Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

The next day is Friday. As David Lurie is making repairs, Petrus returns, bringing with him the materials to build his house. David is suspicious of Petrus, who "happened" to be gone during and after the attack. He confides his suspicions to Lucy Lurie, but she does not seem to care.

Still upset, David goes to talk to Petrus at the dam. He brings up the robbery, and Petrus seems dismissive. He replies, "But you are all right now" and asks if Lucy will go to the farmers market the following day. Later, when Lucy tells David to go with Petrus, David thinks it is the shame of her disgrace that keeps her at home.

At the market David sees a story in the newspaper describing "unknown assailants" and "Ms. Lucy Lourie and her elderly father," a misspelling of his name that David is glad for. Petrus does all the work at the market. It is "just like the old days ... Except that he does not presume to give Petrus orders."

David still feels uneasy regarding Petrus, although the man also intrigues him. He thinks of how Petrus is now a neighbor rather than a subordinate. In this "new world," he wants to hear Petrus's story, but not in English, which he is beginning to regard as "an unfit medium for the truth of South Africa." He thinks of Petrus as a regular peasant, with "honest toil and honest cunning." He imagines that in the future Petrus will want to take over Lucy's land, edging her and people like her out of the picture.

Later, when he joins Petrus in work on the dam, David brings up the incident again, implying that Lucy was raped and that he wants the offenders punished. Petrus's calm nonchalance and failure to acknowledge the "violation" make David feel angry and violent.

David spends his days doing what Lucy used to do. He knows his burned appearance is repulsive and thinks he has "become a ... country recluse" who has reached "the end of roving." He sends a message to his ex-wife Rosalind that they were robbed but "nothing serious," so that she will not hear awful gossip. But David is plagued by nightmares. He dreams that his bed is full of blood or he is fleeing a man whose face is the head of the Egyptian moon god Thoth or an African mask. He feels he is losing himself and thinks of his Byron project. He knows it is fear that has kept him researching for so long and that he must begin to write down the music he hears in his head.

Analysis

David Lurie demands admission of wrongdoing from Petrus. This is similar to the way in which the university committee demanded David admit his wrongs with the student Melanie. Petrus is evasive, much as David was. He agrees with David but does not tell his side of the story or express the outrage that David wants to see. However, David does not make the connection consciously, although his nightmares of being in a bed of blood may signify his unconscious realization that his personal history is repeating itself. He is also sleeping in Lucy's bed, just as he did in Cape Town with Melanie, but he is blind to this parallel.

While the committee had leverage over David, David has none over Petrus. Petrus will lose nothing by choosing to remain evasive and mostly silent. The power shift is indicative of the historical moment. Petrus is not just the equal of the white man now but has roots on the land and a network of family and friends. Lucy and David are isolated outsiders.

David's disgrace has become written all over his body. He thinks of himself now as "one of those sorry creatures whom children gawk at on the street." Everything has now changed for David, but not in the ways he hoped for. He is living a life that he once disdained, his daughter's, and his intellectual pursuits are at a standstill. His ability to write the piece on Byron will be another test of him. He has been tested as a father, which he had previously thought of as "a rather abstract business." Now he faces a test of himself as a poet and artist, the part of himself he values most.

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