Disgrace of J.M. Coetzee

Sophomore (College 2nd year) ・English ・MLA ・3 Sources

In the novel, Disgrace of J.M. Coetzee, it is observed that suffering of people is persistent. The creator uses a dog as a symbol to bypass the message about the sufferings endured by the people. The use of this animal also helps to deliver the feeling of the human characters in the novel. Tremaine, in his article, The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J. M. Coetzee.” Contemporary Literature, reveals the suffering of the characters used by Coetzee via his symbol, the dog. Stott also shares the sentiment in his article, Rape, and Silence in J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. Philosophical Papers further enhances the claim of struggling in the novel Disgrace as demonstrated using a dog as a character. Coetzee uses animals, in most cases dogs, as a metaphorical device to underline the development the reader is confronted with.


The play takes place in South Africa. As the title, Disgrace, suggest the characters of the novel suffer humiliation at different times. David Lurie, the father of Lucy, has twice divorced, he is a professor at Cape Town Technical University. Out of desperation, he spends Thursday afternoon with a prostitute, Soraya. His carnal anger arising from his broken marriage leads him to engage one of his students, Melanie to sexual pleasures. Like a bulldog, he is engaging in sex with many women without care. David has invited Melanie to his home for wine and dinner, she refuses his sexual advances but he is so persistent over the following days, and he ensures that they have sex, on the living room floor. Dogs are not civilized, and they don’t care where they have their affair, by having sex on the floor, it indicates how low they put themselves. The Professor visits Melanie unannounced and forces her to have sex, she suffers in silent but informs her boyfriend who later on confronts the tutor. She suffers from mental anguish and she is compelled to withdraw from all the classes of the professor; a sexual harassment case against Prof Lurie is commenced. The dogs kept by Lucy have names like Katy, the bulldog. Professor depicts the character and behavior of a bulldog.

According to Stott, "Human beings do not want to accept that there is no answer to the problem of suffering"(354).Stott argues that the silence depicted by Lucy after the rape ordeal is not total. She is likened with Levi who assumed the role of witness to sufferings. The shooting by the attackers kills all of her dogs, this causes her to suffer mentally, and over the next couple of days, her moods and character change completely. This is made graver by the fact that she has been gang raped and is heavily pregnant. Lucy has chosen to stay in South Africa rather than Holland following the divorce, and she wants to live a low life. His father is not happy with the kind of the life she is living and associates it with that of a dog. Lucy engages in farm works, this is not expected of a daughter of a Professor, her father is concerned about her standards of living, the author of the novel puts it thus, she is 'immersed..in the life, she has chosen'. The attempts by the Professor to influence her to change the status of living is confronted by, 'I cannot go away.' (Coetzee161). Dogs serve their masters at all times, even when they are beaten, they don’t leave their masters. Lucy is so much attached to the land and the house where she was raped; she does not want to hear anything about moving from the home. She does not want the child she is almost to bear to lose Xhosa recognition, and she decides to sign the land over to him as long as the house remain hers.

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Dogs don’t have a place or a person to whom they can file or pass their complaints. They suffer in silence. Stott points out that Lucy's silence is in some way predictable' (349). The life of a dog is not, in most instances taken seriously, Lucy feels that the police or the community would not take what happened to her seriously and she dismisses the idea of reporting the case choosing to suffer in silence. Tremaine, quoting Dusklands (1974) say that a dog's life holds little joy (588). The author, further points out that dogs are not better than black beetle that can withstand pain when its body parts are pulled. The poor insect stops playing dead when its head is removed. The dogs snarl and cower when they are called, the owner degrades them, and they are just objects that have no say, they are there to be seen not to be heard. This symbolizes the feelings of Lucy, at one instance he says that she would not "want to come back in another existence as a dog or a pig and have to live as dogs or pigs live under us." But the circumstances leads her to live "as a dog" at the conclusion of the book, her life turns into that of a dog, "with nothing. Not with nothing but" (205). Lucy has lost all her dogs, grace and respect in one single day.

