Disgrace is a book based on the period immediately after the end of the apartheid. Coetzee has based his story on a professor whose life has ended up in disgrace as a result of the mistakes he has made in his life from a life of self centeredness. David Lurie is a professor in communications at Cape Town Technical University. Previously, he was a professor of modern languages, a department that was closed down and he was transferred to the communications department. He is a lonely man who has been divorced twice and whose only daughter, Lucy is a lesbian. Lurie satisfies his sexual desires by visiting a prostitute. This paragraph showing David’s life also explains why he may have the character that he has, frustrated and yet selfish. His choice of a prostitute shows his disregard to law and ethics. This lack of ethics is again portrayed by his sexual engagement with Melanie, who is one of his students.
It is after a sexual encounter with a university student, Melanie that his troubles begin in earnest as she files a sexual harassment case against him. The hearing is by his colleagues and is widely publicized through the press and is also attended by the local activists. Lurie is given a chance to repent on his action but he adamantly refuses to do so. He is convicted and fired. Later when Lucy tries to convince him to defend himself, he compares himself to an animal. He defends his sexual action with Melanie as a natural act, and like animals, men have desires that must be fulfilled. This lack of remorse is proof of his arrogance and disrespect of the law. He defends his action by calling it a natural desire that has to be satisfied, another sign of selfishness and arrogance.
After loosing his job at the university he went to stay with his daughter in her farm at Salem. Lucy has become a farm woman and she grows and sells her farm produces at the market. Lurie has tried to retain a good relationship with his daughter since it is to her that he runs to and confides in. He admits that he has no one else he can open up his soul to. This is a sign that his arrogant demeanor has resulted to him loosing his two wives to divorce and to him lacking friends he can confide in (O’Hehir, 1999). To keep himself busy at the farm, Lurie volunteers at an animal shelter. Lucy tries to persuade her father into getting a job at a nearby university. He refuses with an argument that his sexual harassment reputation must have spread all around.
A few days later Lurie and his daughter are attacked by three African men who gang rape Lucy. He tries to fight and protect his daughter but he is locked outside and Lurie is put on fire. They report the attack to the police but Lucy does not mention the rape. They suspect that their farm help, Petrus has something to do with them being attacked. After this attack Lucy suffers a depression and Lurie has no choice but to take over caring for the farm as he also continues to volunteer at the animal shelter. Lurie realizes that the attack has had an effect on both of them as he admits that neither of their lives will ever be the same again (Coetzee, 2010). Rape has affected and changed their lives forever, Lucy by being a rape victim and Lurie as a rapist. It is no wonder that he does not understand why Lucy does not want to follow up on her perpetrators. Lurie on the hand is being as arrogant as he is the first one to insist that Lucy report her rapists to the police while he himself had described his actions as natural. By the end of it all he still does not seem to have learnt his lesson as he still does not admit any wrong doing to Melanie.
At the shelter, Bev the owner injects the animals to kill them when they cannot be healed. Lurie’s duty is to dispose the bodies of the dead animals. As time moves on Lurie realizes that these animal killings have an effect on him as one day he breaks down at the roadside and cries (Attridge, 2002). After some days have passed, Lurie tries to persuade his daughter to move away from Salem as he doesn’t think that she would be safe there and on her own. She refuses to move and writes a note to her father that tells him that he should learn to let her be an adult who can make decisions on her own. He leaves her at the farm and only comes back to visit after being informed that Lucy is pregnant from the rape. Lucy refuses to get rid of the pregnancy. She makes an agreement with the farm help, Petrus that Petrus take care of the land in exchange for Lucy’s protection. Father and daughter will disagree again when he finds the boy who had been suspected of raping Lucy peering at her (Coetzee, 2010). Lurie attacks the boy and Lucy gets angry at her father for intervening and he is made to leave Lucy’s house.
Lurie leaves Salem and goes back to Cape Town. At Cape Town, he finds his house has been broken into. He goes to his former office only to find out that he has already been replaced. He feels out of place and decides that he has to sell the Cape Town house as he no longer feels comfortable in the city. He later has to rush back to Salem to be with her pregnant daughter. He rents a house at a neighboring town. He helps Lucy in the market and continuous with the disposing of bodies from the animal shelter. At the animal shelter he develops a liking for a dog with a limp. He is thinking of creating a character for the dog in the opera that he has been writing.
The book ends with Lurie’s life being a disgrace. He moves from being a university professor and ends up as a being a dog-man, some one whose work is to dispose off dead dogs. A job he does because there is no one else is there to do it. He becomes a victim of the crime that he commits as he becomes the grandfather of a child that results from rape, the same crimes that he commits and which ruins his life.
Has Lurie reformed? Has Lurie learnt any lessons from the disgrace? The fact that he says he does not regret the actions for which he left his job is prove that he has not changed. He is just as self righteous and believes others are wrong for raping his daughter and yet he is too is a rapist. The same non reformist character is seen when back in Cape Town after watching Melanie’s play at the end of the book when he goes and picks up a young prostitute. Lurie pride and selfishness has created a barrier to any chances of reform in his character. He is still the same arrogant and selfish man he was. The only difference being is the disgrace.