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DISGRACE (ENN102)


There is a very good movie that has been made about this book - never a substitute for reading the actual novel, but certainly a good way of gaining some understanding of the themes Coetzee was exploring through this story.

See the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIL9iQmlmik&feature=fvwrel

Pg. 7 Some insight into Lurie’s life:
  • He feels he is losing his sexual magnetism
  • He becomes increasingly promiscuous as a result
  • He attempts to seduce the wives of his colleagues, tourists and even turns to prostitutes etc.
  • He forges a “relationship” with Soraya – a prostitute and visits her on a weekly basis.

Later Soraya finds David watching her and her two sons through the window of a restaurant. She becomes uneasy and when he calls her home she ends the relationship and will no longer have anything to do with him.

David then seduces one of his students Melanie Issacs:
  • After their third sexual encounter she tells her boyfriend
  • The boyfriend turns nasty and vandalizes Lurie’s car
  • Later Lurie is formally charged with sexual harassment
  • He is called to a disciplinary meeting and while he admits to acting on his erotic impulses he refuses to show remorse or apologise
  • He leaves the University in disgrace (1)

David leaves for Salem, a town in the Eastern Cape to stay with his daughter, Lucy. She has a plot of land in the countryside.
  • Lucy is a lesbian and has recently gone through a breakup
  • Lucy, like her father, has a definite stubborn streak
  • Their relationship is problematic from the start
  • Lucy calls her father David and they are polite with each other rather than displaying any father / daughter connection
  • One day Lucy is gang raped by three men while David is locked in the toilet – he hears the violence taking place and is unable to help
  • He is assaulted before the men leave and the attackers also shoot and kill Lucy’s dogs
  • Petrus (who is the farm hand on Lucy’s plot) is away during the attack
  • We later learn that one of the attackers is related to Petrus and David becomes suspicious about Petrus’ involvement in the incident

After the attack Lucy’s behaviour is something David cannot understand:
  • Lucy refuses to talk about the attack – she sees it a personal matter
  • David is frustrated by Lucy’s attitude, but he behaved in a very similar manner regarding his affair with Melanie Issacs
  • Lucy reports the break in, the killing of her dogs and the fact that her truck was stolen, but she does not tell the police that she was raped
  • Lucy also chooses to keep the baby she is now pregnant with – her father cannot come to terms with her decision
  • She also decides to give her plot of land to Petrus and marry him – it would be an sex-less marriage and she would be his third wife
  • She believes that, as Petrus’ wife, she will be able to stay on her land and gain physical protection
  • Lurie has to come to terms with the reality that he is about to become the grandfather of a mixed race child
In the final phases of Lurie’s stay in Salem we see him working at the local animal clinic where he assists Lucy’s friend Bev:
  • Bev and David end up sleeping together one night, but the “relationship” totally lacks any genuine passion
  • David strangely forms a genuine bond with the dogs that he has to euthanize at the vet; one maimed dog in particular seems to love the music David plays on his banjo
  • David’s final act is to euthanize the dog, despite planning to keep it alive for another week (we need to ask why?)

A few things to note
  • The narrator tends to speak in the present tense
  • We learn that David is 52, divorced and has a rather mechanical attitude towards sex
  • Despite what he might think David has certainly not solved the problem of sex – in fact his problems are about to start

The first chapter of this book actually tells us a great deal:
  • We gain some insight into Lurie’s attitude towards women (stemming from his childhood)
  • Soraya clearly has a rather contradictory value system
  • Lurie has a very fixed temperament and fights / resents change
  • He has a strong academic interest in Byron and a dedication to Eros (the Greek god of love)
  • The escalating crime in SA and how more and more people are thinking of emigrating to places like New Zealand



The “rape” of Melanie Issacs (pages 19; 25 and 29)
David and Melanie have sex three times before the charges are laid against him:
  • On the first occasion they drive out to Hout Bay and then he takes her to his home where he “makes love to her”
  • She is totally passive throughout the event
  • Her passivity turns him on even more and he “tumbles into blank oblivion” after he reaches a climax (you need to ask why her passivity affected him in this way?)
  • On the second occasion we read that she “does not resist” him although she does avert her lips (avoids kissing him) and she will not look at him.
  • Again she is passive and allows him to lay her down and undress her, she even assists him in removing her clothing.
  • On the final occasion we read that “he makes love to her one more time… She is quick and greedy for experience. If he doe not sense in her a fully sexual appetite that is only because she is still young.”
  • We should note that after this encounter she is relaxed enough to make conversation with him: “Do you do this kind of thing often?” she asks him.
QUESTION: Can we really call this a “rape”? Possibly not in the sense that we usually would usually associate the word!

  • Yes, Lurie seduced a young, immature woman.
  • Yes, he compromised his ethics by having an intimate relationship with one of his students (especially when he changes an examination mark for her)

But did he rape her?