Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 10 | Summary



David Lurie goes to the crowded Animal Welfare League building to assist Bev Shaw. He finds her in the inner room lancing the mouth of a dog, and he helps her restrain the dog so she can work. She tells him to be calm because animals "can smell what you are thinking." She then comments that he must like animals, and he responds that he likes eating them.

Next an old woman brings in a goat whose scrotum has been injured by a dog's attack. Seeing that the wound is far advanced, Bev leans into the goat and begins to speak to it, and both she and the animal appear to be in a trance. She tells the old woman that she cannot help the goat but can "give him a quiet end" to end the goat's pain. However, the woman leaves with her animal. Comforting Bev, David suggests that the goat, being African, is "born prepared" to die. He realizes that the clinic is "a place not of healing ... but of last resort" and that Bev is "not a veterinarian but a priestess."

He and Bev talk as they feed the dogs. She tells him that she "mind[s] deeply" euthanizing the animals. She asks about his circumstances, and he says he is "not just in trouble. In what I suppose one would call disgrace." She implies she can use his help euthanizing the animals.

That night after dinner, as he overhears Lucy Lurie talking on the phone, he wonders if she is talking to Helen and begins to consider her love life. He wonders if Helen and Lucy have sex or "perhaps they sleep together merely as children do ... sisters more than lovers." He does not like that she is a lesbian. However, he finds himself more concerned with her than he was before. As a daughter, "She becomes his second salvation, the bride of his youth reborn." Later, he cannot sleep. Instead he reads the letters of Lord Byron written in 1820 when the poet was 32 years old. As he reads these letters, David contemplates the fleeting nature of youth.


Two important thematic concepts return in this chapter. Earlier, David had considered castration as a way to deal with the problem of his unsatisfied sexual desires. This idea becomes a reality here in the form of a goat with a damaged scrotum. David also toyed with the idea that death was an answer to the problem of living with unfulfilled desires. This idea also becomes a reality as the clinic practices euthanasia on infirm animals. Perhaps David can be vulnerable with Bev because he can, in some way, relate to the work that she does. It is to Bev that David admits his state of disgrace for the first time. The understanding that follows—that he can help her with the euthanasia of animals—suggests that his state of disgrace will be affected by his relationship with her and his work in the clinic.

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