Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Course Hero. "Disgrace Study Guide." March 15, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Disgrace/.


Course Hero, "Disgrace Study Guide," March 15, 2019, accessed August 10, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Disgrace/.

Disgrace | Quotes


Strange love! Yet from the quiver of Aphrodite, goddess of the foaming waves, no doubt about that.

David Lurie, Chapter 3

David has this thought as he grabs the resisting Melanie prior to raping her. In his mind he is not violating her. Rather, he has been forced to have sex with her by Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love and sex. This passage shows the degree to which David separates himself from reality by conceptualizing his experience in terms of literary and artistic ideas. Coetzee suggests that to perceive life in this way is inherently immoral.


Counseling? I need counseling? ... To fix me? To cure me? To cure me of inappropriate desires?

David Lurie, Chapter 5

David balks at his lawyer's suggestion to pursue having the charges against him dropped in exchange for taking certain actions, such as seeking counseling. David recoils at the word counseling, as if the lawyer had judged him to be a defective human being. This inappropriate and defensive reaction suggests that David's self-concept has indeed been shaken. Though he spends a lot of energy denying it, his conscience is uneasy.


They do us the honor of treating us like gods, and we respond by treating them like things.

Lucy Lurie, Chapter 9

Lucy says this while talking to David in the kennel of Katy, a female bulldog abandoned by her owners. Both Lucy and Bev Shaw treat animals with respect and dignity, as fellow inhabitants of the planet with individual worth. Their attitude is not shared by the dominant culture, which treats animals—as well as women—as objects to be used and then discarded. Disgrace is full of examples of the objectification of women and animals, from the rapes of Melanie and Lucy to the senseless massacre of Lucy's dogs by her rapists and Petrus's treatment of his two black sheep. Coetzee suggests that individuals and cultures that condone and participate in the abuse of animals and women exist in a state of moral culpability, of disgrace.


The day of testing ... How will they stand up to the testing, he and his heart?

David Lurie, Chapter 11

David has just regained consciousness to find himself locked in the bathroom. He has repeatedly called Lucy's name, but she has not made a sound since the men followed her into the house. David is ambivalent about taking action; he senses a crisis he would rather avoid. His tepid response, both cowardly and extremely self-centered, is one of the most damaging parts of the experience for Lucy.


Not human evil, just a vast circulatory system, to whose workings pity and terror are irrelevant.

Narrator, Chapter 11

Trembling, burned, and shocked after the attackers leave, David tries to make sense of the incident. Noting all the things that have been stolen, he decides that the root of the crime is a scarcity of the resources necessary for happiness. Because everyone wants happiness, these resources are not actually owned but circulated like blood in body. David sees this theory, and the crime itself, as representative of the country's new direction.


He saves the honor of corpses because there is no one else stupid enough to do it.

Narrator, Chapter 16

David is working his way out of his state of disgrace through his service to the animals that are brought to Bev Shaw's clinic to be euthanized. When the workmen at the incinerator begin to beat the corpses until they break into pieces that fit easily into the machine, David takes over the job of loading the corpses into the incinerator. He struggles to understand why he does this, given the fact that it is not particularly productive, and he is selfish by nature. The truth is that he is experiencing an inner transformation and moving back toward a state of grace.


Let him stop calling her poor Bev Shaw. If she is poor, he is bankrupt.

Narrator, Chapter 17

After having sex with Bev Shaw for the first time, Dave wrestles with his self-concept. He has thought of Bev Shaw's work with the animals as unimportant, even absurd, and has from the beginning found her physically unattractive. Working with Bev has made David, by his own account, "stupid, daft, wrongheaded." At first he feels sorry for himself that he is reduced to sleeping with someone like Bev instead of gorgeous young Melanie Isaacs. Then he realizes he need not keep pitying Bev Shaw, who gives of herself with sincerity and integrity, taking on difficult, unpleasant tasks to help others. She is in a state of grace, while David even now wallows in disgrace.


On the contrary, I understand all too well ... You were raped ... And I did nothing.

