Disgrace': A Tale of Post-Apartheid South Africa

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Disgrace was written in 1999, by the author, J.M Coetzee. Born in South Africa in 1940, Coetzee grew up during a time called apartheid, meaning: “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race”. In Disgrace, the drama of violence and war seems to continue despite the settlement between the two parties in the post-apartheid era. (K.M Deepa 39). This novel starts off in a post-apartheid Cape Town where we learn that David Lurie does not have a choice but to quit his job because a student, Melanie, filed a sexual abuse claim to his name. Melanie Isaacs was a beautiful, skinny and fragile young woman, David felt very attracted by her. One day he invited her home and after that day, everything changed to the point where he started to have some feelings for this girl. Apparently, this girl was troubled, and after the parents found out about them having sexual relations, they accused him of rape. J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace suggests that it is set in a post-apartheid community, shows the struggles that many people face when pushing towards change in the community of desegregating in the most segregated parts of Africa.

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David Lurie: Complex Byronic Hero

As we know, David Lurie is the protagonist of the story. Lurie is a university professor, and extremely interested in Lord Byron; a known poet for his licentious lifestyle, and an inspiration to the literary concept of “Byronic heroes”. A Byronic hero is “arrogant, intelligent, emotional, morally and characteristically flawed and often sexually irresistible to women” (Fleming). By reading the novel, we can easily tell that Lurie possesses many of these characteristics, and you will notice these qualities in the first page of the novel. He explains how “for a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problems of sex rather well. On Thursday afternoons, he drives to Green Point. Punctually, at two p.m. he presses the buzzer at the entrance to Windsor Mansions, speaks his name, and enters. Waiting for him at the door of number 113 is Soraya.” (Coetzee 1) Additionally, Lurie seems to not have any regrets at the fact that he in engaging with the prostitute Soraya. He likes the fact how he deals with the “problem of sex” (Coetzee 1). Perhaps, it is probably equal to buying food when hungry; that men need this itch to be scratched? According to the novel, Coetzee states: “I miss you all the time. He strokes her honey-brown body, unmarked by the sun; he stretches her out, kisses her breasts; they make love” (Coetzee 1). Here we can tell his choice of words is amorous, in contradiction to the previous paragraph in which Soraya is a way of means to solve a carnal problem.

Contrasting Representations: David and Lucy

David Lurie represents the old, white South Africa throughout the entire book. Unlike Lucy, who gives a good representation of how the new white South Africa is. Family is a complicated issue in this novel and Lucy’s father David is a more complicated person. (Dip Das, 31). After David sees Lucy, David states: “her hips and breasts are now ample. Completely barefoot, she comes to greet him, holding her arms wide, embracing him, kissing him on the cheek.” (Coetzee 59). The way he sees women shows that he is someone that can rape a girl. Lucy is a strong woman and shows strong characteristics. Comparing Lucy to her father, her life is different. We see how she thinks she can do good living all by herself in the country side. She has dogs, dogs she talks about them like if they were her protectors, her family. She felt strong with the dogs and the rifle she had, in the new South Africa, she was confident that things were different and that she was protected.  Lucie also had Petrus, a man who was sometimes there to help her and that lived closed by.

Turning Point in 'Disgrace': Traumatic Event

The turning point in this book is when three black man entered Lucy’s property and raped her, you can see how everything, and everyone changes their characters and points of view. David had burns, that he referred himself as looking possibly like a monster, but this time he didn’t care about himself anymore, now his biggest concern was his daughter. David was worried about Lucy because she didn't want to tell the police about the rape part, only the rest. While David is talking to Lucy, he states: “Lucy, my dearest, why don’t you want to tell? It was a crime. There is no shame in being the object of a crime. You did not choose to be the object. You are the innocent party. (Coetzee 112). As every father should, he wants to protect his daughter from all the dangers there is in the world. However, Lucy does not want to come forward to the police because she is afraid that it will cause a public scandal, or everyone know about her personal life. Also, it feels like Lucy is afraid of losing the strong woman character she has built while living there and she doesn’t want to tell so she can continue having a normal life without anyone feeling sorry for her. 


In conclusion, David was the old South Africa, even though his life was made a public scandal, he took the blame and the consequences. Lucy knew that she was now living in the new white South Africa, making something so personal go out in public is was going to be very humiliating, and it was going to take away the strong woman tittle she had. Knowing that David was from the old South Africa and Lucy from the new South Africa, both characters faced a refusal for telling a confession. David did not fight back on his allegations on raping Melanie because they were true. David would call himself old school and accept the consequences that he is being faced with. In Disgrace by J.M Coetzee, we see the changes that are being made in South Africa and how everyone is adapting to it, and slowing changing into the new lifestyle.

Works Cited

  1. Coetzee, J. M., 1940-. Disgrace. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. Print.
  2. Dip. “Deciphering Sexual Politics in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Language in India, vol. 18, no. 11, Nov. 2018, pp. 28–40. EBSCOhost, db16.linccweb.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=133295854&site=eds-live.
  3. Deepa, K. M. “The Element of Reconciliation and Co-Habitation of the White and Black South African Population in Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee.” Language in India, vol. 16, no. 5, May 2016, pp. 38–46. EBSCOhost, db16.linccweb.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=115365085&site=eds-live.
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