Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Disgrace of Stereotypical Ambivalence: A Postcolonial Perspective on J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Disgrace of Stereotypical Ambivalence: A Postcolonial Perspective on J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace

Article excerpt


The study is an attempt to clarify the thematic misgivings J. M. Coetzee's Booker Prize winning novel Disgrace has aroused by having a detailed discussion on the protagonist David Lurie, his stereotypical ambivalence and his disgrace, so as to reveal that under Coetzee's lucid and evasive language, he intends to disclose the secret of disgrace for the whites in the new South Africa after the collapse of the apartheid system.

Key words: David Lurie; Disgrace; Stereotypical ambivalence


The novel Disgrace, published in 1999, is J. M. Coetzee's first novel about the post-apartheid South Africa. Unlike his previous novels, which are devoted to the condemnation of the apartheid system, for it has become a thing of the past after the disintegration of white supremacy in 1994, this novel focuses more on the disgrace of the whites in the new South Africa when they have lost their power.

It mainly investigates the consequences of white South African disempowerment on individuals. As is pointed out by Charles Sarvan, Disgrace "can be read as a political text, a post-apartheid work that deals with the difficulties confronting the white community in South Africa and with some of the choices available to them." (Charles, 2004, p. 26). Three types of whites are characterized in the novel: David Lurie, the protagonist, his daughter Lucy and Lucy's neighbor Ettinger.

Lucy is a quite open-minded person. She owns a farm in the countryside of Eastern Cape and lives peacefully with her black neighbors. But the coming of his father to her farm changes her life completely. Three blacks rob the farm and she herself is raped and becomes pregnant. Yet she is forgiving and compromising with the blacks in the end, as she understands their past sufferings under the iron hand of the whites. But Ettinger is a typically stubborn supporter of racial discrimination. As his wife is dead and his children have gone back to Germany, he is the only one leftin Africa. He has a strong contempt and disbelief in the blacks. But his days are numbered in South Africa in front of the strong blacks now. While standing between them is the protagonist David Lurie, a typical white South African who though accepts the status quo on the surface, is nostalgic of the apartheid past. He strongly holds the idea of white supremacy either culturally or racially, which is mirrored in his attitudes and actions toward Western literature and the justification of sexuality under it, as well as his attitudes toward the blacks.

Along with the international fame such as the Booker Prize the novel Disgrace received, it was greeted with deep misgivings, too, since the first day it came out, especially in South Africa. After the democratic elections of 1994 and blacks' empowerment, people might have expected from this novel at least with a tinge of celebration and optimism as Coetzee's former novels deal with his strong condemnation on the apartheid regime. There is consensus that "Coetzee is the finest of his generation - of many generations" (Morphet, 2004, p. 14), but it is hardly surprising that there have been also annoyance and anger for the book's evasiveness because it is too difficult to see just how Coetzee's work fits in with and contributes to the understanding of the historical situations in South Africa. For example, commentators are angry about the negative picture drawn in the novel about South Africa when it has made enormous strides in the direction of justice and peace. They could not accept a white woman's rape as penance for what was done in the past (Attridge, 2000, pp. 98-123). Thus:

Feminist indignation filled the popular press, and the political establishment branded the work with the scandal of racism. Even in sophisticated literary discussion, both local and international, the book was greeted with deep misgivings (Morphet, 2004, p. 15).

Yet few critics have touched upon its thematic significance although both acclaim and indignation are abundant in the press. …

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