Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee takes place in South Africa where a system of racial segregation was still present. Disgrace, in taking place after the end of apartheid gives the reader a little information on the undertones within the book. Nevertheless, the novel provides a mirror to how actions ranging from political and racial oppression of the civil setting to the pervading behaviors and actions lead to the overall relationship of characters. The theme of shame is evident in the text. However, the subject of shame has been contradicted by the theme of hope of which the author tries to symbolize as changes take place within the novel.
The novel, as the title denotes many instances of disgrace either on a general or personal level. It is normal to do bad things and in the long run, face the consequences of being embarrassed and ashamed before other people. These embarrassing experiences are those that made David want to crawl into a deep hole and come out after ten years. For example, in court, David says, 'I was not myself. I was no longer a fifty-year-old divorcé at a loose end. I became a servant of Eros'(63). The plot of the novel is based on the relationship between fathers and daughters, the treatment of people and animals, abuse, and justice.
J.M. Coetzee unifies the relationship between David and Lucy Lurie in their father-daughter relation to show how individuals who are utterly different from each other face their challenges differently. Taking the case of Lucy, who having been raised by a family led by two academics, chooses the life of a farmer. Even though she writes her books, her livelihood comes from selling vegetables and flowers. David Lurie, the father having been disgraced at his workplace, joins up with Lucy who together gets caught up in a crisis.
By being fired as a professor in the university due to sexual misconduct which he engaged in with a student, they find themselves united by disgrace as Lucy gets raped by a gang of three Africans. David thought that in coming to the rural uplands, he would get to enjoy the peace that comes with it. This is not the case as, during this time, the African community was degraded by the white people in their concentration rather than in the city (Mardorossian, 75). Even though David is to blame for engaging with the students and ladies at his workplace, one cannot help but feel sorry for Lucy who must since the raping bear the humiliation and shame in her community as she does not want the case reported to the police so that action can be taken.
J.M. Coetzee brings out the character of Lucy to bring out the fact that even though apartheid had ended, its consequence was still haunting communities and the country at large. The author, through setting the novel in both the city rural areas, brings into light the fact that rape, vandalism, and robbery were common in the countryside. The rage that the novel expresses in the people shows that it cannot be suppressed. The racial dynamics that the author describes get more strained, noting that Lucy is the only white farmer left upcountry and is surrounded by an African community.
Her neighbor named Petrus gets in a subservient position as he is indirectly named as a suspect in the robbery that takes place in Lucy's farm of which he used to help around. Lucy says that “When it comes to men and sex, David, nothing surprises me anymore. Maybe, for men, hating the woman makes sex more exciting” (96). The division between the servant and Lucy are apparent as she seems to be part of Petrus family although unwillingly as He says, 'The baby is coming in October. We hope he will be a boy'(85).
The novel Disgrace does not give an accurate measure of innocence and guilt. J.M. Coetzee; however, does explore the moral sense to which justice depends on. The criminal justice system that is presented by the author does not give people the hope they need, but instead is driven by shame and guilt. Taking the example of the university investigations, the charges filed against Professor Lurie are made public after the justice system models them.
The evidence that is brought forward is more focused on guilt rather than more into confession (Nashef, 83). Taking the case of Lucy, she does entangle with the justice system as she prefers to protect her privacy. J.M. Coetzee correctly denotes the justice system as corrupt. The professor even though finds his housed destroyed by protestors gets over it whereas in the case of Lucy, the criminals are not prosecuted and yet though she would have reported them, her privacy would have been invaded, and justice would not have been served.
In conclusion, the author even though tries to include the theme of hope within the novel, it is clear that salvation comes not from outside but from a person’s inside. The insight of faith developed in the book tackles both the social and political violence that was at the time hurting the country. Even though we cannot experience the things that the two characters Lucy and David, go through, we can relate to how it feels to be deeply scared and worried. The experiences undergone are those that a few people have suffered yet the novel still gets to capture our emotions on the way we take in the shame that we have in all of us.
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