Lucy Lurie is one of the supportive characters of J. M. Coetzee’s Nobel Prize awarded novel Disgrace. Despite being a secondary character, she plays an important role in illuminating some of the key points of the novel, revealing some hidden sides of David Lurie, her father, who is the major character. Her character is also contrasting and supporting the other secondary female character of the book, Melanie.
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Lucy is a young woman in her mid-twenties who lives on the farm in the rural area of South Africa, East Cape. The farm initially was a commune of young people who “peddled leather goods and sunbaked pottery in Grahamstown” (60) and grew dagga. After some time the commune broke apart, the people left, but Lucy stayed. She was much into this land, David helped her to buy years ago, and stayed even after her female-lover left for Johannesburg. She seems to be the child of the land: “flowered dress, bare feet and all, in a house full of the smell of baking, no longer a child playing at farming but a solid countrywoman” (61). Despite the warm greeting, she shows to her father when he arrives she seems introverted, and not willing to share her thoughts and concerns with others. She prefers to spend her time with dogs rather than with people. The story goes on, slowly revealing her character as she speaks and acts. She appears to have a certain rate of intuition as she makes harmless comments that appear to be reflections of drastic future events. It looks like unconscious fatalism, the magical connection to the environment she lives in.
Lucy definitely provides a contrast to David’s character, to all his sophisticated life in the city. She differs a lot from his usual surrounding. She looks different, acts differently; her interests are different. He follows her, notes the minor features of her lifestyle. David is surprised, but he sincerely admires her: “A solid woman, embedded in her new life. Good! If this is to be what he leaves behind – this daughter, this woman – then he does not have to be ashamed” (65). Later on, he also approves her dogs, gardening, asexual clothes, astrology books, and her turn away from men. He takes all these aspects as recognizing her adultness and independency. Lucy takes David to the market, introducing him to the world she lives in, the people she interacts with. She feels herself as a part of this world, but the world does not accept her completely showing “a touch of the proprietary” (73) in the customers’ attitude, “though her success were theirs too” (73). The story goes on and despite the fact that Lucy and David were not close when she was a child, they tend to discuss personal things, like the attitude to life, its purpose, man-woman relationship. Lucy seems to be easy going and understanding towards David. She tells jokes sometimes, showing friendly attitude. She does not look for his approval of her lifestyle, but she would be glad if he will understand it, and will accept her as she is. Because she is happy with the life, she lives. It seems the only true way. To her. “This is the only life there is. Which we share with animals” (74).
Everything changes at once after the break-in and the rape that follows. Lucy becomes depressed and distances herself from David. Previously they could talk about women, as they both shared this interest. They were both on the same side. But now Lucy has experienced something that only women can experience because of the women’s nature, something that David never will, and he never understands completely. Now she is on another side, and she has much more sympathy for Melanie. The tension between the father and daughter strengthens. Lucy’s concern about David and putting him on one side with the rapists is also because they all imagine Lucy, as she appears to be to herself as she really is (Marais 84). Lucy is a hated white woman in the eyes of rapists and a child in the eyes of David. But in her own eyes, she is an independent adult woman, who is living her own life, feeling herself as a part of rural Africa.
It is obvious that she is shocked by the break-in and the rape, but she understands it as a risk of living on her own and accepts that knowledge and experience. As Gorra, one of the revisionists says: “…she nevertheless insists that living with such danger is the price that whites must now pay for their right to remain on the land.” (Gorra par. 9) All her further actions support her accepting this knowledge and the way of life, she chose. She refuses to report to the police. She does not ruin the party in the house of Petrus when she recognizes a boy who was with the rapists. She decides to keep a child. She gets married to Petrus despite he is a polygamist man, and she is a lesbian, so someone would take care of a child, and she would get the right to stay on the land in the eyes of locals.
Lucy is one of the most interesting characters in the book. As it develops through the story, many things like male-female relationships and the place of white people in post–apartheid South Africa are getting revealed.
Coetzee, John Maxwell. Disgrace, London, UK: Random House, 2015. Print.
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Gorra, Michael. “After the Fall.” The New York Times, 1999. Web.
Marais, Michael. “J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the Task of the Imagination.” Journal of Modern Literature, 29.2 (2006): 75-93. Print.