Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 15 | Summary



When David Lurie asks Petrus to move two tethered sheep to a place where they can graze, Petrus refuses. Instead, Petrus invites David to the party that Saturday where the sheep will be the meal. David finally moves the sheep himself. Lucy Lurie says the party is probably to celebrate Petrus's soon-to-be official status as landowner.

Lately, Lucy has been snappy and moody, and David wonders if the attack has damaged her irreversibly. Circumspectly, he asks her if she has had STD testing, and she assures him she has, that she is just waiting to see if she is pregnant.

David feels it is hardhearted of Petrus to keep the sheep tied on bare ground and considers buying them. Standing with the sheep, he wonders how Bev Shaw achieves "communion with animals" and wonders if he must become like her. Lucy guesses correctly that David's unwillingness to attend Petrus's party has to do with his attachment to the two sheep.

On Saturday, David smells the sheep cooking and wonders if it is right to mourn them. At the last moment, he accompanies Lucy to the party. They are the sole white people there. Lucy gives Petrus's pregnant wife, who only speaks Xhosa, the gift of a bedspread. When Petrus calls Lucy their "benefactor," David finds the choice of word disturbing. Petrus says he hopes his child will be a boy so he can teach his sisters how to act and because girls are very expensive to raise. He embarrasses Lucy by saying she is "almost" "as good as a boy."

David is trying to convince himself to eat the plate of mutton when Lucy tells him one of her rapists, the boy, is at the party. When David confronts him, Petrus quickly intervenes. Petrus says he doesn't know the boy, who denies involvement. The confrontation brings the party atmosphere to a halt. David says he will call the police and leaves with Lucy.

Back at the house, Lucy tells him he must hear Petrus's side of the story because she has to live peacefully with Petrus. David thinks she wants to "make up for the wrongs of the past" and that her silence is misguided. She tells David he doesn't know what happened that night. Contemplating how troubled their relationship has become, David cannot understand her thinking. He is clear in his thought that "as a woman alone on a farm she has no future."

David slips out and returns to the party to find a man in a chieftain's medal speaking in Xhosa while the partygoers listen reverently. When David is noticed, he feels glad for his white skullcap "to wear it as his own."


David's fledgling moral development is evidenced by his reaction to Petrus's sheep. The man who recently proclaimed that animal rights activists make him want to kick a cat is now preoccupied by the plight of two condemned sheep tied on barren ground.

The sheep also symbolize the position of women in general, and Melanie and Lucy in particular. Society treats women and animals as if they "do not own themselves" but "exist to be used." The needs of the sheep are a burden to Petrus, who cannot be bothered to tie them where they can graze. At the party, Petrus orates in front of his pregnant wife and Lucy, who has just been raped, about what a burden daughters are.

David's attitudes were once much more aligned with those expressed by Petrus, both with regard to animals and women. However, David's question of whether it is right to mourn the sheep after they are slaughtered hints at the contrition for Melanie's rape that he has never expressed. It also suggests that his preoccupation with his own desire has been replaced by an interest in spiritual matters.

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