Coetzee deliberately repeats the image of dogs as a way to emphasize the novel's interests in social status and personal disgrace. Lucy is quoted saying that dogs live a lower life. Petrus is a 'Dog-man,' a role that is later played by the professor (146). Petrus is portrayed as a person who is taking care of the living dogs, representing the oppression and suffering undergone by the Africans, on the other hand, David depicts western ideology when he takes the role of handling the remains of dogs put to the needle at the Animal Welfare Clinic. David is too much attached to a crippled dog that suffers very much, and the Professor decides to give it to receive a lethal injection. His motive is to prevent further suffering of the dog, and his life is full of misery and suffering, ranging from divorce, being sacked as a professor to being set ablaze and living in a world where he knows his grandchild was because of the rape. The world has entirely deserted him, and his attempt to write a chamber opera is listened by the crippled dog (215). He considers the life of her daughter, who has become a victim of Petrus, like that of a dog, that is without property, right or dignity. 

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The tribulations of the professor are closely aligned to that of a dog. His status is decreasing steadily, things are getting worse for him, and he is plunged into deeper shame and disgrace. He moves from the lecture halls to the animal clinic, and his task is putting dogs to sleep so as to relief them of the misery and sufferings. He tells Lucy that he is like a dog beaten for following its sexual instincts. Just like a dog that lacks rights and pride, the professor is degraded to a life similar to that of a dog. He sees extreme shamefulness in the way his favorite crippled dog is forced to live; presenting the dog to Bev for lethal injection is an indicator that he is symbolically relieving his sense of disgrace.

Tremaine points out that the family is an important aspect of the society. The author says it gives a person solace and accompanies him into sufferings. Lucy is so concerned about his father, and she offers to call the ambulance for him to be taken to the hospital, she also offers to have the robbery reported to the police. But she is not interested in recording a statement in connection to her rape. Tremaine says that "In Disgrace, there is a human guide after all one whose salvation, whose own recovery of animal being, is hard-won." At page 74, Lucy and her father are engaged in an argument about the superiority of the human being over the animals. She says that there is no higher life. This is the only life there is. Which we share with animals." David opposes the proposition, "not lose perspective. We are of a different order of creation from animals". After the fateful attack, she seeks to leave her land due to shame. The professor is ready at last, to start at a ground level after a disgraceful fall (Tremaine 610).

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The professor falls from glory to, and the new developments of things leave him, as 'a man old man sitting among the dogs singing to himself. He ends up investing his last money into a pick- up truck to undertake his work of dog-undertaker. At page 64, Coetzee depicts Petrus as "the gardener and the dog-man. In contrast, Petrus, who was employed to take care of dogs has portrayed a man who has improved in status. He owns a land, the transformation undergone by Petrus leads him to a make a declaration that he is a "dog-man no more."  His failure to condemn the act of rape on Lucy by the people he knows indicates that he took advantage of the situation. The improvement of the class and living standards of Petrus serves as an illustration of how the living standards and life-opportunities of the South Africans have changed after the oppression.


Everyone and everything suffers in some ways in the play, Disgrace. Physical and mental suffering is exhibited throughout the play, the author presents the animals as symbols of the suffering experienced by the people. Goat, a character employed by the author is depicted to suffer from the scrotum. The sufferings experienced by the dog plays a significant role in the play since a dog is perceived to be a close ally of  human being. David is set ablaze and kicked, and he manages to put the fire off. Meanwhile, his daughter, Lucy is gang-raped by two men who impregnate her. The attackers kill her dogs by shooting one by one. Suffering is further indicating by the action of the attackers who choose to leave one of the dogs to bleed to death. All human characters suffer from emotional and mental pain.

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Works Cited

Coetzee, John Maxwell. Disgrace. Penguin, 2000.

Stott, GS. "Rape and Silence in J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Philosophical Papers, vol. 38, no. 3, 2009, pp. 347-362.

Tremaine, Louis. “The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J. M. Coetzee.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 44, no. 4, 2003, pp. 587–612.

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