Similar to the other novels of J.M. Coetzee, disgrace also runs like the high-tension cable across the landscapes of Africa. Disgrace truly speaks for the reigning condition in the post-apartheid South of Africa. The novel focuses on the ruthless manner the white people were treated in South Africa after losing all their powers. One of the main characters of this novel is David Lurie, a professor having shrewd skills in romantic poetry. The role of the story provides an excellent insight into how racial discrimination and its undertones alter the life of individuals. While highlighting the personal growth and sexual encounters of David LurieZ, Coetzee has aptly showcased his version of the white supremacy notion. One of the best things about this novel, in particular, is that although it is not stated in the first person, throughout the storyline, the reader gets to know the thought process of David Lurie. Throughout the novel, David Lurie’s placement in ambiguous environments makes it difficult to judge the nature of the character, but this is the sole purpose Coetzee wanted to convey that it is difficult to judge and justify the moral position of an individual in the post-colonial society. The following essay focuses on analyzing the character of David Lurie throughout the novel in the wake of the incidents that happened to him and the response he opted for.
Analyzing the behavior of judging the character of David Lurie might be complicated, but the character received major hatred and backlash when he raped her student. Looking carefully into the roots of their behavior Lurie helps to evaluate his behavior. He was brought up in such a family that his entire childhood was surrounded by women. Later as he grew up and his mother, sisters, and aunts got away from him, they were soon replaced by his wives and mistresses. Also, he had a daughter and no son of his own. But despite this, Laurie failed to grow up as a feminist. So As Coetzee stated:
“The company of women made him a lover of women and, to an extent, a womanizer” (Coetzee 07).
His thoughts and, later, many of his actions proved him morally wrong; this is one of the prime reasons where readers start understanding the emotional turmoil David has long been feeling prey to (Wenzel and Smit-Marais, 2006). As the story begins, David has been divorced twice. The blend of his good looks and his womanizing thoughts involved him in pursuing women and later building relations with escorts. Here looking beneath the cover of his acts show his emotional instability. Throughout the novel, the reader can evaluate how Lurie has avoided confronting his emotional conflicts and always took a sexual escapade (Barnard and Coetzee, 2003). Not only this moral lag can be observed, but the fading looks with age also make him more conscious as it is predictable from his interaction with an escort Soraya. After being refused by Soraya, Lurie’s explanation seems less remorseful and more resentful, as:
“But then, what should a predator expect when he intrudes into the vixen’s nest, into the home of her cubs? ” (Coetzee 10).
The other personality trait that appeared so vivid was his confusion; he was confused regarding his ideas and his acts. In his arguments and in his quoting of western Literature, one can assume that he was a literal person, but analyzing his arguments slightly deep reflects as he was convincing himself regarding ethnicity and morality. Mental state he had, and after all his encounters, David experienced emotional turmoil, and his mind just kept on fabricating the reasons to convince himself about his stance. This nature can be carefully observed by analyzing his thoughts after his daughter was raped, as in an argument to himself about how he self consoled himself that all that had happened had nothing to do with Melanie’s rape. As he thought:
“It happens every day, every hour, every minute, he tells himself, in every quarter of the country. Count yourself lucky to have escaped with your life” (Coetzee 98).
Although, throughout the novel, David Lurie has crafted several different interpretations of love, his definition of love more aptly portrays his lust, and this was also evident from the momentary and superficial relations he had with all the women he encountered. When he seduced his student, he said:
“Because a woman’s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it” (Coetzee 16).
After being expelled from the job and the rape of her daughter, things seem to change in him. He apologized to Melanie’s father too:
“I am being punished for what happened between myself and your daughter. I am sunk into a state of disgrace from which it will not be easy to lift myself ” (Coetzee 165).
But the apology seems worthless because of his unremorseful tone, and later his lust drives him to establish another relationship with Malanie’s younger sister.
As disgrace is the leading theme of the story, however, there lies major contradictions and various schools of throughs regarding “whether David Laurie felt the disgrace that he has been afflicted with?”. So not only do people have a different perspective, but the story events also show a discrepancy in their behavior of Laurie and certainly make it difficult for the reader to analyze his thoughts about disgrace. In response to the committee investigation held by the university, he said in his defence that:
“I was not myself. I was no longer a fifty-year-old divorcé at a loose end. I became a servant of Eros” (Coetzee).
It is very evident from his lame excuse that he was not ready to admit what wrong he had done, not at least Infront of the panel. However, years later, when he met Melanie’s father, he said:
“I am living it out from day to day, trying to accept disgrace as my state of being” (Coetzee 165)
However, there was a contrary perspective on his nature and conduct toward her daughter Lucy. His fatherly instincts might have melted the heart of the family-oriented readers. Coetzee has fabricated the character with so many variant aspects that the readers can’t give a final verdict on the character. Although he was not able to spend much time with her daughter, still, his fatherly instincts, reflected in some scenes, helped her daughter to get out of the trauma. As quoting a fragment from the novel:
“He has a sense that, inside him, a vital organ has been bruised, abused – perhaps even his heart” (Coetzee 107).
Later expressing his concerns in front of Bev that the rape may have exposed Lucy to get pregnant or infected with HIV. These pure, fatherly concerns showed a new family-oriented side of our character David Lurie.
The professional life of Lurie highlights yet another side of his personality. The bravery and principles he exhibited to the university administration have shown the interest he had in his vocation. He openly condemned the university’s decision to reduce the Literature to poor communications (Barnard and Coetzee, 2003). Thus Lurie Coetzee has also signified the literary struggles a post-colonial society has to carry out.
The evidence of the white supremacy he has shown at various incidents in his life also showed the vagueness of his personality, the colour complexion of the women he has established his relationship with is a subtle detailing of the underlying depiction. Although the post-apartheid South Africa was harshly stricken by racism, Lurie seemed not to bother racism much, and his dauntless behavior criticized the vague racism prevailing at that time in the society, as he said:
“if they had been white, you wouldn’t talk about them in this way” (Coetzee).
In my perspective, David Lurie was not changed, although, throughout his life, he has been through different emotions, from affection, love, lust, desire, fatherhood, and passion. Additionally, he was also experiencing the struggle within himself for morality. So it is hard to judge his transformation status by any single event. But this fact cannot be denied that the character deliberately validated the transgressions that were made by him. However, the avid reader can find subtle hints about the character from his witnessed behavior and the profile of the women he established or tried to build relationships with (Barnard and Coetzee, 2003). However, Lurie couldn’t help himself in getting over the desires that have (Coetzee) capitulated to him, but he managed to provide himself with new reasoning and justifications.