Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 9 | Summary



On Saturday afternoon, while Petrus watches a soccer game narrated in indigenous languages on TV, David Lurie goes to his daughter's room. Lucy Lurie is reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a Charles Dickens novel. He wonders what she thinks of him as a father. He is also curious about her sex life and inclinations and wonders if it is possible for them to talk about this. Lucy suggests he help Petrus, who has bought some of Lucy's land with a Land Affairs grant and who hopes to soon build his own house. She also suggests David help Bev Shaw at the veterinary clinic. He responds that he isn't interested in "mak[ing] reparation for past misdeeds" or becoming a better person.

David goes out and falls asleep in the kennel with Katy, the bulldog abandoned by her owners. Lucy finds him there. David tells her that the Catholic Church has decided animals lack souls. Lucy responds that she doesn't know if she herself has a soul. David tells her, "We are all souls ... before we are born." Lucy says she will keep Katy and explains that Bev Shaw's work at the clinic involves euthanizing animals. Suddenly seized by empathy and sadness, David apologizes for his faults as a father and agrees to help Bev Shaw.


In Petrus, David confronts the realities of postapartheid South Africa. The soccer game is now reported in the indigenous languages of Sotho and Xhosa rather than in English or Afrikaans. Petrus's purchase of part of Lucy's land is government subsidized. As David notes, the old lines are no longer drawn. These events symbolize the shifts in power between the races that has been brought about by the end of apartheid. David may be a white-skinned English speaker, but despite all his learning and privilege, he is now an outsider in the New South Africa. The local language as well as the culture are unintelligible to him.

His exclusion from society and political power is emphasized when he leaves the house and falls asleep in the kennel of Katy, the female bulldog abandoned by her owners. While black men like Petrus may be rising in status, females and animals remain at the bottom of the hierarchy. David's beliefs and actions, such as his rape of Melanie Isaacs and his claim that animals lack souls, reinforce this subordination. However, he is starting to change. He feels a sadness for "Katy, alone in her cage, for himself, for everyone." He also apologizes to his daughter and agrees to help Bev Shaw in the animal clinic. His old attitudes are beginning to shift.

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