Disgrace is a novel written by J. M. Coetzee at the very end of the 20th century. It was awarded several times and received positive feedback from numerous critics. With his work, the author urged society to pay attention to the morality of their actions. He depicts the life of David Lurie, a male professor over 50-years-old who has an unstable sexual appetite and satisfies it through relationships with surrounding women regardless of their social status. Coetzee introduces the theme of disgrace in his work, focusing on racial issues and Lurie’s interactions with female characters; he uses Soraya to emphasize the fact that they are treated not as unique individuals but as faceless objects of sexual gratification.
The events discussed in the novel take place in South Africa, where the rights of Africans were limited. Coetzee wanted to attract the public’s attention to the issues faced by his society. The author describes the situation experienced by the population several years after the end of racial segregation. He speaks about the echo of oppression and submission that remained in the country and affected power dynamics. Coetzee reveals the peculiarities of the relationship between genders and races, emphasizing that people remain segregated even though they are expected to become equal.
In the text, disgrace is applied to numerous characters. For example, David makes others and himself disgraced. He puts shame to Melanie and loses his job in front of the university. Lucy experiences another kind of disgrace, as she does not just deal with it because of her actions. She constantly lives in this condition because of being raped and unable to overcome shame (Barnard 20). Even the dogs on the farm are disgraced because of the way they live and die. Thus, disgrace is a thing that unites all characters of the novel, regardless of their characteristics. In this framework, there is no segregation. All people are equal, and blacks are not the only deprived population of the novel’s world.
Disgrace starts with the introduction of David, who “has solved the problem of sex rather well” (Coetzee 1). In particular, this solution for him is Soraya. She is a Muslim prostitute who meets with David twice a week and spends an hour and a half with him. She appears to be a rather exotic character not only because as a Muslim she is expected to have a rather conservative way of living. Being a prostitute is already a disgrace for her. In the novel, she represents a used woman. Moreover, she is black, which may make the readers see her as a representation of the whole disgraced community. Such an assumption can be supported by the fact that Melanie is one more female character that is both dark and “used” woman.
The relationship that exists between Lurie and Soraya starts with the condition when the white man turns into an oppressor who controls the actions of the black woman and disgraces her through their interactions. However, at the end of the story, both of them become in the same position. It is also vital to mention that Lurie engages in this relationship because of his wishes and desires, while Soraya is led by the necessity to earn money for living.
Soraya is a woman who has two lives. She is a wife and a mother of two boys on the one hand, and a prostitute that serves Lurie, on the other hand. As he says she “transforms herself into just another woman and him into just another client” (Coetzee 4). Lurie’s suppression can also be observed through his arrogance. When Soraya rejects his dominance, the man re-asserts it asking her rhetorical questions: “what should a predator expect when he intrudes into the vixen’s nest, into the home of her cubs?” (Coetzee 4). In this way, it can be seen that she is not able to control the situation and yields to his will.
Soraya is affected by Lurie’s dominance all the time. He pays her money, forms their relationship, and tracks her to her home. He does not consider her opinion at all, and when she claims that she does not like nude beaches, the man does not care about her ideas (Hahn 179). In addition to that, he is not interested in the fact that she works at Discreet Escorts. Lurie pays her directly, which seems to show that he cares about her and treats her not just as a received service. However, his actions disgrace her, as he does not accept the fact that she is an employee who performs her duties.
In this way, it can be concluded that Coetzee focused on the theme of disgrace in his novel, describing the ways various people experience it. He used a setting that had been previously segregated and united its inhabitants with this condition, showing that they all are the same. Moreover, the author attracted attention to the power of gender and race. Through the relationship between Soraya and Lurie, Coetzee revealed that white men dominate dark women and suppress their individualities.
Barnard, Lianne. “The Politics of Rape: Traces of Radical Feminism in Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee.” Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, vol. 50, no. 2, 2013, pp. 19-29.
Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. Penguin, 2017.
Hahn, Robert. “Arias in the Prison of Opinion: Coetzee’s Late Novels.” The Kenyon Review, vol. 34, no. 1, 2012, pp. 176-196.