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The main character of this novel is David Lurie, a middle-aged university professor from Cape Town, South Africa. This man has, from what I understand, had relationships with students before, but this time it does not work according to the plans. The student, Melanie Isaacs, is in her twenties, but when her boyfriend finds out about their relationship he tells Melanie’s parents and suddenly many people are putting pressure on her and therefore she lodges a formal complaint against David Lurie.

A hearing is held before a commitee and David’s righteous, or foolish, reaction is interesting. He does not want to read Melanie Isaacs’ complaint against him, because he says, “she would have no reason to lie”. He pleads guilty to everything stated in the complaint, but when that is not sufficient for the commitee they, among other things, suggest counselling. David Lurie then tells them that “he’s beyond the reach of counselling”, somewhat like trying to teach an old dog to sit. The issue is soon a public matter and it leads to David’s resignment from the university and his refuge to his daughter’s farm in the countryside of South Africa. At first I thought his dismissal, or resignment, was the ”disgrace” in this book, but it turned out to be much more complex.

While staying at his daughter Lucy’s small householding David helps her with her kennel. Furthermore he starts working at a local welfare animal clinic but his slow, idyllic picture of the countryside is shaken when one day three black men come to Lucy’s house and attack them and the dogs. When he awakens from un-consciousness his daugther is raped and the dogs have been shot.

There is something cryptic and unsummarizable about the book Disgrace. J.M Coetzee presents a romanticized farm life that David Lurie escapes to, to get away from all the pressure and irritated feeling in the city. Ironically it is on that farm that he and his daughter first experience severe racial hatred. It does not take long to understand the larger implications of the white and black dilemma in the new South Africa. The question how whites, conscious of their historical wrongdoing, should face up to this culture that wants revenge on the white men that has been oppressing and abusing them for decades. Furthermore the book gives focus to David’s development in treating animals and where to draw the line for suffering and humility.

Disgrace is filled with dilemmas - between men and women, whites and blacks, even humans and dogs. At one point David says: "Scapegoating worked in practice while it still had religious power behind it. You loaded the sins of the city on to the goat´s back and drove it out, and the city was cleansed. It worked because everyone knew how to read this ritual, including the gods. Then the gods died, and all of a sudden you had to clean out the city without divine help. Real actions were demanded instead of symbolism." It is in this new setting, where the gods have died and symbolism has fallen, that David Lurie finds himself- a refugee from the city and an unwelcome intruder in the black people’s life.

Throughout the story J.M Coetzee takes us into the multiple sides of David Lurie, making us question to what extent we are meant to sympathize with him. David is a man who does not desire pity and he has a problem with the university’s attitude to make statements that are only to be seen. This is most obvious in the comittee room in the beginning of the book.

However, in his relationship with his daughter Lucy you begin to feel sorry for him. David overcomes his injuries from the attack sooner than her and wants revenge, whereas Lucy wishes only to forget what happened and carry on with her life. David wants to help his daughter and tries to comfort her, but she simply pushes him away. Earlier in the book, in the middle of his affair with Melanie Isaacs, it is also evident that his relations with Lucy is problematic. On page 26 there is a scene where Melanie sleeps in Lucy’s bed. When Lurie goes to comfort her he acts like he is reconstructing his lost ”fatherhood”, almost like he wants to ask her ”what daddy can do to make her feel better”.

After the attack David angrily demands for justice, but receives no response from the police, and his attempts to confront one of the attackers, only produce silences and lies. Lucy seems to understand what David cannot: that to live where she lives she must tolerate some humiliation to pay for the ignorance of the white colonizers, her ancestors, and what they have has caused the black people. "Perhaps that is what I must learn to accept," she tells her father. "To start at ground level. With nothing ...”

David Lurie actually reclaims some dignity by the end of the book. But only because he is giving up everything; his daughter, his ideas about...

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Inactive member [2004-02-26]   Disgrace
Mimers Brunn [Online]. https://mimersbrunn.se/article?id=2777 [2019-12-16]

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