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I am a writer, because I am a reader, a passionate reader of the events. Apart from doing my literary writing, I try to see how a particular event would and could affect the people living in its immediate surround.

DISGRACE -- BY J. M. COETZEE: REVIEWED by NAVAL LANGA

DISGRACE : A Novel By J M Coetzee

--REVIEWED By NAVAL LANGA

I tend to resist invitations to interpret my own fiction. ---J. M. Coetzee

A Novel Narrating Painful Social Changes

If you have deep love for extra beautiful literature, and if you have enough room for reading a novel twice, at least, then J M Coetzee has lot of things to offer. The winner of Nobel Prize in literature in the year 2003, J M Coetzee is a man of his own class, an engineer with his own set of tools. His novels are thick with real world and human miseries. He based his writings on the events happening in his surrounding. He did so at least up to the date he had written his very famous novel ‘Disgrace’. He had tried a novel technique of blending facts and fiction in his next novel Slow Man. (Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By writing ‘Disgrace’, an allegorical novel, he became the first novelist to pocket Man Booker Prize twice. In ‘Disgrace’ he tries painting landscape of a country, South Africa. It is tale of the time when the regime trading apartheid has just closed its shutters and people are yet to be adjusted to the change of climate. They are free in many respect; they have wings of the changed perception of their own. They have a multitude of newly formed rules to follow.

Keeping the contemporary South African stage setting before his eyes, J M Coetzee writes symbolically about the altered atmosphere. In order to create a visual metaphor for what Coetzee perceives, he uses the story of David Lurie. The protagonist is a professor in literature, and his daughter Lucy has transformed herself into a countrywoman. He superbly narrates how this countrywoman responds to the new challenges of her life in a distorted atmosphere.

The country is virtually lawless in rural sides where David and his daughter reside. They face a spell of legal emptiness which is agonizing; especially for a man like David. Coetzee narrates David as: ‘His temperament is not going to change; he is too old for that.’ In South Africa of David, there is mass violation of the laws. Under such circumstances, one would find the future dark.

His daughter is made of the different soil. After going through life of a vagabond and leaving the company of a lesbian friend behind, Lucy tries to settle herself in the new environment. The changed scenario of the country has put strange situation before her. She tailors a novel solution for surviving in the new world. She rears dogs for sale; she produces vegetables and flowers in her Eastern Cape farm.

THE PLOT: A STORY OF NATIONAL DISGRACE

Disgrace - A Novel With a Strange Plot Set by J. M. Coetzee

The Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee, become the first writer to get the Man Booker Prize twice when he got it for his novel ‘disgrace’. The novel has a simple and a linear plot. It essentially starts when David Lurie, protagonist of the novel, enters into a corporeal act with one of his students.

Caught in a fix, the student registers a complaint about sexual harassment against him. In spite of strong suggestions by his colleagues to deny and defend the allegations of having sex with the girl, Professor David Lurie accepts the allegations. Thus in becoming honest to his acts, he invites the obvious ouster from the job. The life of disgrace starts from this point.

He goes to live with his daughter, Lucy. After being disgraced, and while living at the farm owned by Lucy, he wakes up into another world. He encounters the world where people have to sacrifice most of their legitimate rights. He met the people who have to compromise on seemingly odd issues.

South Africa of David and Lucy is newly liberated from the clutches of apartheid. The old trees are razed out; but the plants of new order are yet to be rooted in. During this turmoil he meets Bev, a friend of Lucy who runs a veterinary hospital. Before he knows more about why the lives of terminally ill dogs are ended by a fatal but pain relieving injection given by Bev, some miscreants attack the farm of Lucy. She is gang raped and her dogs are shot dead. House is looted and David’s car is stolen.

He lodges complains for his car; but Lucy denies registering complaint against those who have raped her. It is the cost of living on the land: that is what she believes. When her father tells her to “Sell up”, she refuses. Here David learns a chapter in parenthood. There comes a date when children start living without help of their biblical cord, the parental assistance.

Lucy is more stable in her life, remaining attached with her own piece of land. In a way she responds more logically to the challenges of life, in comparison of her desperate father who has frequented to prostitutes searching for the meaning of life. He accepts the reality in a strange way. She decides to bear a child of the neo-oppressor, the rapists. It reveals how a woman can get adjusted to a changed environment. Those who are unaware of South Africa's present may not be able to swallow the tough pill.

