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JM Coetzee, the author of the Novel Disgrace, published in 1999, powerfully writes about the post apartheid era in Africa. In the novel, Coetzee strikingly talks about sexual assaults as well as racism and relationships throughout the town of Salem. David, an overpowering, non-emotional character moves around Cape Town between two prostitutes, Soraya and Melanie. His mindset, showing no compassion or empathy, soon leads him to trouble after Sororya escapes and leaves David very bluntly. After moving on from Soraya, David quickly feels an attraction towards one of his students Melanie, which causes a huge uproar. Later, after moving in with his daughter, Lucy, a tragic situation occurs to which changes both David and Lucy. The commentary and description of these characters, depicts the intuitions and ideas that David and Lucy feel throughout their journey of life. In the Novel, Disgrace, by John Maxwell Coetzee, the use of characterization and development between Lucy and David changes as they experience physical abuse, which becomes effective and modifies the decisions they make, as well as a change in their relationship.
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In the novel, the characterization of David Lurie, changes dramatically. Being a Professor in Cape Town, and a man in his fifties, Coetzee states, “he has, to his mind solved the problem of sex rather well” (Coetzee 1). Coetzee clearly describes David’s character and presents him to be someone who is starting to find himself. According to the article, “Disgraceas an Allegory of the Pain, Frustration, and Disorder of Post-Apartheid South Africa”, by Remy Oriaku, the author believes David “becomes more culpable when he insists on continuing their liaisoning after he accidentally gets to know of her marital status” (Oriaku 147). The way Oriaku describes David’s character, of being “culpable”, really displays his individual quality as a person. This shows that he is deserving of being blamed after having sex with Soraya, even after finding out that she was married prior to this incident. David really transforms after he has sexual actions with Soraya, and continues to have the urge to find her. David makes a comment that displays his thoughts, as he acts like a psychopath, after having sex with her, as Coetzee states, “He ought to close the chapter. Instead, he pays a detective agency to track her down. Within days he has her real name, her address, her telephone number. He telephones her at nine in the morning” (9). David’s way of thinking and way of showing his emotions is presented in away to which is far different from the others. His impulse and thought process to stalk and continue being a predator towards a women whom he has had sex, while at the same time, knowing that she has a husband, appears to be David’s approach to finding his feelings. This really highlights his character and who he is. Moving forward, as soon as Soraya escapes from him, David finds one of his own students while walking and has sexual desires to which he feels and proceeds forward with. Melanie, one of David’s students, was one of the couple girls whom David has seduced. Oriaku states, the moment after David has sex with Melanie, “he leaves her flat after the act, he is conscious that he has made “a huge mistake” and imagines her “trying to cleanse herself of it, of him”, as she scrubs her body in the bath, as rape victims are wont to do” (149). David being conscious of his actions and knowing the fact that he probably did something that he should not have done, let alone with one of his own students, shows where his mind is at, even thought he might not fully agree with all that he is thinking after the fact. David’s soul and heart is feeling more sympathy and more desire than he has ever felt before in his whole life. His conscious of making a “huge mistake” really shows that he mentally understands that what he did was not appropriate; yet, his souls connection is stronger and more meaningful to him. According to Coetzee, David’s commentary as a figure in this novel, shows how he feels after this situation with Melanie, as stated, “I am being asked to issue an apology about which I may not be sincere” (56)? The actions David takes upon one of his own students truly shows his thought process and how he feels about the whole situation. Though an apology is being asked of him, he does not see fault within his actions, nor does he feel obligated to give Melanie an “underserved” apology, when he feels like she enjoyed the time they had together. This really shows David’s emotions as a character in the novel, and how his thought process is different from how his heart feels. The others around him don’t necessarily feel the same as David, since they were not in the same position as he. David has a lot to think about as the situation begins to escalate, “the criterion is whether you are prepared to acknowledge your fault in a public manner and take steps to remedy it” (Coetzee 560). David, being questioned whether he is ready to admit fault or not, makes him think about his feelings towards this situation and what actions he wants to make in order to move forward and forget the past. David almost feels as if there is no remedy for this situation since he believes every action he took was okay, since it was what he was desiring and strived for.
