Disgrace: book analysis of Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Bokanalys av Disgrace av författaren John Maxwell Coetzee. Den svenska titeln på boken är Onåd.

Skriven av: Emma Wikström.

Årskurs: 9.

Book analysis: Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (John Maxwell Coetzee)

Main outline of the book Disgrace:

Disgrace is about David Lurie a middle-aged man who lives in South Africa. David is a professor in Romantic Poetry and Communication at the Technical University in Cape Town. After having an affair with one of his students Melanie Isaacs he refuses to repent and he resigns from his post. He then moves to his daughter Lucy’s smallholding in the Eastern Cape where he tries to harmonise his life, however, after an attack on the farm other problems emerge.

Language and mood in the book Disgrace:

The language in the novel is rather advanced with plenty of difficult words. The sentences are of quite average length. Coetzee writes with many details about certain things e.g.  David’s feelings. However, other things e.g. nature descriptions are not as detailed.

“The blood of life is leaving his body and despair is taking its place, despair that is like a gas, odourless, tasteless, without nourishment. You breath it in, your limbs relax, you cease to care, even at the moment when steel touches your throat,” p. 108.

The mood in the book is serious and describes the spirit of the time in South Africa. The book does also take up very serious topics as rape, disgrace and despair which make the mood even more serious.

Narrator and setting in the book Disgrace:

The book is written in third person, however, David Lurie’s feelings are described with such details that it feels personal even though it is not written in first person. It does almost feel as the narrator is a person in David’s head who knows all about him and how he thinks. In addition, the events in the novel are always seen from David’s perspective and one gets to hear his thoughts.  The novel is written in present tense and in chronologic order. The book is settled in post-apartheid South Africa. The novel begins in Cape Town which commonly was considered to be a “white” part of the apartheid- South Africa and later on he moves to the Eastern Cape which generally was considered to be a “black” part. These two cities differ quite a lot in meaning of lifestyle and opinions because Cape Town was a wealthy city and the Eastern Cape was not and the people there had been oppressed for decades. However, this is not a topic which is often spoken about in the novel, although, the historical background shines through.

“He has a sense that, inside him, a vital organ has been bruised, abused – perhaps even his heart. For the first time he has a taste of what it will be like to be an old man, tired to the bone, without hopes, without desires, indifferent to the future”, p. 107.

Topics in the book Disgrace:

Disgrace is one of the topics in the novel and is also the title of the novel. In the book, however, one can notice different types of disgrace. There is the disgrace which David drags upon him in front of the University community when he resigns from his teacher post. David also disgraces his student Melanie by having an affair with her and making her feel ashamed. The other type of disgrace is the kind that e.g. his daughter Lucy and her dogs in the kennel are living in. They have not disgraced themselves as David has, although, they live in disgrace because of that other people have abused them and by not accepting their shame they have fallen even deeper into it. The dogs are a frequent symbol in the book, often symbolizing the disgrace of different characters. Almost every character in the book lives in some sort of disgrace, either that they disgraced themselves or others.

“Perhaps that is what I must learn to accept. To start at ground level. With nothing. Not with nothing but. With nothing. No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity.”

“Like a dog.”

“Yes, like a dog,” p. 205.

Another topic in the novel is love and how David’s relationship to it changes throughout the book. At the beginning of the story we get to know David as the twice-divorced, very self-centred man who says to himself that he has solved the problem of sex rather well by going to a prostitute named Soraya. He says that affection has grown up in him for her and that affection may not be love but it is at least its cousin. Affection seems to be the closest he can come to love which seems to be repeated in his affair with his student Melanie Isaacs. However, when he moves to the Eastern Cape and Lucy comes into the picture one can see that David loves his daughter. Although, his love has a tendency to be very dominating and this was not appreciated by Lucy. “You behave as if everything I do is part of the story of your life. You are the main character, I am a minor character who doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through”, p.198. During the novel his affection towards dogs grows stronger and in the end of the book he has learned the word love and how to give it. “He has learned by now, from her, to concentrate all his attention on the animal they are killing, giving it what he no longer has difficulty in calling by its proper name: love”, p. 219.