Disgrace Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20


Lurie gets an opportunity to approach Petrus about the robber at his party when they lay pipes together. Petrus does not answer the question, instead recoiling at the suggestion that he is a thief. Lurie presses Petrus, who resists, denying that the boy is guilty of any crime.

Later while working in the animal clinic, Lurie confides in Bev Shaw, relating his concern for Lucy. Bev Shaw tries to reassure him that Petrus is trustworthy but Lurie vehemently disagrees. Lurie discovers from Bev that Lucy does not think her father understands her suffering because he was not there during the rape. Meanwhile Lurie tries to give Lucy as much space as possible. He becomes more involved at the animal clinic and putting the animals to sleep begins to affect him more. He reflects deeply on his role in their deaths.

One Sunday after Lurie finishes his work at the clinic, Bev Shaw asks him about what happened in Cape Town. He tells her and she inquires whether he regrets his actions; he replies that he did not regret them in the heat of the act. The next day the clinic is closed, but Bev asks Lurie to meet her there in the afternoon anyways. On the floor of the clinic, they have sex. Bev has planned the entire event. She is ready with blankets and contraceptives. Afterwards, Lurie and Bev go on with their lives as usual.

Lurie approaches Petrus again as Petrus plows his newly acquired land with a borrowed tractor. Lurie proposes that Petrus act as a temporary farm manager while he and Lucy holiday in Cape Town for a while. Petrus declines, stating that it will be too much responsibility. Later, the police call claiming to have discovered Lurie's stolen Corolla. The police would like him to come to the station to identify the car. Lucy drives with him, but when they arrive Lurie discovers it is not his car. The news upsets Lucy, who reveals that she is anxious for the two men to be caught and fears that otherwise they'll return.

As they drive back to the farm, Lucy shares with her father the details of the rape. There were three men. The two older men were experienced whereas the youngest boy was there to learn. The act was violent and filled with hate. After their conversation, Lurie writes his daughter a note pleading with her to escape from the danger. Lucy responds, claiming that even if the path is wrong she will not be defeated because then she "will taste that defeat for the rest of my life" (161).

Lurie returns to Cape Town, stopping by the Isaacs' home in George on the way. Although he is intending to speak with Mr. Isaacs, Desiree, the younger daughter, answers the door. Lurie is immediately attracted to the young girl, who resembles Melanie. Lurie decides to meet Mr. Isaacs at his office instead (Mr. Isaacs is principal of a middle school). Lurie tries to explain himself but Mr. Isaacs interrupts him. As Lurie leaves, Mr. Isaacs appears to have a change of heart and invites him to have dinner with his family. The dinner is awkward. Mr. Isaacs' wife and daughter are uncomfortable with him in the house. Before he leaves, Lurie finally apologizes, saying to Mr. Isaacs, "I apologize for the grief I have caused you and Mrs. Isaacs. I ask for your pardon (171)." These are the words Mr. Isaacs has been waiting for. Mr. Isaacs questions Lurie about his future and, in a later telephone call, promises to intervene on his behalf with the university.

When Lurie arrives in Cape Town, he finds that his house has been raided. Appliances, shoes, clothes, suitcases, and more have all been stolen. The next morning, Lurie picks up his mail at the university. He realizes that he misses Salem and calls Lucy from a public phone to see how she is doing. He does not tell her about the raid and offers to come back if she needs him, but she declines. Lurie returns to his work on the Byron opera without getting anywhere. He decides a piano is not adequate accompaniment because it is "too rounded, too physical, too rich," opting for a banjo instead.


Since the robbery, Lurie has been unable to get his daughter to talk to him about the rape. He has tried, for the first time in his otherwise selfish existence, to reach out, to help, but these attempts have been met coldly. Though Lurie has been ostracized before-by Soraya, after the Melanie scandal-this ostracism truly hurts him and he seems to be unable to repair it in any way. It is tied up with enormous issues-race, gender, status-that Lurie cannot simply wish away. For instance, Lucy feels that Lurie will not understand her experience of the rape because he is a man. This is not something that Lurie can simply fix. His impotence enrages him.

When Lucy finally does speak about the rape to her father, the historical import of the act comes clearly to the surface. She says:

It was so personal. It was done with such personal hatred. That was what stunned me more than anything. The rest was...expected. But why did they hate me so? I had never set eyes on them.

Lurie replies:

It was history speaking through them...A history of wrong. Think of it that way if it helps. It may have seemed personal, but it wasn't. It came down from the ancestors.

Though Lurie is able to contextualize the act in terms of the historical mistreatment of black South Africans, his daughter continues to exhibit distance toward him. The fact that he is a man stands between them; she realizes, knowing his history with Soraya and Melanie, that Lurie too is a predatory sexual creature, a rapist. Her experience has completely eradicated any sympathy she once felt for Lurie's exile. He is part of another great socio-historical injustice: not apartheid, but misogyny.

Lurie responds to the overwhelming pressure of these complex questions by developing sympathy for animals. It is almost as though he displaces the grief and shame he won't allow himself to express about the rapes of Melanie and his daughter onto a simple affection for the dogs he must kill and bury.

Lurie's transformation into a carer of animals touches the roots of his identity. The first time Lurie meets Petrus, Petrus introduces himself as the "dog-man." Lurie now reflects, "A dog-man, Petrus once called himself. Well, now he has become a dog-man: a dog undertaker; a dog psychopomp; a harijan (146)." Coetzee uses this shared description to illustrate how Petrus and Lurie have switched positions. At the beginning, Petrus served Lucy. Although a grown man with two families, Petrus lived in a stable on Lucy's property. He did the hard labor looking after the dogs, tending to the garden. Petrus no longer submits. He says at his party, "No more dogs. I am not any more the dog-man (129)." Lurie, instead, is the dog-man.

The exchange is captured also in Petrus and Lurie's cooperation in laying the pipes. Petrus treats Lurie like a child who simply hands the tools to the knowledgeable tool-user. Indeed, Lurie has handed Petrus his "tools" in more ways than one. The tools that Lurie once used to manipulate society-his erudition, his gender, his status-have become worthless and debased. Petrus' tools, on the other hand-his skillful labor, his status as a black African-have grown useful. They help him to establish his own land. Lurie has no place of his own. Whereas Petrus gains a home, Lurie finds his ransacked and robbed. Needless to say, this exchange of power corresponds to the historical exchange of power from white to black South Africans.

In the end, Lurie accepts the job that Petrus is now too good for, that of honorably disposing of dogs' bodies. His other tools are no good. As he says: "There are other people to do these things-the animal welfare thing, the social rehabilitation thing, even the Byron thing. He saves the honour of corpses because there is no one else stupid enough to do it (146)."