Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 23 | Summary



David Lurie returns from walking Katy the bulldog to find Pollux looking in Lucy's window. He strikes the boy from behind, calling him "swine," and the dog attacks. Lucy appears, ending the attack, and as she tries to take the boy to clean his wound, her robe slips open to show her breasts. Both David and the boy stare, and David becomes full of rage. Pollux runs away and repeats his threat to kill them all. David condemns the boy, and Lucy calls him "a disturbed child." She says all was peaceful before David's return, and she "will make any sacrifice, for the sake of peace." David says he will leave.

David feels deep shame for his actions, but Pollux brings up an uncontrollable rage in him. He knows he "must listen to Teresa," who is "the last one left who can save him."

David goes to see Bev Shaw at the clinic. She suggests that Lucy will be okay with Petrus and that perhaps David should stop trying to control her. He says he will rent a room and that he will help her in the clinic.

David buys a truck, intending to resume transporting the dead dogs, and he rents a room in a house. He begins spending all his time in the clinic. He sets up a makeshift area for himself behind it, which is his true home. He is waiting for the birth of Lucy's child. One day, he finds three little boys staring at him as he is working on the opera and sees how crazy he must look through their eyes.


David and Pollux are actually very similar. The name Pollux is a twin's name, with origins in Greek mythology and the twin brothers Castor and Pollux. David is a twin to Pollux, whom he hates. He thinks he is unloading honorable vengeance on the boy for raping Lucy and then staring at her through the window, but these are things David does himself. David raped Melanie, and when Lucy's robe falls open, he stares at her breasts along with Pollux. David also returned as a voyeur to his victim, Melanie, watching her in the play.

The sources of David's rage are many. One is his racist attitude. Other causes are his pathological need to control and his fundamental inability to see things—other people, himself—as they really are. His life and his family tree are being brought into permanent association with the "Others," the race that David, a white man formed in apartheid-era South Africa, despises—and he can do nothing to stop this.

Lucy cannot send Pollux away, but she can make it clear to David that he needs to leave. He leaves the farm, indignant, telling himself he is a defender of honor with an important artistic task ahead of him. Everyone else has rejected him. Even Bev Shaw seems to have realized that David is absurdly and dangerously self-centered and delusional. David, however, calls the trouble with Lucy "nothing" and blames Petrus's people for the conflict.

David's prejudice already blinds him to facts. He now completely shuts his eyes to the world, immersing himself in his imaginary Teresa Guiccioli and the momentous artistic task he has set himself. To do this great work, he constructs a nest of trash behind the veterinary clinic and takes up residence there. Rosalind's prediction has come true. David really is a sad old man, delusional and racist, who pokes around in rubbish. Everything about this image of David suggests that he is the rotten fruit, already fallen and soon to be gone, of the old South Africa.

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