Table of Contents
John Maxwell Coetzee’s novel Disgrace chronicles the story of Professor David Lurie, who has dented his image and lost job by struggling with his sex life after divorcing twice. Lurie has a weekly visit to a prostitute called Soraya whom he uses to satisfy his sexual desires. However, Soraya declines his romantic exploits of a relationship, which leaves the professor in an awkward situation since he is now sexually starved. Professor Lurie decides to seduce one of his students Melanie and uses alcohol to lure her into sex at his home. The story causes troubles to the professor as Melanie’s boyfriends and father confronts him on separate occasions, exposing him to the school authority. This leads to the dismissal of Lurie after a committee formed to investigate his sexual harassment requests him to issue an apology, but he refuses despite admitting to being guilty of the offenses. Although the story touches on rape and sexual harassments in different scenarios, the author also brings out the issue of apartheid evident in the countryside where Lucy, Lurie’s daughter lives.
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Sex, Violence and Apartheid in the Story
South Africa experienced horrific scenes of apartheid after independence in which the black and whites were not seeing face-to-face in social places. The two races frequented different places and used demarcated public service systems, like the public vehicles to conduct their daily undertakings. He accepts to being guilty of the wrongdoing, but does not see it as a big deal. He sees it as a mere abuse or a mistake that should not warrant the widespread condemnation by a section of the media and students protesting for his arrest. The author says,
“Yes, he says, he is guilty; but when we try to get specificity, all of a sudden it is not abuse of a young woman he is confessing to, just an impulse he could not resist…(6.69).” This implies that the reality of rape and violence has not hit professor Lurie and consider it a mistake until he comes face-to-face when his daughter goes through the same ordeal.
After the dismissal of Lurie, he decides to live with his daughter Lucy, who stays at Salem, an upcoming setting where she is a farmer. Lurie struggles to come to terms with the way the black and whites relate in that region. The city life at Cape Town where Lurie worked as a professor is different from life at Salem. The black and whites are still enemies and violence rock the place most of the times (Coetzee 76). For instance, three African men raided Lucy’s house, raped her and beat her father before setting it ablaze. One of the assaulters also kills the dogs in the kennel. Melanie does not want to report the case because she knows that the police will treat it as a normal case of blacks and whites conflict (Jolly 31). Apartheid in South Africa had exposed the societal fabric that the two races hatred each other for no apparent reasons. For instance, when Lurie tries to convince Lucy about leaving Salem for Holland where her biological mother stays, she declines and says, “I know you mean well, but you are the guide I need (161).” This implies that Lucy believes that apartheid attack is not something strange that may make her move to another country or city. To her, the apartheid attack is a normal occurrence and she must continue with her life regardless of anything.
The theme of violence is also prevalent throughout the story from the onset as Melanie’s boyfriend and father confront Lurie. It is apparent that Lurie has forcefully had sexual encounters with Melanie in her room when he paid a visit to her flat one night. Violence is also evident when Lucy and Lurie were attacked at their place by three African assaulters (Coetzee 176). However, the disturbing thing is that, on both occasions, violence leads to rape. For instance, Lurie raped Melanin and Lucy faced the same predicament when her home was attacked. Lucy opens up to her father Lurie about the sexual ordeal from a woman’s perspective by saying,
“When it comes to men and sex, David, nothing surprises me any more. Maybe, for men, hating the woman makes sex more exciting. You are a man, you ought to know. When you have sex with someone strange – when you trap her, hold her down, get her under you, put all your weight on her – isn’t it a bit like killing? (158-9)” This phrase means that Lurie had not seen rape as a tool of violence and domination over the women. It is apparent that Lurie had not seen sex or rape from that perspective because of his previous record at the university and the rape case against Melanie (England 104-116).
Cases of rape and violence rocked South Africa during the apartheid era because the people thought that was the only way to solve their social misunderstandings. The cultural erosion and hatred had affected the lives of many people who were victims of the horrific scenes as experienced by Melanie and Lucy (England 104-116). Although Lurie thought it was a normal thing to have sexual encounters with his students by luring them with alcohol, he felt the same pain when his daughter was the victim of rape and violence. The teaching is that rape and violence in society can happen to anybody if precautions are not taken to protect the vulnerable members. The author brings out the theme of rape and violence through a series of events that happen in different settings of Cape Town, a metropolitan city and Salem an upcountry yard (Kucala 141-150). When Lurie returned to Cape Town, he faced the reality of his life because his house had been broken into and properties stolen while he was away with his daughter. Violence was the order of the day during the apartheid period because mostly the local blacks thought that they were fighting to liberate themselves against the whites who had grabbed their properties and denied privileges (Kucala 141-150).
We can do it today.
- Coetzee, J M. Disgrace. Random House, 1999.
- Jolly, Rosemary J. Cultured Violence: Narrative, Social Suffering, and Engendering Human
- Rights in Contemporary South Africa. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010. Print.
- England, Frank. “Lucy Lurie in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace: A Postcolonial Inscription Seeking
- Forgiveness and Making Reparation.” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, no. 128, 2007, pp. 104-116 .
- Kucala, Bozena. “The Rights and Wrongs of Desire: J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and André Brink’s
- The Rights of Desire.” Studia Litteraria Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis, no. 9, 2014, pp. 141-150.