concern for dead dogs as he pulls them to the incinerator.
He has fallen much lower relative to Michael, an ordinary Cape Town gardener. The range of ideas that Coetzee presents shows the nature of conflict that the protagonist must resolve and hurdles to overcome, but in this case, the disgrace proceeds and so does the protagonist with his life, and in the end, the disgrace stays unresolved and not concluded.
Readers can understand the plight of the protagonist as it grows harder. For instance, David reflects that, “One gets used to things getting harder; one ceases to be surprised that what used to be as hard as hard can be grows harder yet” (Coetzee 219). This statement also reflects the ongoing changes and life in South Africa as Coetzee understands them in which the atrocious tyranny has been overtaken by the atrocious anarchy (Atwell 865).
It could have been difficult for the professor to survive while atrocities continue to tear the country. The lead character has turned into a victim of ongoing changes in which the university has become a technical college while his course is now communication skills – he finds the course to be absurd.
David continues to encounter even harder conflict as he becomes irrelevant to escorts he patronizes every week, who have stopped entertaining him and imagines them shudder him. For instance, David ponders that “as one shudders at a cockroach in a washbasin in the middle of the night” (Coetzee 8), and he wonders if he can ask his doctor to castrate him just like some domestic animals.
Coetzee compares human and animal life to reflect the disgrace of the protagonist. David is in an extreme situation that forces him to assess exactly what it implies to be human because of changes in post-Apartheid South Africa (Durrheim, Mtose and Brown 234).
Thus, before the author can end the novel, the protagonist must experience psychological torture and physical torment, which perhaps will never end. As David fled from his reality to Lucy’s farm (his daughter), Lucy comments that, “This is the only life there is. Which we share with animals” (Coetzee 94).
These conflicts and hurdles ultimately reduce the protagonist to almost an animal life and eventually turning him into a caretaker of dying dogs. The author depicts the highest level of disgrace for David. As the novel ends, David thinks the language people use has become “tired, friable, eaten from the inside as if by termites” and that he, an expert practitioner, is also hollow, “like a fly-casing in a spiderweb” (Coetzee 107). This remark reflects the near-animal existence that the protagonist has nearly reached (Neimneh 1569).
David fortunes started to dwindle long before these ordeals. Thus, he further becomes marginalized (Nejat and Yaghoobi 570), for instance, David refuses to defend himself before the committee investigating his sexual misconduct with a student. He finally apologizes, but the tribunal does not accept the apology.
Coetzee observes that David’s mind has turned to “a refuge for old thoughts, idle, indigent, with nowhere else to go. He ought to chase them out, sweep the premises clean. But he does not care to do so, or does not care enough” (Coetzee 72).
Disgrace, therefore, show the conflicts, hurdles, the struggle and guilt suffered by a previously dominant group in a changing South Africa. The protagonist reflects a man who is completely condemned to disgrace. Nevertheless, in spite of all David’s failures, readers must follow his every action and thoughts, observe his fall from social grace to disgrace, and assess changes in his character and establish new relationship with animals. After the protagonist’s experiences, he changes to become less patronizing and more human, but defeated in life.
Thus, one may say that David as a protagonist fails to overcome conflicts and hurdles in his path. Nevertheless, readers may identify with him just a little bit as a human who depicts misery in the new post-Apartheid South Africa.
Atwell, David. “Coetzee and post-apartheid Africa.” Journal of African Studies 27 (2001): 865-867. Print.
Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. The United Kingdom: Secker & Warburg, 1999. Print.
Durrheim, Kevin, Xoliswa Mtose and Lyndsay Brown. Race Trouble: Race, Identity and Inequality in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011. Print.
Neimneh, Shadi. “Coetzee’s Postmodern Bodies: Disgrace between Human and Animal Bodies.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies 4.8 (2014): 1569-1575. Print.
Nejat, Jamal and Fateme Yaghoobi. “Marginalization in John Maxwell Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Journal of Novel Applied Sciences 3.6 (2014): 566-571. Print.