Disgrace - A Novel Narrating Characters Facing Strange Situations in Their Life

Nobel prize winner writer J. M. Coetzee presently lives in Australia. But he is born in South Africa. He lived there most of the years of his life. This has helped him knowing the social set-up in South Africa from very closely. His novel ‘Disgrace’ is story of a professor of literature. But it is an allegory of the present social situation in the country.

In ‘Disgrace’, the novelist puts forward a question about when the disgrace starts. The protagonist enters into sexual act with one of his students; it is not a rape per se. She is not a minor; she is not abducted; she is not subjected to any force. But the girl remains muted during the process; where David the protagonist enjoys himself. Here the same thing is not perceived in the same sense. A man and a woman are required to see the ‘same thing’ in ‘same sense’, especially in sexual matters. If the weaker partner, here the woman, feels cheated, the period of grace is over and the ‘disgrace’ starts.

Apart from this, Coetzee narrates another type of ‘disgrace’, too. Living under the apartheid-infected air of South Africa, he is addicted to write in allegorical style. He has always looked at the modern subject matters through non-traditional glasses. The manner in which he transacts with our hearts is in no way a comfortable one. Nor it is conventional, too. He acts like a wild cat sitting on the chest of its prey. And every time, the cat leaves us spilling blood. However when the ‘Barbarians Are coming’ or the shadows of ‘Age of Iron’ are hovering over the characters of his novels, he honesty searches for a possible way-out for them. In ‘Disgrace’ he paints a picture of a different life; the life that the ‘whites’ of South Africa have to pull on.

After the fall of apartheid rules, thinking of local people has changed. The natives start disliking the ‘holding of land’ by ‘white’ people. Lucy has a servant, Petrus. He is a native. He now puts forward a strange proposal. He believes that her holdings would remain safe if Lucy becomes his second wife. A locally influential leader and his men visit her house with a clear-cut design. They gang rape her. The lesson the rapists want to convey is simple: hand over our land; bear our children; and remain alive. They hate Lucy’s unencumbered ownership of a plough-able piece of land.

This is the disgrace, Coetzee wants to narrate.

J M COETZEE'S STYLE AND NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE


Literature provides us some light in the darkness. The great thinkers and their writings have upgraded literature to the level of religion in secularized section of people. Keeping pace with this movement for providing primal education, J. M. Coetzee, a Nobel Prize winner writer, has carved out a striking example in his novel ‘Disgrace’. This novel has won the Man Booker Prize. By winning this Prize, Coetzee has become the only writer winning this prize twice.

While reading Coetzee, humour would hardly fail in easing our strains. It would make our mind lighter by the passages loaded with visible and hidden meanings. Had Coetzee been not a humorist as he is, he would have been branded as a rebellion for selecting the subjects of his writings. He might have found his place just beside Nelson Mandela. But he happens to be a writer. The writer is a warrior fighting with the arsenal of his words, the words flowing through his mighty pen. It is the strongest part of the story woven in his novel ‘Disgrace’ that he does not allow the protagonist to run away. Under the given circumstances he had option to get away with the inquiry set up against him. Instead he accepts the responsibility for what he has done.

The visual metaphors used in narrating the scenes carry us at the place and in the time where characters of novel are struggling to live. Nowhere the narration seems very dramatic. The Lucy’s rape, an act of the highest insult a man can do to a woman, is narrated in a few lines. These lines are emphatically convincing. The challenges the characters in ‘Disgrace’ face are just like other common people. But their responses to these challenges are quite different. That is how the literature in general and a writer in particular provide us the light in darkness. Coetzee narrates this darkness in a very impressive manner. J M Coetzee is master of the art of telling the stories. He makes the readers feeling immediately identified with the characters. In ‘Disgrace’, the writer puts us in the midst of an environment in which events are happening. The vivid description of college activities and the way in which students behave with their studies make us believe the scenes. They all look like the parts of our day-to-day life.

Novels written by Coetzee are filled with irony and satire. His writings entertain the readers according to their intellectual heights. In the case of ‘Disgrace’, the thematic compulsions and perpetual happenings of sad events restrained him becoming an outright humorist. But he has counterbalanced it by putting lightweight words in the blank spaces lying between two sentences.

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