Disgrace Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-24


Lurie meets his ex-wife, Rosalind, for coffee, during which they first discuss Lucy's safety on the farm. Then Rosalind turns the topic back to the Melanie case. Despite the supposed confidentiality of the hearing, Lurie's poor performance is common knowledge. Lurie asserts that he stood up for his "freedom to remain silent." Rosalind expresses her anger that Lurie has thrown his career away for an affair. Meanwhile she mentions that Melanie Isaacs is in a play at Dock Theatre. Lurie decides to attend her performance of Sunset at Globe Salon; however, Melanie's boyfriend, Ryan, spots him there and throws spitballs at him. After the performance he asks the professor if he had learned his lesson to "stay with your own kind (194)." Later that night, Lurie picks up a young prostitute.

Lurie keeps up with Lucy over the phone. He feels that she is withholding something from him so he calls Bev Shaw. After an ambiguous response, he visits Lucy in Salem. She is pregnant, having never taken emergency contraception after the rape. Lurie must take a walk in order to not explode in front of Lucy. Over dinner, Lucy informs Lurie that the young rapist has returned. His name is Pollux, and he is Petrus' brother-in-law. Lurie confronts Petrus, who says that he would suggest that Pollux marry Lucy if he weren't so young. As a compromise, Petrus agrees to marry Lucy. The absurdity of the offer enrages Lurie. When he tells Lucy about it, however, she has already been considering the proposal. Because she is a woman alone, she needs protection. Realistically, she has no father or brothers who can protect her. She tells Lurie to propose to Petrus that he provide her with protection in exchange for her land, adding that he can publicly call her his third wife.

The next morning Lurie takes a walk with Katy. They catch Pollux spying on Lucy as she takes a shower. Lurie has the dog attack Pollux and then kicks him on the ground. Lucy comes out and stops the attack. Both Lucy and Lurie admit that the boy is mentally disturbed, but for some reason Lucy protects him.

Lurie returns to the shelter to help Bev. With her help he finds a room in Grahmstown. He buys a truck to transport the dogs' bodies to the incinerator. In his spare time, he plays his banjo amongst the dogs trying to compose the music to his opera. Lurie has a dream about Teresa Guiccoli in his sleep. She is a ghost pleading for Byron to come with her. On Saturdays, Lurie helps Lucy at the market. Soon, they are on visiting terms once again. The novel ends on a Sunday when Lurie is putting dogs to sleep at the shelter. He kills a dog that he has grown fond of without resistance.


In the last chapters, David Lurie's alienation from society becomes pronounced. After returning to Cape Town's "civilization." He finds he has been displaced. His home has been raided. Dr. Otto has already made himself at home in his old office, and when he encounters Elaine Winter in the supermarket, he is not given a warm welcome.

Lurie's alienation begins with his attitude toward women. When Rosalind calls Lurie to have dinner, he says, "His best memories of her are still of their first months together: steamy summer nights in Durban, sheets damp with perspiration, Rosalind's long, pale body thrashing this way and that in the throes of a pleasure that was hard to tell from pain" (187). Despite the duration of their marriage and the tentative support she has given him throughout the trial, Lurie thinks of sex when he first sees her. An absence of intimacy ironically accompanies his emphasis on sexuality. Lurie becomes annoyed at her questions. He says, "Her questions are intrusive, but Rosalind has never had qualms about being intrusive. 'You shared my bed for ten years,' she once said-'Why should you have secrets from me?'" (189).

Similarly, Lurie greets Bev with the following: "He arrives at the clinic just as Bev Shaw is leaving. They embrace, tentative as strangers. Hard to believe they once lay naked in each other's arms (209)." After he sees Melanie in the play, he finds a prostitute, a young girl who is incoherent because of drugs. After she has performed her duty, feeling contented he thinks to himself, "So this is all that it takes! How could I have ever forgotten it?" (194). Lurie is back where he began at the opening of the novel, seeking solace from a stranger for pay. However this time, unlike with Soraya, there are no delusions of familiarity.

Although Lurie achieves no truly sustainable relationship with these women, they provide the reader with moments of narrative relief. Their words provide a revealing picture of David Lurie, unclouded by his delusions. For instance, after listening to his convoluted philosophical justification of his affair, Rosalind says, "That sounds very grand. But you were always a great self-deceiver, David. A great deceiver and a great self-deceiver. Are you sure it wasn't just a case of being caught with your pants down?" (188) Thus the reader is given an unobstructed alternative to Lurie's version of events. Lucy similarly characterizes Lurie, saying, "You behave as if everything I do is part of the story of your life. You are the main character, I am a minor character who doesn't make an appearance until halfway through. Well, contrary to what you think, people are not divided into major and minor. I am not a minor. I have a life of my own, just as important to me as yours is to you, and in my life I am the one who makes the decisions" (198). Thus the inadequacy of Lurie's self-centered approach to life grows clear by the end of the novel. He has stifled every perspective but his own, and has suffered disgrace for it.

Flowing from Lurie's delusions are concerns about his progeny. Until this point, grandchildren have not been a concern expressed by Lurie. In fact, despite all the discussion of sex, fertility does not enter the picture until this final section of the book. Lurie summarizes the purpose of the University's investigation as follows:

That was what the trial a was set up to punish, once all the fine words were stripped away. On trial for his way of life. For unnatural acts: for broadcasting old seed, tired seed, seed that does not quicken, contra naturem. If the old men hog the young women, what will be the future of the species? (190).

Lurie brings a fatalistic tone to the future of his family. Following his daughter's pregnancy, his line will be carried on through hatred, violence and accident. He says, "A father without the sense to have a son: is this how it is all going to end, is this how his line is going to run out, like water dribbling into the earth?" (199). Neither Lurie's nor Lucy's hope for the future is positive. Lucy says to her father,

[I]t is humiliating. But perhaps that is a good point to start from again. Perhaps this what I must learn to accept. To start at ground level. With nothing. Not with nothing but. With nothing. No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity. [Lurie replies] Like a dog. [And Lucy responds] Yes, like a dog (205).

For critics who read the play through an allegorical lens, Lurie's negative outlook for the future does not speak well of his outlook on South Africa-a South Africa where the crimes of history haunt the present. A nation conceived in hatred gives rise to more hatred. It's violence-under which white farmers suffer post-apartheid-is the natural result of prior unjust policies toward blacks. Rape begets rape. Hate begets hate.

In the midst of this desolate, perpetual tragedy, Lurie and Lucy-two South African whites who couldn't be more different-can find meaning only in disgrace. Lucy accepts a humiliating position as Petrus' third wife or concubine in exchange for protection, for the privilege of living out her years on the land she loves. Lurie, incapable of redeeming himself for crimes that seem to follow from his very being, resigns himself to bringing dignity to dead dogs. Each shoulders his or her disgrace, resigned to live for small private satisfactions in a wounded nation.