Sunday, July 26, 2009

Disgrace-J.M Coetzee

Disgrace written by J.M Coetzee focuses on the downfall of a white professor in Cape Town, David Lurie. Set in modern South Africa, this novel gives the readers an intense depiction of a post-colonial and post-apartheid society. It portrays the land which was previously white-owned which is slowly taken back by new powerful farmers. Analyzing it from a post-colonial perspective, the novel exposes the race relations after the power has been shifted.

David Lurie, a divorced, 52 year old college professor is left unemployed after a sexual scandal with one of his students named Melanie. He then flees the city and stays with his daughter Lucy in Salem. There, he volunteers with Bev Shaw at the animal shelter. Things in Salem also go wrong. After a violent attack against David, Lucy is raped by two men and a young boy.

In Edwards Said's essay Two Visions in the Heart of Darkness, he states that "Domination and inequalities of power and wealth are perennial facts of human society." The fact that Lurie rapes Melanie shows his incapability to adjust to changes in power after apartheid. Under the apartheid his position of a white male was superior and dominant under the power structure of South Africa. However, post-apartheid, he still is unable to change and forces himself upon the colored girl, even when she says no. He does not have any morals or principles and simply assumes he can do whatever he pleases without caring or feeling responsible for his deeds. He is selfish and in concerned with fulfilling his desires. His superiority is also shown after the rape when he is refuses to acknowledge his accusations publicly and to take counseling. Lurie actually says “I’m not prepared to be reformed. I want to go on being myself.” This statement clearly shows that Lurie is not at all ready for the change that is happening. Mentally, he still considers himself to be better than the blacks and fails to truly see what he has done wrong.

After the crime against Lucy, she does not report her rape to the police. Lurie does not understand why Lucy doesn’t report to the police. She says she wants it to remain private. However, Lucy’s silence can be analyzed by a socio-political standpoint. She understands the justice system that South Africa and also their position in society. She does not hold any improbable outcomes of the prosecution of the crime and therefore she does not report it.
The crime agaisnt Lucy was according to her and her father, done out of hate. In Said's essay Tw0 Visions in the Heart of Darkness, he also stated that, "A new...appalling tribalism is fracturing societies, separating peoples, promoting greed, bloody conflict, and uninteresting assertions of minor ethnic or group particularity." This statement describes some of the things that were done to the whites, which by post-apartheid were considered minorities. The ex-colonialist were then being oppressed due to the shifting of power.

In the end of the novel, Lucy finds out that she is pregnant because of the rape and then exchanges her property and accepts the humiliating position as Petrus’ third wife for her protection. Petrus was an African who worked for Lucy, but after the drastic social changes in South Africa, he gained land and became a wealthy farmer. Although she does not want to marry Petrus, she seems to have no option and takes herself down to living ‘like a dog.’ Now that the power has shifted the white South Africans have to start from nothing and learn how to accept their status. After years of prior unjust policies against the blacks there is a great deal of hatred in them against the whites. Both Lurie and Lucy do eventually have to give and realize that life will not be as it was before.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice--the Said works perfectly here. It's also interesting to note how terrible the situation is for all involved--while in some ways some of your statements seem almost to justify the events of the book ('After years of prior unjust policies against the blacks there is a great deal of hatred in them against the whites') I've also come to think quite a bit about the validity of those potential justifications. That is, does the fact that the social landscape is the result of apartheid mean that vengance is justified? A tough question to puzzle out, and one the book doesn't give us a comfortable answer to.