Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 12 | Summary



A neighbor, Ettinger, drives David Lurie and Lucy Lurie to the hospital. Lucy, "all strength, all purposefulness," checks David, who is trembling, into the casualties room. At last he sees the doctor, "a young Indian woman." She separates his eyelids, which were burned in the fire, and notes that his eye is undamaged. Bill Shaw has come to pick him up, and David is taken aback when Bill calls the Luries friends.

Back at the Shaw home, Bev runs a bath for David. Later, Bill has to help him out of the tub. That night David wakes, having had a vision of Lucy surrounded by white light, calling out to him, "Come to me, save me!" He wakes Lucy, desperate to speak with her, and she sends him back to bed like a child. He cannot sleep and wonders if Lucy's soul visited him. He goes into her room and watches her in her bed, guarding her until she falls asleep.

In the morning, he asks Bev about Lucy's condition. Bev refuses to discuss her with him and makes clear that, as a man, Lucy's condition is not his business. David thinks that raping a lesbian is worse than raping a virgin.

Later that morning he finds Lucy crying on the bed. He asks if she has seen a doctor. Lucy replies she has but is irritable. She says she will return to the farm and "go on as before." David says they can't because "it's not a good idea. Because it's not safe." Lucy replies the farm never was safe and that she is not returning for an idea. David realizes he has no influence over her.


The fact that David's eyesight has not been damaged suggests that he will yet learn to see and accept reality. However, for David to change his ideas and outdated romantic beliefs, he must suffer, and he surely has. His sense of safety has been shattered. He has failed to protect his daughter from assault, and his own body has been violated. Again, a bath is the answer to violation, although this bath is a humbling experience. His physical weakness demands that Bill Shaw help him out of the tub.

Through the attack and bath David is being cleansed symbolically of the notion that he can exist apart from the help of others. He had believed that a person could live on the basis of ideas alone and could control their own fate. Lucy's actions contradict this belief. She refuses to leave the farm even though it seems the logical thing to do. His vision of Lucy calling out for help tells him that he has failed his daughter in the moment when she needed him most. He is left with guilt and fear and tries to overcompensate for his failure by pressuring her to leave. However, he is too late. His failure to save her has compounded his disgrace, and Lucy has withdrawn from his influence for good.

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