Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

Petrus ploughs his land in an afternoon using a borrowed tractor. He is planning to build a house "overlooking the farmhouse." David Lurie asks if he will build it himself, and he says he will only dig the trenches, which "is not such a skill job ... just a job for a boy." Although he detests Petrus, David asks the man if he would consider managing the farm if Lucy, his daughter, were to return to Cape Town for a break. Petrus says that would be too much for him to take on.

David receives a call from Detective-Sergeant Esterhuyse in Port Elizabeth saying his car has been found and he can come pick it up in New Brighton. He drives there with Lucy, and Esterhuyse shows David to his car. He says the two men arrested in the attack are out of jail on bail. The car is not in fact David's, and both he and Lucy are irritated. He tries again to convince her to "start a new chapter elsewhere," but Lucy insists that she will not, and he is incapable of understanding why.

On the drive back, Lucy mentions how the men treated her "with such personal hatred," which "stunned" her. David says, "It was history speaking through them ... A history of wrong. ... It came down from the ancestors." She says she wants to make her own decision and that he cannot understand. David says he does understand. She was raped by three men. However, even though she feared for her life, he did not come and help her. He failed her. She says she thinks they will return for her, and "that is the price one has to pay for staying on ... They see themselves as debt collectors." She goes on to ask her father if he can see a connection between sex and killing. David thinks back to his dreams of being in "a bed of blood, a bath of blood." Concentrating on what he imagines the rape scene was like, David finds he can "be there, be the men" but wonders "does he have it in him to be the woman?"

Later he writes Lucy a letter, asking her to reconsider. He soon receives her reply, in which she claims, "I am a dead person and I do not know yet what will bring me back to life." She writes that he seems to refuse to see that she cannot go away. She says his guidance is not helpful to her right now.

On Sunday afternoon, he and Bev Shaw lie together, not having sex but talking. Bev says that she and Bill will watch over Lucy and that everything will be okay. He thinks of his Byron opera project.

Analysis

This chapter opens as Petrus uses the derogative word boy to refer to himself casually, signaling the postapartheid era's shift in race relations. This is the hope at the end of apartheid—that the formerly subjugated races would be able to rise up in equality. However, the picture is more complicated, as the rest of the chapter shows.

The author juxtaposes Petrus's coming into power with scenes that signal David's increasing uselessness. As a white male, he was powerless to protect his own daughter from history's vengeance. Lucy tells him he cannot understand and he cannot guide her. Indeed, he can only imagine the perspective of Lucy's rapists, not that of Lucy herself.

David and Lucy's different reactions to the situation represent different attitudes toward the changes going on in the country. David wants Lucy to flee the situation, to use her privilege to get out of the New South Africa where she has suddenly become a target. Lucy, however, is determined to stay and see the process through. She understands the changing dynamics and is willing to play her part in history, even if her well-being is threatened.

David is in a sexless intimacy with Bev, a woman whom he finds repulsive physically. This underscores the powerlessness of his position. Realizing how useless he is, David's thoughts turn toward art and his Byron project to give himself meaning.

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