Book review: Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee

‘Disgrace’ Summary and Review

Disgrace novel by J M Coetzee‘Disgrace’ is a novel by John M. Coetzee, which explores the challenges that members of European community face in post-apartheid South Africa. The author focuses on the career and private life of the main character in the novel, David Lurie, as a pointer to the injustices meted against European minorities within the South African society. It would occur to one as common knowledge, for reference and attribution of social oppression and injustices as directed towards African individuals within the given African state. However, in the course of the novel, Coetzee manages to weave out a clear picture on the sufferings of European individuals, as they are faced with animosity and are forced out their homes and property. The author additionally explores controversial topics that face individuals not only within the African context, but universally.

As the author engages the reader in the course of reading the novel, one cannot help but identify with situation of the main character. David Lurie – the main character in the novel, is a University Professor and published author. As the novel begins, David Lurie is presented similar to his colleagues at the University. However, his distinctive character and difference in opinion towards various issues is soon revealed in the course of reading the book. He is involved in a string of uncommitted sexual encounters with different female characters. He The author focuses on David’s behavior as a desire to explore every form of human desire without social restriction or cultural prohibition.

Throughout the novel, David is seen to remain emotionally-detached from all the subjects with whom he engages in sexual liaisons. At the beginning of the novel, there is Soraya, a married woman with whom he has an affair, but who later cuts communication with him and cautions him to keep distant. Later in the novel he is ensnared in his own escapades through sexual involvement with one of his students at the University – Melanie Isaacs.

The relationship between David and Melanie (student) turns sour and is the beginning of a downward spiral for David’s career. This also forms the major crises in the novel, where the character fights to retain his innocence and right to love and be with whoever he chooses (in reference to Melanie Isaacs). He is put to task by the University management over his involvement with a student, after a complaint is filed against him by the student’s parent. He chooses to uphold the opinion that he is not guilty. His failure to accept guilt forces him out of his job as professor.

He thereafter heads to the country-side to visit Lucy – his daughter. He seems emotionally detached from his daughter. To add insult to injury, Lucy is raped by strangers soon after David arrives and David sustains injuries in the course of the attack. She resigns to herself and the rift of lack in communication between her and David enlarges. Lurie makes attempts at convincing his daughter to move from the county side and travel abroad as a result of the attack, but his efforts bear no fruit. Frustrated, he moves back to the city but cannot stop thinking about his daughter. He eventually returns to the country side, where a new revelation from Lucy awaits him- Lucy is pregnant from the rape ordeal. He cannot seem to bear the thought that Lucy would keep the baby – ‘a black baby’, but she opts to do so, against his advice. He tries to convince her of ‘getting-rid’ of the pregnancy, but she remains adamant. She decides to keep the baby, which unfolds numerous thoughts and realities for David Lurie, among which the most interesting is – he will soon become a grandfather.

The author’s depiction of Lucy’s choice to keep the pregnancy is symbolic. It possibly symbolizes the merging of the African and European cultures with the aim of development. The author possibly argues that the meeting of cultures produces results, which are subject to adoption is the future is to behold for both.

In addition to the skillful and artistic use of language, The author makes use of familiar images to the African situation, an example is the adoption of the county-side setting, which is a familiar apsect in African literature. He further successfully constructs the idea that being-African is not a reserve for ‘black-individuals’, but for every individual who has earned the right to be African. He clearly depicts the African experience in the person of Lucy and Characters such as Petrus. Coetzee’s view of unison and compromise of cultures is a possible reality with the current global developments and need for cultural progression – this is enhanced by the realization that no single culture is self-sufficient. The book provides a good read and enables one step out of the biases of their culture and identify with the experiences on individuals from other cultures.

Themes in Disgrace

Power and control: exemplified in the person of David Lurie

Racial animosity: evident throughout the novel

African’s empowerment:evident in the person Character of Petrus, whose relationship with Lucy is seen to change, ‘slave-master’ to equals.


Major Characters: David Lurie, Lucy

Minor Characters: Soraya, Bev Shaw, Melanie Isaacs, Petrus

Book review: Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee
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  1. Pingback: Book review: Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee | African Literature Reviews

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