What does J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace suggest about contemporary South Africa?

Essay by nhartUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, March 2005

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What does J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace suggest about contemporary South Africa?

J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace tells the story of David Lurie, a twice-divorced professor of Romantic Poetry in late middle-age. Teaching at the Cape Technical University in post-apartheid South Africa, Lurie lives an undemanding, passionless and ultimately unsatisfactory life. He teaches his classes without protest, but without pleasure or fulfilment. He is neither particularly happy nor unhappy; he exists within self-imposed parameters broken only by regular visits to a coloured prostitute.

Spurned by Soraya, his Thursday-afternoon assignation, Lurie pursues one of his coloured students, Melanie. Although his activities fall just short of the legal definition of rape, his relationship is self-absorbed in its arrogance. Melanie and her father lodge a complaint against him and Lurie is brought before a University committee of inquiry. He admits he is guilty of all charges but brusquely refuses to publicly declare repentance. In the light of the scandal and being indirectly threatened by Melanie's boyfriend, Lurie resigns and decides to dedicate himself to a long-desired aspiration to write a chamber opera about the poet Byron's life.

He escapes Cape Town and finds refuge with his daughter Lucy at her rural smallholding in the Eastern Cape interior. It is an uncomfortable sanctuary however as Lurie struggles to renew his relationship with Lucy and her lifestyle. Violence enters their lives when three black visitors appear at the house asking to use the telephone. Lucy is raped and Lurie beaten and burnt. This experience leaves them even more estranged from one another and this situation is aggravated when they recognise one of the attackers as a relative of Petrus, Lucy's black labourer. Although they are effectively powerless to do anything about it, Lucy refuses to leave. Unable to reconcile himself with his daughter's attitude, Lurie decides to...