Gender Discrimination in “Disgrace” by J.M Coetzee


Coetzee is regarded as the first South African novelist who had the courage to cover the miseries that people went through, particularly during the post-apartheid period. This book appeared after the country enacted a new constitution that gave people equal rights regardless of their gender or race. His novel “Disgrace” features an intricate character, Lucy Lurie, who undergoes immense suffering at the hands of rapists, an incident that marks a turning point in her life. This paper argues that although women in today’s South Africa are highly respected, Lucy’s unreported rape predicaments indicate the extent to which they were segregated in the era of apartheid because of their race and sexuality.

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The Theme of Gender and Racial Discrimination

Although the constitution gave people equal rights regardless of their gender, Coetzee’s book reveals the level of chauvinism that characterized the society. The novel discusses the subject of rape. Two black men and a boy break into David’s house where they find his daughter, Lucy. A normal robbery turns into a rape case where the muggers assault Lucy in a brutal manner. The author states, “Lucy is raped by three men as they rob her house…the rape is a violent, hate-filled act” (Coetzee 85).

Discrimination against women prevents Lucy from reporting this incidence to the authority. She believes that publicizing the issue would only result in her being stigmatized. Society does not value women. Therefore, it is hard for Lucy to get sympathy for what happened to her. Surprisingly, men and women have negative perceptions of rape victims. Lucy does not get consolation even from her father. Instead, the rape incident worsens their relationship.

It is bewildering to find out that chauvinism transcends even families (Boese 251). A father misjudges his daughter for an incident that is beyond her control. Lucy’s father, David, does little to console her daughter. Instead, he pressures her to seek legal redress while knowing well that it will not help. The lack of moral support from the father and society results in Lucy taking the whole incident as a personal setback. She is unable to cope with this problem. She eventually suffers from depression.

Coetzee highlights weaknesses in the justice system that is supposed to protect all people, irrespective of their gender or race. The end of apartheid culminated in the blacks and whites being recognized as equal citizens of the Republic of South Africa (Kelly 167). The constitution gave blacks a lot of power that they did not enjoy during apartheid. In the current context, Lucy is reluctant to involve law enforcement agencies in the rape case because she believes that they can do nothing to resolve this matter. Her father insists on seeking justice for what has transpired. However, Lucy views the attack from a different perspective.

At some point, she argues, “What if that is the price one has to pay for staying on? … They see themselves as debt collectors, tax collectors” (Coetzee 158). In this case, Lucy regards the rape as the cost she has to bear for being white. According to her, the loss of power by whites paved room for retribution following atrocities meted on blacks during the period of apartheid. Her father does not understand how Lucy can bear with everything that happens. Her final words to the father are, “I can’t talk anymore, David, I just can’t. I know am not being clear. I wish I could explain, but I can’t” (Coetzee 155). She is willing to accept all changes that have occurred in her life and the country due to gender-based discrimination with a view to starting afresh.

The novel highlights desperation that arises after a woman goes through the rape ordeal. Lucy has no alternative but to look for ways of forgetting any occurrences triggered by segregation. Despite being white, she agrees to get married to the first black man who proposed to her. Lucy becomes pregnant after the rape. She knows very well that most men would not have agreed to marry her after learning what she went through.

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Hence, she is not willing to waste the first opportunity that came her way. Society discriminates against rape victims. Hence, it fails to approve Lucy’s decision of getting married. Lucy understands that she will face resistance and discrimination from her father and the community for deciding to keep the baby. Hence, the only way she can be safe is by getting married and moving to a rural area.


According to Coetzee, human suffering is not premised on politics. Thus, advocating political changes can do little to eradicate societal challenges. His book that has been examined in this paper explores the nature of gender discrimination meted on women in South Africa. It also illuminates flaws that existed in the justice system during and immediately after the apartheid. Lucy is unable to get justice after being raped because of bigotry in society. She does not even win the support of her father. After suffering from depression and desperation, Lucy decides to get married as a way to escape her predicament.

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. Secker & Warburg, 1999.

Kelly, Michelle. ““Playing It by the Book”: The Rule of Law in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Research in African Literatures, vol. 46, no. 1, 2015, pp. 160-178.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Gender Discrimination in “Disgrace” by J.M Coetzee." May 28, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Gender Discrimination in “Disgrace” by J.M Coetzee'. 28 May.

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