Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

The next morning, David Lurie and Lucy Lurie go for a walk and talk. David suggests he doesn't know why Melanie "denounce[d]" him. He quotes a line from Blake, "Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires," and tells his daughter that he has gained self-knowledge from every sexual liaison he has had with a woman. Lucy voices quiet acceptance when David asks if the life she has is the one she wants.

The next day, Saturday, David accompanies Lucy to the farmers market where she runs a stall. She is friendly with many of her customers, one of whom is Bev Shaw, "a dumpy, bustling little woman" who runs a charity veterinary clinic and animal refuge at the site of the closed-down Animal Welfare League in Grahamstown.

On the way home, they stop at the house of Bev Shaw and her husband, Bill. Bill welcomes David warmly, but David is repelled by the messiness and animal odors of the house and is in no mood to socialize. After they leave, David tells Lucy that he finds "animal-welfare people" obnoxious in the same way as "Christians of a certain kind," and that they give him the urge to "do some raping and pillaging. Or to kick a cat."

Lucy reads her father's harsh comment as disapproval of her way of life. She says David wishes she would seek "a higher life," filled with intellectual pursuits, but that "this is the only life there is. Which we share with animals." She tries to follow Bev's example in devoting her work to the care of animals. David replies, "We are of a different order of creation from the animals" and says kindness toward them should not be motivated by guilt.

Analysis

In this chapter Lucy and David have some significant conversations. Lucy talks to her father about his problem with Melanie. She sees in him a desire for partnership, evident in David's habit of attachment to his lovers, and she points this out. David presents the fact that he acted on his desires toward Melanie as morally blank, even justified, by the ideas of William Blake. This is typical of David's moral paradigm, which holds that qualities of poetic beauty make a thing good and right. The line is from Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell" (undated, but probably composed around 1790), in which the poet puts forth the premise that sensual pursuits lead one to the spiritual world, and that to ignore them is to damage one's soul. In the poem the proverb is spoken in the voice of Satan. This allusion recalls David's classroom analysis of the Lord Byron poem Lara. David identifies with the image of Lucifer as a fallen angel who is flawed, but magnetic.

David and Lucy straddle the dichotomy between the intellectual/artistic and the real/practical. Tension arises between them when their discussion turns to their different values and beliefs regarding animals. Lucy does not express disapproval of her father's liaison with a student, but she is aware that David disapproves of her way of life. David's misogyny returns when he interacts with Bev Shaw, whom he doesn't like because she "make[s] no effort to be attractive." He knows his way of thinking is out of date, yet he is too apathetic to do anything to change it. As he did at the start of the novel, David believes his temperament is fixed and unchangeable.

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