On the other hand, Lucy’s strong and positive attitude towards life is soon crushed once a traumatizing situation is brought upon her. Being raped and bombarded in her own home, alone with her father, creates a fear and sensation upon Lucy, which leaves her feeling sheltered and scared to leave the house, let alone being able to talk about the situation, as Oriaku states, “Lucy, on the other hand, is traumatized by the rape but does not show the anxiety we find in her father” (152). The lasting shock to which Lucy suffers from, affects her character as it vicissitudes her from the outside world. Her anxiety of feeling uneasy is a mental stage for her as she is now emotionally disturbed. Although, she is able to handle her apprehension compared to her father. The feelings and emotions that Lucy suffers from throughout this assault is life changing. Lucy’s comment of being “trapped”, outlines everything she fells in the exact moment of the assault. The aftermath of being forced into unlawful sexual activity by these men, makes her feel as if she wants to stay unknown until she is ready to feel free again, as Coetzee states, “Lucy keeps to herself, expresses no feelings, shows no interest in anything around her” (112). Lucy undoubtedly feels the need to be reserved, and keep everything to herself since she was the one whom went through the physical trauma. The forces that have been acted upon Lucy, cause her to have no motivation to go out, be social or act in any particular way. Her desire is nothing more than to keep all the news to herself, and try to connect the dots with everything that happened. Lucy’s unwanted longing to find the rapist, is shown in the article, “Rape and the Violence of Representation,” by Mardorossian, “she resists his determination to find a rationale” (Mardorossian 75). This shows how after being raped, Lucy’s reaction and explanation of everything now has no meaning to her since it has passed. Her nature and features, being a victim figure in this novel, proves that after the rape, her personality has altered, as she does not want to resolve the situation for her own good, by taking it to the next level. As stated in the article, by Carine Mardorossian, the author displays her own views on Lucy’s reluctance to accept the truth of her own beliefs, as stated, “her unwillingness to rationalize her decision also reflects the fact that she knows she is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to representing herself as a rape victim in post apartheid South Africa” (75). It is easy to perceive that Lucy knows she is in a difficult position, while her gut is telling her one thing, and her head is telling her another. She needs to take time and figure out which path of life is best for her in order to continue on happily and in peace.
Furthermore, the relationship between David Lurie, the father of Lucy, and Lucy changes considerably as his daughter was being raped, and as he was beaten and burned. Before the situation occurred, David was very opinionated, but after the invasion took place, David starts to realize that the life Lucy was living, is the life that makes her the happiest. After seeing everything that makes her happy, David begins to develop empathy, and wants to do anything he can in order to protect and please his own daughter. David’s relation and sympathy towards Lucy changes as he states, “Well, I can come back anytime you need me. You have only to say the word” (Coetzee 174). David, giving Lucy the option of coming back whenever she wishes, shows his change in mentality and how he is striving to become a better father, in hopes of rebuilding their relationship and interaction between one and another. David’s feelings and relation towards Lucy fortifies as Lucy’s attitude towards her father weakens. The relationship between Lucy and David becomes significantly different as she refuses to tell her father anything that happened, as she grows farther apart from him. Lucy’s interaction with David is shown when Coetzee states, “She retires to her room, closes the door on him, closes him out” (131). Lucy, restraining herself to staying in her room all day, having no form of conversation with her father, really shows the separation. The two different emotions that are being felt and expressed between Lucy and David creates a resentful scene with two different desires. Ever since the rape, David has grown more mature, and is able to express how he feels, as he presents his behavior more clearly, as stated by Mardorossian, “He justifies his behavior by claiming allegiance to “the rights of desire” (74). By David “claiming his allegiance to the rights of desire”, shows his commitment to Lucy and how he wants to give her back the life that makes her the most content. The term “rights of desire” impacts David’s change in character of becoming more expressive, and having a stronger feeling freedom. He is figuring out the right way to approach life, in a non-selfish manner, as Oriaku states, “By sympathizing with another, he widens his understanding of himself” (156). Before the rape, David was not one to show sympathy towards others, until the novel took a turn, he was able to find himself and the others he was surrounded by. The rape and home invasion changes their characters and develops David into a more concerned father and gentlemen who is able to express his emotions towards those who he loves and those who have been hurt. When Lucy decides to stay in her own private space, keeping all information to herself, with no collaboration towards her father, it creates a parting between the two showing her hopelessness, as she states, “What happened to me is my business, mine alone, not yours.” (Coetzee 130). The constant fear of sharing any information to her father, creates a separation to which David is trying to bring back together and fix. Lucy stating everything that happened to her is her own business, not her fathers, really shows that she has no yearning to continue building her relationship with her own father. Lucy’s angering toned voice is expressed loudly as she states her frustration towards David, by stating, “Stop it, David! I don’t need to defend myself before you” (Coetzee 130). Lucy’s tone really exemplifies her displeasure towards her father, conveying the careless separation as her father is trying to be supportive. Their relationship and interaction with each other is much different after the invasion, as both of their personalities are contrary.
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JM Coetzee does a remarkable job at presenting David and Lucy’s emotions throughout the novel Disgrace. Accentuating the unforgettable trauma that forever stays in David and Lucy’s mind after the assault, Coetzee clearly expresses the different characters personalities and changes to which they experience. Coetzee phenomenally was able to convey the reader of David’s passions towards all the women he had slept with, as well as how he restyles himself and his unconscious mindset after his daughter was raped, while he was being burned and beaten. Through characterization, the author was clearly able to indicate the complex journey of Lucy and David. Also, the difficulty with sexual violence within post-apartheid Africa was significant throughout this novel and is shown through the constant changing lifestyles and behaviors of all the characters.
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