Analysis of Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace: An Overview

Disgrace is one of the fundamental books written by J. M. Coetzee, a prominent South Africa's author. The focus of the book is based on some of the issues, which human beings face on their day-to-day activities. The primary setting is in South Africa, during the period apartheid regime in which the whites discriminated the blacks in their land, thus raising cases of sexual violence and rape cases as well as injustices in judicial systems and violations of human rights. The main actor for this book is the David Lurie, a communications professor at Cape Town Technical University. Other characters include Soraya, a prostitute, Melanie, a student at Cape Town Technical University, Lucy, the daughter to David Lurie, Petrus, a neighbor and friend to Lucy, Bev Shaw among other minor characters (Barnard and Coetzee).

The Analysis

Rape: A Disgraceful Act

The title name for the book Disgrace focuses on various issues, which occurred in the story setup that was considered to be a disgrace to human beings in the entire society. One of these issues include the rape cases as it can be depicted from the character of Lucy, the daughter of David Lurie. Although her parents are professionals, Lucy chooses to live her life in rural areas attending to her farm in Salem. Nevertheless, while she is on her farm, three men raped her brutally. This case is considered to be a disgrace and a vice, which should remain condemned in the society, thus the three men who actualized the rape become a disgrace to the society. In addition, Lucy fails to report the rape case because she believes that justice will not be achieved due to various problems, which were occurring in South Africa, and therefore, Lucy decided not to report the rape case (Mardorossian, 2011). For this reason, failure to have a judicial system, which can offer justice, is a disgrace.

David Lurie: A Lesson in Disgrace

David Lurie, on the other hand, can be considered to be a disgrace although he later learns his lessons in a hard manner. He is a professor and an educated person, but his behaviors pose significant questions on his academic credentials: he is involved in different sexual activities with a prostitute and later Melanie a student. Later, Melanie withdraws from all her classes after having several sexual encounters with David, and then she files a sexual harassment case against David who is later fired (Coetzee). It is a disgrace and unethical for a professor to have the sexual encounter with his student whom he teaches. Later, she decides to visit her daughter Lucy on her farm, and it is during this period, Lucy is raped. The rape case of her daughter subjected him as the father to psychological torture. It is during this time where David learns on the importance of respecting other people and the disadvantage of misusing one’s office to your advantage as it was the case for him when he was a professor at Cape Town Technical University.

Injustice and Segregation

In addition to the primary setting of the story in South Africa, where there were cases of injustice and apartheid, rules were rampant. The setting depicts cases of segregation between the women and men as well as the supremacy of whites to the blacks. Through the book, David is seen to be supreme and takes advantage of the women for sexual harassment, until the moment he was fired from the university (Shmoop Editorial Team). We also see Lucy being raped by three men, and she cannot do anything to prevent such since men are depicted to be supreme over the women, and they can take advantage of them when they wish. Then after David has been fired, we see him moving from Cape Town, considered to a supreme city for the whites, to Eastern Cape, which is considered to be a blacks land, to the people whom he mistreated while in power (in Cape town).

Symbolism and Imagery

Further, the author of this book uses various literary devices to narrate the story. Coetzee uses the literary device of symbolism and imagery in his narration, in which he uses the Dog to depict various characters in the book. For example, some of the dogs, which Lucy reared on her farm, were given names such as Katy the bulldog, which have recognizable personalities. In other cases, Coetzee uses the image of the dog in this story as a way of emphasizing the books interests in personal disgrace and social status. The symbolism and imagery of the dog are used to represent the status in which people are living or hold in the society. For example, Lucy states that "I do not want to come back to another existence as a dog or a pig and have to live as dogs or pigs live under us" (Chapter 8. Pg. 71). This means that the dogs are living a low life as compared to human beings, and therefore, when one lives in such a life, it means they are in pathetic conditions (Coetzee, 2008). In addition, Petrus considers himself as "Dog-man" (Chapter 7, Pg. 55), when he occupies the role of Lucy's Assistance, meaning that he is living a low life. Lastly, the life of David is symbolized with that of a dog where he later lives in shame and disgrace after being fired, his daughter raped and all his belongings stolen. He compares himself with a dog, which is beaten for following its sexual instincts.

The Narrator's Perspective

Lastly, from the narrator's point of view, the narrator adopts the third person (limited), where he is not a character in the novel. "Disgrace." Therefore, he does not participate in any action, but he seems to exist directly in Professor David's head, and therefore, everything within the novel comes from David's perspective, even at the point where he is not the one who is actually telling the story.


The novel Disgrace is fundamental in exploring various reactions in the case where human beings fight for their rights, even at the point where they have nothing to start with for them to be human beings. The novel depicts some of the things, which the society should not do for they will remain to be a shame and disgrace. Lastly, the novel puts it clear that we should be careful about what we do, for what goes around, comes around.

Works Cited

Barnard, R., & Coetzee, J. M. JM Coetzee's" Disgrace" and the South African Pastoral. Contemporary Literature, 44(2), 2003, pp. 199-224.

Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace: A Novel .

Westminster, London: Penguin Books, 2008.

Mardorossian, C. M. Rape and the Violence of Representation in JM Coetzee's Disgrace. Research in African literatures, 42(4), 2011, pp. 72-83.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Disgrace Setting.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc. (2008, 11 November).

August 21, 2023



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