David Lurie, Chapter 18

After Lucy is raped, David's intrusive questioning and insistence that she must report the crime and leave to start a new life elsewhere prompt Lucy to explain repeatedly that his perspective is not useful to her. He doesn't understand what happened to her that day because he wasn't there. This confuses and outrages him because he feels he went through the same attack. Their quarreling around this subject finally reaches a new understanding when David describes what he thinks Lucy went through to her, a list of horrors that ends with his admission that he failed to protect her. Lucy's response indicates that her father's failing her in her moment of terror is a central horror of the experience for her. It has left her a "dead person," as she writes in a letter to David.


Does mighty describe him? He thinks of himself as obscure and growing obscurer. A figure from the margins.

Narrator, Chapter 19

Returning to Cape Town, David visits Melanie Isaacs's father. When he tells Mr. Isaacs that he plans to spend his time writing a book and living on his daughter's farm, Mr. Isaacs remarks, "How are the mighty fallen!" This surprises David, who has never thought of himself as mighty. He did not realize the degree to which he, as a professor, was held in esteem by people like Mr. Isaacs before his disgrace. As a nonwhite person, Mr. Isaacs faced a complete lack of opportunity under apartheid. Apartheid's end has meant that Mr. Isaacs's daughters can have the education and the chance to fulfill their potential that history denied him.


Can he find it in his heart to love this plain, ordinary woman? ... To write music for her?

Narrator, Chapter 20

David realizes the Lord Byron opera as he originally conceived it—as a story of lust, passion, and adultery between the poet and his beautiful, young, married mistress—does not move him, nor does it match the mood of the music he hears in his head. He changes the story to focus on the middle-aged and no longer beautiful Teresa Guiccioli. It will center on her unfulfillable longings for the great love of her life, who now exists only as a ghost. Symbolically, David is recasting Teresa-as-Melanie as Teresa-as-Bev. He has begun an affair with Bev that becomes about emotional intimacy and leaves sex behind.


So this is art, he thinks, and this is how it does its work! How strange! How fascinating!

Narrator, Chapter 20

While creating the music for his Lord Byron opera on Lucy's old toy banjo, David enters a state of what might be called artistic grace. Instead of pushing the elements of the music together to meet a certain end, David finds that the music comes as he allows himself to be led by the emotions of the character of Teresa Guiccioli. He loses himself, absorbed in the process, but also finds himself in the music that comes out of the instrument in his hands.


If he is being led, then what god is doing the leading?

Narrator, Chapter 21

As David watches Melanie Isaacs act, he feels a proud ownership of her that gives way suddenly to a vision, like "a waking dream" within "the ocean of memory," of each of the women he has known amorously throughout his life. He is flooded with gratitude thinking of the experiences he had with each woman, for each one "enriched" him. David's atheism is opening up into a genuine and teachable state of metaphysical inquiry. This is fundamentally different from his earlier allusions to ancient gods as explanations for his behavior.


So this is all it takes!, he thinks. How could I ever have forgotten it?

Narrator, Chapter 21

After David is chased out of the theater where he is watching Melanie Isaacs act in a play, David has sex with an intoxicated young prostitute. The act transforms his hyperactive anxious state into a warm, drowsy calm, like magic. It doesn't matter that the sex was bought or that his sexual partner was too intoxicated to be truly present. David discovers that his sexual needs are really very simple and minimal. They could have been met if he had stuck with prostitutes rather than pursuing an affair with one of his students.


Lacking in fire. Will that be ... the verdict of the universe and its all-seeing eye?

Narrator, Chapter 21

The motifs of fire, judgment, and seeing are evoked in this quote. David once explained his relationship with Melanie Isaacs as something that lit a fire within him, albeit a moderate one given that, as he tells Melanie's father, "even when I burn I don't sing." David's inability to emotionally connect and his lack of self-confidence give rise to a mediocrity of character.


Well, Lucy was wrong. They were not raping, they were mating.

Narrator, Chapter 22

Lucy had told David she believed the men came primarily to rape her, not to commit robbery, as David originally assumed. Upon finding out that Lucy is pregnant from the rape, David's conception of the incident shifts again. He tells himself the men were not seeking the pleasure of vengeance for history's wrongs, but that they were compelled to violate Lucy by the biological reproductive instinct. He despairs, thinking that his unborn grandchild will be an expression of its hate- and terror-filled conception.

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