Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 22 | Summary



Talking with his daughter, Lucy, on the phone makes David Lurie suspicious that something has changed in her. He makes an excuse to go visit her. Petrus's new house makes the place feel foreign. Lucy reveals she is pregnant and will have the child. David tells her he will support her decision, but on a solitary walk, he weeps, feeling that "suddenly everything is changed, utterly changed!"

That evening, Lucy tells David that Pollux, the boy who raped her, is the brother of Petrus's wife and is living with Petrus. He calls the situation "ridiculous" and "sinister" and begs her to leave. They begin to quarrel.

The next morning, David accuses Petrus of lying about his relationship to Pollux. Angry, Petrus says he is looking after his family just as David is. The attack "is bad. But it is finish." Claiming it is dangerous for a woman not to be married, Petrus says he will take Lucy as an additional wife, since Pollux is too young.

David relays the proposal to Lucy, calling it blackmail. Lucy says she knows Petrus has been hinting that her safety is at risk because he has ambitions to own her land. She tells David to relay her response. She will marry Petrus and give him her land, but the house remains hers, and he must accept the child as family. She agrees with David the situation is "humiliating," but she says she must accept, starting "with nothing ... No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity ... like a dog."


David's hysteria about Lucy's plan to give birth to the child she is carrying results from his preoccupation about his legacy. Previously he told Lucy his plan to write an opera stemmed from his desire to leave something behind "with a life of its own." To say this to his own daughter is hurtful and oblivious. Now he again treats Lucy as if she is a minor character in his story rather than the protagonist of her own. He is also blind to the absurdity with which he weeps over the fact that Lucy will have the child, which he imagines as a horrific creature due to the nature of its conception rather than a regular human being. His despair is not for her sake, but for himself as "a father without the sense to have a son." Now his legacy will "dribbl[e] into the earth" because his daughter insists on giving birth to monster-spawn. David is fully back in his original mode of thought and action, full of exaggerations and poetic delusions and breaking boundaries left and right.

Breaking boundaries, in the form of reversals of history, is characteristic of the New South Africa. White and African blood will be mixed in Lucy's child. She, the educated white woman from the city, becomes the subordinate, the dependent tenant of the provincial African through a process of sexual violation, physical force, and coercion. In a case of dramatic irony, in which the reader is aware of something the characters are not, these are the same tools that the imperialists used to subordinate Africans for years.

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