J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace as an Allegory of the Pain, Frustration, and Disorder of Post-Apartheid South Africa

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In J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace (1999), David Lurie, an embodiment of the unrepentant Afrikaner, his predatory masculinist ways recalling the overbearing and highhanded culture of the apartheid era, is shown as both perpetrator and victim. His daughter Lucy transcends her victim status; carrying in her the post-rape seed of the multiracial entity birthed by the post-apartheid arrangement, she is, unlike her father, prepared to make concessions and undertake the compromise and accommodation that are essential in the new South Africa. By the end of the novel, however, Lurie, too, has, at least on the personal level and in his caring for animals, learned the virtue of humility. Central motifs in Disgrace are linked to those in other novels such as Elizabeth Costello and in the metatextual The Lives of Animals. However, Coetzee, in his exploration of ethics and morality, is richly ambiguous, as is his approach to the porous divides between fiction, metafiction, faction, and autobiography. The essay closes with an examination of the various inflections characterizing Coetzee’s retreat from public testimony into autobiography, as a way in which to deal with the nature of the society he has now left in moving to Australia.


Journal for African Culture and Society




Mark Sanders, “Disgrace,” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 4.3 (2002): 363–373.


Coetzee, Disgrace (London: Vintage, 1999): 1. Further page references are in the main text.


Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello, 80.


Louis Tremaine, “The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J.M. Coetzee,” Contemporary Literature 44.4 (Winter 2003): 589.


Tremaine, “The Embodied Soul,” 595.


McDunnah, “ ‘We are not asked to condemn’,” 45.


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