Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 17 | Summary



One Sunday, David Lurie and Bev Shaw talk as they finish work. She brings up his dismissal from the university and expresses sympathy, saying he must find life here dull. He tries to imagine Bev younger and at the height of her attractiveness. "On an impulse" he touches her lips, and she kisses his hand.

The next day, she calls and asks him to come meet her at the clinic, which is closed Mondays. They have sex in the locked surgery room on the floor with the lights off. Afterward he thinks, "This is what I have come to. This is what I will have to get used to, this and even less than this."


David's affair with Bev Shaw shakes his sexual confidence and makes him question his identity. The events of this chapter reveal the way that the old David and the new person he is becoming coexist within him. The affair begins because David touches Bev's lips; the gesture comes from a moment's impulse, not true desire. Like Lucifer in Byron's poem Lara, David still acts out of impulses without understanding their source. He has always been particularly repulsed by Bev's appearance and has regarded her work and character with ridicule as well as pity.

In a characteristic omission of women's perspectives, the text does not give any hint of Bev's reasons for sleeping with David. The reader must discern her motive and response by interpreting David's thoughts, which are unreliable. Here, he imagines that Bev's motive is to help Lucy, who is dealing with the trauma of her rape, and David's fears about her safety, which he expresses constantly. Sex will soothe and relax David so that he will stop insisting Lucy leave her home and begin a new life. This interpretation of Bev's motives for the affair, whether or not it is true, acts in the chapter like a message from David's subconscious. He has not been able to consciously accept that his concern for his daughter is hurting rather than helping her, nor that he has lost any father's authority he might have had before the rape.

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