Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 16 | Summary



The next day, while helping Petrus work, David Lurie asks about the name of the boy from the party. He tells Petrus he wants to turn the information over to the police and assures Petrus he will not involve him personally. However, Petrus says his responsibility is keeping the peace. The boy is angry at being called a thief and is too young to go to jail, Petrus adds. He says he knows what happened but will protect Lucy. In Petrus's mind, the boy is not guilty because he is so young. Petrus evades David's question regarding whether he is related to the boy.

When David speaks to Bev Shaw about his suspicions regarding Petrus, Bev insists that he can trust Petrus and claims Petrus has been a great help to Lucy in the past. David becomes outraged when Bev tells him that he was not there for the ordeal that Lucy went through.

It has become obvious that both he and Lucy feel his visit has lasted too long, but David is not ready "to abandon his daughter." He is making no progress on his Byron opera, which depresses him. On Sunday afternoons, he begins helping Bev euthanize the unwanted dogs at the clinic, holding them while she injects them. It starts to affect him emotionally and "he does not understand what is happening to him," yet "his whole being is gripped by what happens" during this work. He begins to feel compassion for the doomed dogs.

He begins to take over the job of disposing of the corpses. Every Monday morning, he takes them to the incinerator at the hospital. Finding it unacceptable that the workmen beat the corpses into pieces that are easier to fit into the incinerator, David takes over the job of feeding the corpses to the machine. He does this, he concludes, because he is becoming "stupid, daft, wrongheaded."


David is frustrated with his inability to protect Lucy or persuade her of what he thinks she should do regarding her rape. As a result, David turns to the clinic and animals. He becomes part of the process of death, acting as a witness and guide for the animals into the next life.

As the text hints, death is the ultimate state of disgrace. However, David's position with respect to the dogs' deaths is inherently graceful. He senses the work with euthanizing and disposing of the animals is changing him but cannot understand how or why. He does not realize that through his work he is atoning for his state of disgrace and finding a balance between the ideal and the real. By doing a task that honors the sanctity and dignity of those who are powerless, he begins to question his moral nature for the first time. However, his old temperament and ways of thinking resist these changes in the form of self-judgment and self-belittling.

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