Searching for Self-Identity: A Postcolonial Study of J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace

By Wang, Miaomiao | Studies in Literature and Language, May 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Searching for Self-Identity: A Postcolonial Study of J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace


Wang, Miaomiao, Studies in Literature and Language


Abstract

Nobel laureate, South African writer, J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace is endowed with far reaching meanings. From the postcolonial perspective, the novel illustrates the endeavor of both colonizers and the colonized for harmony in the post apartheid South Africa. Disgrace portrays a scene that colonialists' one-time privilege and policies leave a gaping wound not only for the Black but also for the White themselves through conflicts and collisions between them. It is difficult for them to cope with a changing world in an apartheid-free South Africa. On one hand, the once dominant White could not escape from the shadow of their previous hegemony in colonial time. On the other hand, the Black violated the White to assimilate the White, and to give chances the White for redemptions rather than to pour their hatred, and to exhibit their authority. Moreover, the scar of the White's original sin in people's heart could not be healed so quickly that the White carries on the burden of redemption. Therefore, when colonialist policies fade away, to survive in postapartheid South Africa, the Black and the White living become disoriented and helpless. Both of them cannot help but to expiate and start on a long and painful journey to search for self-identity. They are both searching for a new way to live in coexistence equally and peacefully. To some extent, Disgrace expresses a closure on the wake of a smart colonialism past, and an outlet for the Black and the White to search for a new way to coexist.

Key words: Disgrace; Self-identity; Colonialism; Post-colonialism

INTRODUCTION

South African writer John Maxwell Coetzee (J. M. Coetzee, 1940- ) is the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003 for his Disgrace. Coetzee has won the British highest honor for fiction-the Booker Prize- twice. (1983 Bookers for his Life and Times of Michael K, 1999 for Disgrace) As a result, he becomes prestigious all over the country. However, his works has not been brought in China until 1999. The publication of the first Chinese edition of Disgrace was translated by Nan Jing Yi Lin Press in 2002. And we knew little about Coetzee's life and his works in the past. Robert McCrum (2003) comments on Coetzee: "Disgrace turns into a milestone in Coetzee's writing career through its implicative and exact description. Coetzee is the first novelist to have the Booker Prize twice." However, many people pay little attention to it. And South Africans find no pride in it. On the opposite, some critics regard Disgrace as an "inappropriate" novel. They consider that Disgrace not only disgraces the black, but also disgraces the black political power in the South African society. It seems that the novel is about love, desire and morals of the black's tyranny or revenge on the white in post-apartheid time on the surface, which is also the essential standpoint of the existing literature at present. However, actually it replays the white crime in the past through the black violence at present. It is difficult for the once dominant group to cope with the changing world in an apartheid-free South Africa. The colonialist policies leave a gaping wound not only for the black but also for the white themselves. Therefore, both of the black and the white are helpless and disoriented in postcolonial society. However, both of them are searching. They are trying to find out a way for them to coexist in peace and harmony. Therefore, to make a postcolonial study on Coetzee and his Disgrace cannot only afford a new angle for the general study of Coetzee and his Disgrace, but also can give a revelation and reflection for people in the new society.

1. DISGRACE-THE HALLMARK OF COLONIALISM BRANDED ON POSTAPARTHEID TIME

The novel opens with a story about Lurie, a 52 year-old and twice-divorced professor of modern languages in Cape Technical University. As a professor, Lurie takes no interest in his job and he is always looking for an unusual way (sex) to prove his energy and privilege. …

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