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Kinds of Disgrace in “Disgrace” by J. M. Coetzee Essay

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2021

Introduction to Disgrace

Disgrace is literally to lose honor, respect, or the destruction of a person’s reputation and leads to shame. This has been well elaborated in the book Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee written during the post Apartheid era in Southern Africa to pronounce the ignominy that existed among various social groups. The book covers the mid-life of David bringing to the fore the events which he has contributed to himself and some he hasn’t that are set in motion and lead to his near-total destruction. In this book, the various kinds of disgrace include relationship disgrace, professional ethics disgrace, workplace disgrace, animal and human disgrace, relationship disgrace, human harassment, robbery, and even divorce disgrace have been highlighted. The main character David Lurie in the book of Disgrace has been highly disgraced in several instances in the various chapters.

Different kinds of Disgrace

At the start of the book, the first kind of disgrace that is shown is that of divorce. David is a fifty-two-year-old man. He is accomplished academically and in his career. He is also considerably financially stable. In contrast to all these, his personal life is in shambles. He has been divorced twice. He is living a lonely life with no one to share his late years with. This kind of life led him to seek sexual gratification from various prostitutes starting with Soraya. When he could no longer meet her he decided to look for another prostitute with the same name but was not impressed with the sex. This lack of satisfaction made him seek more sex elsewhere. He slept with the married secretary but still, there was no gratification. After that he moved on to Melanie, then there was Bev and he also thought of sleeping with Melanie’s younger sister together with Melanie in the same bed. This kind of sleeping around can be attributed to the fact that David is not in a stable marriage due to his divorces. This is not a fact that could inspire admiration from any family life-loving person. David seemed to be constantly looking for adventure due to his sexual appetite and this led him into trouble at his workplace. This is depicted in disgrace professional ethics disgrace.

In every profession, there are professional ethics that have to be upheld. The teaching profession is no exception. As a University professor, David was not supposed to be involved in sexual relationships with his students. He did not see any reason to think of this, but instead went ahead and not only got sexually involved with his student Melanie, but he forced himself on her. In his house after they had dinner, he had sex with her even though she was not willing. He also had sex with her without her will at her cousin’s house. He had basically raped her but he justified himself with the excuse that she did not resist but merely averted her lips and eyes. The action was denounced by Melanie’s father at the inquiry into the affair when he asked the professors who the parents could trust with their children if it was not the professors who he termed as vipers. He told David that could he had been him, he would have been very ashamed of himself. After all this, David still showed no remorse for his actions. He is disgraced in his profession among his peers and is forced to leave his work and Cape Town as well. At the event of the inquiry, there was the press and human rights group. In response to the whole incident, he only said that he had been enriched by it even though he had caused Melanie disgrace and she had to leave school. Due to this affair, David was again involved in professional disgrace when he just put Melanie a grade C in the assessment even though she was not assessed.

In all these, there was a major kind of disgrace that characterized almost all of David’s sexual relationships. That was the relationship disgrace. At first, he is involved with Soraya who was supposedly just a prostitute. But it was revealed that she actually had a family with two sons. The relationship in which they were in was also not admirable as David had completely no interest in her, but only sex. This kind of situation had been replicated in the other relationships he had with the other women like the prostitute also called Soraya whom he left due to the lack of sexual excitement. Then he got involved with a secretary at his workplace that was apparently married. This was adultery and he also left and avoided her purely because her sexual motivation put him off. When David later gets into a relationship with Bev, the wife to Shaw, Lucy’s friend who had offered to take them in after the assault, there was also nothing other than sex that he wanted from her. Apart from this, it is also disgraceful that he should sleep with Shaw’s wife after he had assisted them. David’s relationship with Melanie is also just based on sex as he sees nothing else in her and they have nothing in common at all.

Even though the kind of relationship that existed between Lucy and Petrus was not sexual at all, there was a disgrace in the way it came out. Petrus was Lucy’s farmhand and when Lucy and Lurie were assaulted and Lucy raped, though he had heard about it, he showed no signs of concern and instead went ahead to throw a party for his new acquisition of the land. On top of this, when David asked him about the boy who had allegedly been among their attackers, he defends the boy saying he can’t be taken to jail and is still a minor. For having been Lucy’s farmhand, he should have at least listened to their case. This is very disgraceful to their relationship as worker and employer since Linda really had nothing against him.

