The African Anti-Eden in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace: Ethnic Identity and Nation Building in South Africa

By Betty LaFace.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

An incident of haunting violence and terror in J. M. Coetxee’s novel Disgrace renders an exacerbated biblical Fall following the strained relationship between the white South African Professor David Lurie, a divorced father, and his fair-skinned daughter Lucy: Lurie fails to protect his daughter, a lesbian living alone on her remote farm, to prevent her rape and robbery by local Black thugs, and to keep her landholding from being confiscated by her polygamous Black caretaker, Petrus. In each instance, what happens to Lucy has happened to Black South Africans in the past. I will read the novel as an allegory in which Lucy represents a South Africa that has been raped and violated physically and geographically by whites during the Apartheid, and that now in the new South Africa the same pattern of behavior is being reiterated by Blacks. The Blacks represent a new leadership (possibly temporary as the word “caretaker” suggests of Petrus) that simply repeats the rape and geographical violation of their white predecessors. The child Lucy carries, another victim in the cycle of racial hatred and violence, will bear the marks of changes to come in the South African landscape. Written in deceptively spare prose and with steely intelligence, Coetzee focuses on the Post-Colonial social and political tensions between generations, sexes, and races in South Africa. As I will argue, the appeal of Lurie’s journeys across vast savannahs and modern cities of new South Africa is the discovery of a kind of cold and compelling truth akin to a parody of a spiritual awakening. Lurie, the teacher, represents the white Afrikaner who has lost his moral authority. He may witness the current abuse but is not in a position politically or ethically to do anything about it. His awakening is less a religious epiphany than a sad commentary of the inhumanity and the perpetual state of disgrace.

Keywords: Africa, Identity, Race, Nation, Gender, Difference, Literature Studies

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 7, pp.169-174. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 500.148KB).

Dr. Betty LaFace

Assistant Professor of English, Department of Arts and Sciences, Bainbridge College, Bainbridge, Georgia, USA

Betty LaFace is an Assistant Professor of English at Bainbridge College in south Georgia, where she has been teaching composition and literature classes for the past three years. Dr. LaFace has devised a multi-faceted approach to teaching writing aimed at helping students become aware of the visual and narrative aspects of globalization. Her article Reality-Series Writing: From Survivor to The Apprentice, Writers Advancing to the Next Level, was recently published in the Third Annual Interdisciplinary Conference for Teachers of Undergraduates, at Gordon College, Barnesville, Georgia. In 2005, Dr. LaFace received a Fulbright-Hayes grant for summer travel and study in Thailand; this year, she received two grants for study abroad in Nigeria and Cameroon; she has been selected to teach in the University System of Georgia summer program in Paris 2007. Her research and writings focus chiefly on international topics.

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