Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

On Wednesday morning, David Lurie and his daughter Lucy Lurie go for a walk. She asks to hear his "case" about Melanie. He says his case "rests on the rights of desire." Then he tries to explain his thinking. He tells Lucy a story about a neighbor's dog whose owner beat it whenever it became excited because a female dog was nearby. After a little while, the dog would smell a female and without even being beaten would show fear. David says this was wrong because it was taught "to hate its own nature" and "at that point it would have been better to shoot it."

They pass two men and a boy walking quickly toward them and feel uneasy. Back at the house, the men are there. The boy says they need to use the telephone because one of them has a sister who is "very bad" and having "a baby." They say they are from a small village in the forest called Eramuskraal. The taller, handsomer man goes into the house with Lucy, and then the second man follows and locks the door behind him. Worried for Lucy, David kicks the door in while the dog corners the boy. Once he is inside, though, David is immediately knocked out.

David comes to in the bathroom to the noise of the dogs still barking and the door locked. David is frantic to do something to help Lucy, thinking that "it has come, the day of testing." The shorter man comes in and takes David's car keys from him. Through the window, he sees the men loading Lucy's belongings into his car. They see him and speak in an African language that David cannot understand. He watches the tall man shoot each dog in the kennel, and then the short man opens the bathroom door. When David tries to escape, he is pushed back in, doused with methylated spirits, and lit on fire. He struggles to put out the fire on his body and is locked in the bathroom again. The men leave in the car, and he calls ceaselessly for Lucy. She sets him free, and he notices that she seems to have just bathed, which he believes implies that she was raped. He follows Lucy as they walk through the wreckage. He tries to comfort her, but she escapes his embrace. Lucy asks David not to talk to anyone about what happened to her. David says that keeping the attack secret is a mistake.

Analysis

David tells the story of the beaten, self-hating dog in an attempt to defend the morality of his affair with Melanie Isaacs. However, the story fails to convince Lucy of his point of view. Instead, the story hints at David's personal fear that he is useless and powerless. His melodramatic claim that the best thing to do for such a creature is to shoot it is followed by the actual shooting of all but one of Lucy's dogs, which David watches while imprisoned in the bathroom, utterly powerless. David is undergoing a kind of symbolic death.

While the self-hating dog represents David, the killing of the dogs is also linked to the violence of apartheid, when dogs were trained to kill at the smell of a black person. This association gives their massacre during the invasion another dimension of symbolic significance. The oppressed are rising up against their oppressors with vengeance, hatred, and violence. Apartheid was a horror; Coetzee suggests that the New South Africa is also beset with horrors.

Lucy does not explain her experience during the attack, nor does David ask. However, he knows that she was raped, not only from a vision that set him writhing during the attack, but from the fact that she emerges in the aftermath freshly bathed. After raping Melanie, David had imagined her taking a bath; to him, it is what a defiled woman would do.

The fact that the word rape is not said aloud makes clear that it is a taboo subject. It is a subject that is unspeakable even in a country where it happens all the time. It must be referred to indirectly, through euphemism, symbol, and metaphor.
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