It was very disgraceful for Melanie’s parents to learn that, in as much as their daughter had so much respect for professor David, he was the one who caused her to leave school. They were disgraced when their daughter left school after studying for so many years just because of a man who they had also trusted and had even thought of as the first person able to talk to her not to leave school.

The depiction of human disgrace was there on some occasions. When David went to stay with Lucy after leaving Cape Town, there were some criminals who went to their house pretending that they had wanted to use their telephone. During this occasion, they disgraced Lucy by raping her and they perpetrated bodily harm on David as they set him on fire. The attacks left them so weakened both physically and spiritually so much David thought they would never be the same again. Lucy felt so disgraced by the heinous act to the extent that she did not report the matter to the police. Lucy was so depressed she just spent most of her time in bed. She did not want anyone to know about it and even when they came face to face with one of the boys who had committed the act, she did not allow David to call the police. She had lost her honor but she decided to stand up and face her circumstances head-on as she refused to run away as David had suggested to her. When David suggested for Lucy to commit an abortion she refused saying she could not do another signifying that she had already committed an abortion previously. This is a human disgrace and she refuses to repeat it. Human disgrace is also witnessed when David was still teaching at the university and he asked a question in class. The student who answered it was referring to David by giving the example of Lucifer. David felt like the whole class already knew what he had done with Melanie as the attendance to his classes reduced but there was nothing he could do. David also commits human disgrace when he has sex with Melanie without her express permission and he takes advantage of her on a number of occasions with the mere excuse that she did not resist but merely averted her lips. He does this without the consideration that she was repulsed from him sexually. This was basically rape. Human disgrace was also meted on the boy who was suspected to have assaulted David and raped Lucy when David punched him and let the dog bit him.

The animals in this book also are also faced with disgrace. When Petrus came back from where he had gone during the robbery assault at Lucy’s house, he came with some sheep for slaughtering at the party. The treatment he gave the sheep was not humane as he tied them in a dry place without any grass and it had to take David’s intervention to go tie at a place with grass. At the animal clinic where Bev worked and was assisted by David, there were many animals that were killed and incinerated. This kind of treatment of animals is so vicious and heartless that when David thought about it one day, he had to leave his car and sob. This is not fair treatment of the animals because however sick they may be, this does not warrant the killing as they have no say over their destiny. One client came with her goat which had been severely bitten by some dogs and when Bev suggested that the Dog should be put to rest, she could not withstand the thought of that disgrace and left rather disappointed. There was a dog that had a problem walking at Bev’s clinic. David liked it and always took it to walk. He sympathized with the dog so much he didn’t give it a name for fear of getting too attached to it. The other instance of animal disgrace is witnessed when the robbers attacked David and Lucy at Lucy’s home and shot all except one dog.

In the book, we are also faced with a situation of unlikely expression of love between Bev and David. This is a show of Love Disgrace. In chapter seventeen after David and Bev have completed their daily work at the clinic and to demonstrate his love and affection to Bev. They decided to disgracefully make love on a blanket on the floor with belief that she had been imagining this before even though she was married. Also, David expressed his sexual love to Melanie when he slept with her on the floor of his house. When Melanie had gone to sleep at David’s apartment, he slept with her on his daughter’s bed. It was very disgraceful for him to sleep with a woman on his daughter’s bed.

Throughout most part of the book, David’s life had been accentuated by persistent low moments. His life was a living disgrace. In the twentieth chapter after David had undergone a life living in a different town, he kept on wondering how he would cope with the life back in Cape Town where he would have had to meet his former colleagues. This discomfort comes about due to the fact that he was an outcast due to the things he had done at the University. When David went to watch Melanie perform, Melanie’s boyfriend saw him and warned him to keep to his own kind. This kind of treatment David had been receiving made him decide to sell his former house and move out of Cape Town.

When David and Lucy had been assaulted, there was no interest taken by the police to investigate the matter and even those who could have given evidence, like Petrus who was related to the boy who had attacked Lucy and Lurie, were not at all willing to talk about the incidence and were instead protecting the suspects. This is disgraceful for justice. Upon David’s return to Cape Town, he found that his residence had been vandalized and there was also no one to be charged.

In Disgrace, we are exposed to the struggles that have come into the society after the Apartheid rule and the kinds of difficult situations and social struggles which the black and white communities in South Africa were going through. The difficulties in adjusting and living together.


  1. Andrew O’hehir. 2000. “Disgrace” by J.M. Coetzee. Summary.
  2. Book Rags.2006. . Web.
  3. Gradesaver.2008. Disgrace summary.
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