Defining David Lurie Through His Self-Assessment

The view that David Lurie is “not a bad man but not good either” is a reduction of a provocative character. Disgrace explores compelling political issues ranging from post-Apartheid South Africa to moral paternalism, and David’s placement in the ambiguous boundaries of this context makes him difficult to interpret. Critics condemned Coetzee for aggravating racial conflict by portraying the violent rape of a white woman by black Africans in the sensitive political climate at the end of Apartheid. Such reactions to the publication of the novel exemplify the fundamental issues addressed by Coetzee: the difficulty to justify a moral position in a postcolonial society. However, Coetzee places “his characters in extreme situations that compel them to explore what it means to be human,” which gives David more substance than the political context of South Africa.

David seems ‘bad’ from the outset as “ninety minutes a week of a woman’s company are enough to make him happy,” and he shows a lack of emotional sensitivity with Melanie, thinking of her “as a quick little affair – quickly in, quickly out”. However, after being removed from the university in disgrace, he struggles with ageing and resolving his values with those of a shifting...

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