Despite the impressive improvement in recent decades, adherence to humanistic values remains uneven in different parts of the world. Even after the official adoption, they continue to be undermined by conservative social views, leading to numerous personal tragedies. In Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee creates a complex character, Lucy Lurie, who faces the shameful and disgraceful acts of her father, the suggestions and assumptions of her homosexuality, and the degrading physical violations committed against her because of her race and sexuality.
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The character of Lucy Lurie is presented to the readers through her interactions with her father, David. However, it should be pointed out that the said family connection does not in any way simplify the presentation it would be reasonable to say that the author intended to differentiate between the two by portraying Lucy as a simplistic individual who does not view her physical appearance or social proficiency as relevant whereas her father conveys an image of an educated, sophisticated person with courteous manners and excellent tastes. At some points in the novel, Lucy is portrayed as a relatively straightforward character exhibiting the features expected of a typical countryside dweller, such as “flowered dress, bare feet and all, in a house full of the smell of baking (Coetzee 16). Importantly, this aspect is probably the easiest one to understand and relate to, since it soon becomes apparent that the disgraceful acts committed by her father have contributed to her character dramatically, creating a complex combination of humbleness and determination.
First, it should be pointed out that, at least to some extent, Lucy’s identity is determined by her homosexuality. This is especially apparent when viewed from the perspective of her father, who fails to fully accept sexuality in such form. Interestingly, this discrepancy also serves as a common ground for initiating conversations about Melanie. David expects Lucy to see things from the same perspective, which, in his opinion, can be derived from the fact that in the past his daughter also had a romantic and sexual experience with women. However, in a somewhat unintuitive way, Lucy’s homosexuality disrupts the family relationships since on a subconscious level her father rejects the possibility of emotional connection behind Lucy’s affection to Helen.
In other words, he does not consider the possibility of sincere feelings between Lucy and Helen seriously, suggesting at some point that these women “sleep together merely as children do, cuddling, touching, giggling, reliving girlhood” and that such relationship is “an excuse for putting on weight” (Coetzee 23). It is possible to assert that such lack of understanding faced by Lucy from one of the closest persons in her life not only underlines the challenges she faces because of her complex character but also points to a deeper issue pertinent to her social environment. Simply put, David’s inability to be a responsible parent and treat other women with respect possibly stems from the same root as his dismissive statements regarding Lucy’s relationships.
At this point, it is necessary to mention an important detail of the novel’s setting. While described events occur in the post-apartheid period, it is evident that the society in the novel does not yet fully embrace the liberal values (Omar). Therefore, the fact that Lucy is a lesbian not only compromises her relationship with peers but also places her under a feasible physical threat. It is possible to suggest that the gang rape that occurs in the novel may be triggered in part by the conservative social views and homophobia. Thus, we can assume that the complexity of her character is at least partially determined by the disruptive effects of society she lives in.
The sexual assault mentioned above is probably the most significant event in the novel. First, it further widens the gap between her and David, likely because of the apparent parallels between it and the shameful and disgraceful acts of her father. While it cannot be said with certainty whether the latter can be considered as violent as the former, it certainly can be characterized as leaving the same, if not greater, emotional impact. Lucy refers to herself as a “dead person” and “not the person you know” in her letter to her father, which identifies the massive damage done to her personality as a result of the event (Coetzee 40). Notably, Melanie exhibits the same apathy and disconnectedness from reality immediately after being assaulted. To further complicate matters, Lucy is determined to keep the event secret and not report the rape to the police. Also, she seems to become increasingly disconnected from reality and severs the remaining ties with her father. Admittedly, such behavior can be viewed as a defensive psychological reaction (Grohol). However, it is also possible to assert that in this way Lucy reframes the physical violations as a trauma whose impact is beyond consolation or authority.
To sum up, the complexity of Lucy Lurie’s character is dictated by two major interconnected factors. First, her social environment is highly unfavorable both to her ethnic characteristics and her homosexuality, which is exemplified through her father’s views. Second, her father’s disgraceful actions further widen the gap by essentially placing them on different sides of the conflict. Since both can be traced to the issues of sexuality and race, it is reasonable to view the said complexity as pointing to the social inconsistencies described in the novel.
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Coetzee, John Maxwell. Disgrace. Penguin, 1999.
Grohol, John M. “15 Common Defense Mechanisms.” Psych Central, n.d., Web.
Omar, Jameelah. “Racism is Still Rampant in South Africa. But is Criminalising Hatred the Answer?” The Conversation. 2017, Web.