Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 24 | Summary

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Summary

David Lurie sits behind the clinic writing and plunking out the story of a worn-out Teresa Guiccioli begging for Lord Byron's presence, "embracing the darkness, embracing what it will bring." The opera has become an obsession with him, but he has abandoned Byron's story totally. All he writes are the moans of Teresa. It is "the kind of work a sleepwalker might write." He thinks of his disappointed legacy.

David has taken to one dog, who will soon be euthanized, and formed a sort of "generous affection" for him. He believes that "the dog would die for him." He thinks about writing a dog into the story to join in Teresa's "lament."

On Saturdays, David helps his daughter, Lucy, at her stall at the market. One Saturday, they speak about the pregnancy. She tells him she is "determined to be a good mother ... and a good person" and that David should try the same. He says he is too old for that but privately thinks it's "not a bad resolution to make, in dark times."

Although he does not go to Lucy's house, one day he walks up to the farm and sees Lucy working in the flowers. He watches her, thinking she "is becoming a peasant." He considers his line going forth into the future, and his ultimate erasure. He wonders about being a grandfather. There is a moment of peace or stillness "which he would wish prolonged for ever," like a painting. At last, he makes his presence known, and she invites him to tea. It is "a new start," and he is treated like a visitor.

On Sunday, as they euthanize the animals, the narrator reveals that David has learned to give the dogs love in their final moments. The last animal of the day to be put down is the dog that David has bonded with. He has considered keeping the dog for a while, but knows that it will have to die, and so he goes to get him. The dog greets him affectionately, and David carries him in to be euthanized.

Analysis

In this final chapter, the verdict on David Lurie is settled, with the reader in the position of "the universe and its all-seeing eye," the phrase David uses to wonder about his final judgment. He realizes that he is not going to leave behind anything of artistic value. His opera is nothing more than the continuous undifferentiated wail of Teresa. Just like all David's obsessions, the opera is compelling to him. However, he knows it will not interest anyone else. It only interests him because it is about him, as Teresa's wail is actually his own.

David's visit to Lucy's farm is rewarded with a Wordsworthian vision of his daughter in a state of grace. She is frozen in time, about to give birth, in a field of flowers in peak bloom. The feeling of this living picture is one David wants to live in forever. Much like the Teresa of his opera, frozen in her howl and longing, he is yearning for an imaginary ideal of romance fixed in the past.

David has repeatedly said that he is too old to change. He still can't love his daughter or any woman or himself or his neighbor. He can only offer a few moments of love to a dog. He has found the place where he can be helpful and safely express love: the moment before the dog's death.

David has found his place at last, in this room that is a threshold between life and death, the real and the abstract, grace and disgrace. His work is upholding the dignity of dogs, those lowest of creatures in society's view. His work is both profoundly meaningful and absurdly meaningless. It is visceral and ideal. David Lurie, the disgraced old man who pokes around in trash, has finally achieved a state of equilibrium that balances the abstract with the real.

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