2 “Disgrace” – Content and Style
2.2 Narrative Perspective
3 “He is the one who leads, she is the one who follows” – David Lurie and Women
4 “Bread in the oven and a crop in the earth”- Urban vs. Country Life
5 “They can smell what you are thinking” – David Lurie and Animals
At its broadest nature is the sum total of the structures, substances and causal powers that are the universe. In this sense, evidently, humanity is part of nature, could never be anything else and even a radioactive waste dump is as ‘natural’ as a snowdrop or waterfall. (Clark 6)
The quotation above states that nature is in and around quite everything - that everything is, basically, natural. But if we as humans are part of nature, why do we draw a distinction between us and other natural creatures? And why do most of us consider the countryside as strange and different from our familiar urban environment? These are questions that the field of ecocriticism deals with. Ecocriticism deals, briefly speaking, with “literary-environmental interconnections” (Love 1). This means that scholars take a look at what literature can tell us about the human relationship to the natural world (cf. Hiltner 1).But as the quote above already implies, there is always the problem of defining what is natural and what is not. The first wave of ecocriticism emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, led by scholars like Lynn White, Jr., Leo Marx, and Carolyn Merchant, who dealt with controversial issues like deforestation, air pollution, endangered species, and animal rights (cf. ibid.). In order to give the new movement a name, the term “ecocriticism” was coined in the 1970s (cf. ibid.). The second wave of ecocriticism started in the 1980s and went a bit further than the first one by taking e.g. gender and culture into account, too (cf. ibid. 132). So in general, the field of ecocriticism is a very brought and complex one and if nature is really nearly everything, as the quote at the beginning states, ecocriticism can be adapted to every single part of living creatures on earth and their environments.
The work in hand takes a closer look at J.M. Coetzee’s novel “Disgrace” from 1999 from an ecocritical and ecofeminist perspective. It is paid special attention to the protagonist’s attitude and relationship towards women, the countryside and what he considers as wilderness, and animals. The main question here is how the protagonist’s attitudes change. So in other words, it is taken a look at how the protagonist’s “new” unfamiliar environment influences his character. First of all, the reader gets a brief summary of the story itself and its narrative style. In the following chapter the protagonist’s attitude towards women is elucidated. In relation to this, David Lurie’s current crisis of identity is taken into consideration because it might influence his view on women. The next chapter deals with the difference between rural and urban areas and, in relation to this, the protagonist’s perception of “otherness”. After this it is taken a look at the protagonist’s perception and relation to animals. Finally, the last chapter contains a conclusion and an answer to the question how the protagonist’s attitudes towards women, nature, and animals changed.Beyond any doubt, read from an ecocritical perspective, “Disgrace” offers many more interesting issues that are worth being worked on.
2 “Disgrace” – Content and Style
The novel “Disgrace”, written by the South African author J.M. Coetzee, was published in 1999 and deals with the experiences of a middle-aged man with country-life and nature. The protagonist David Lurie is a 52-year-old professor at the Technical University of Cape Town where he teaches Romantic Poetry and Communications. He is twice divorced and acts out his sexual needs with either prostitutes or his younger students. His latest affair with his student Melanie Isaacs turns out to become his calamity as it gets public and he has to justify himself in front of a committee of inquiry. As Lurie doesn’t want to deny what happened, he admits his guilt and resigns from his teaching position. Afterwards he decides to visit his daughter Lucy on the Eastern Cape, where she owns an isolated smallholding in the countryside. Soon Lurie is feeling bored and he starts helping Bev Shaw at the Animal Welfare Station. In the course of time, Lurie begins to experience an internal change of perspectives as on his relation to animals, nature and women. This development gets interrupted for a certain time when Lucy and he become victims of a violent attack which he survives only by a narrow margin. During the attack Lucy got raped, but she doesn’t want to talk about it or tell the police, which leads to a conflict between her father and her. Lurie decides to take a break from country life and returns to Cape Town where he decides to apologize to Melanie’s father. After a short time in the city he realizes that he has to return to his daughter and support her. Back on the country, Lucy tells him that she is pregnant from the boy who raped her and that she doesn’t want to abort the baby. Lurie has problems to accept her decision as well as the agreement she made with her neighbor Petrus, a native, who wants to take her as his third wife and protect her in exchange for her land. Even though Lurie doesn’t understand Lucy’s decisions, he decides to stay and support her in the end and he also continues working at the Animal Welfare Station.
2.2 Narrative Perspective
The story is told by a covered narrator who tells the story mainly from David Lurie’s point of view but doesn’t belong to the world of the characters, so he is a heterodiagetic narrator. He presents Lurie’s feelings and thoughts, so the focalization is internal and fixed, because the perspective doesn’t change in the course of the story.This has the effect on the reader that he/she has the impression to share the feelings, thoughts, and perceptions of the character. Through the internal focalizationthe events in the story are shown through the eyes of David Lurie (mimetic) and not simply told by the narrator (diagetic).Sometimes the events are also presented in free indirect discourse, which has the effect that the reader feels closer to the events in the story and the emotions and thoughts the protagonist has as if they were only presented from an outside narrator.Furthermore, the story is told in the present tense, so the reader has the feeling to be right in the story or even to be a witness.
The protagonist of the story, David Lurie, is characterized indirectly by presented perceptions, thoughts, emotions, speech and action.He can be seen as a round character due to his very complex attributes and he is dynamic because his attitudes are changing in the course of the story. This is also why he is an opaque character, who is everything but transparent for the reader until the end of the story. Lastly, David Lurie also appears as a transpsychological character because of his extraordinary perception of himself, his environment, and also his relation to the environment.
3 “He is the one who leads, she is the one who follows” – David Lurie and Women
Ecofeminism as a related discipline of ecocriticism deals briefly speaking with the connection between women and nature. Supporters of this movement argue that “important connections exist between the treatment of women, people of color, and the underclass on one hand and the treatment of nonhuman nature on the other” (Warren 3). So ecofeminism is not only limited on women, but it refers to all aspects that structure our gendered identities and to the environment women live in, too (cf. ibid. 4). The movement’s main claim is the elimination of male-gender power and privilege as well as sexist oppression (cf. ibid. 3).Many ecofeminist theorists argue that there are many more forms of oppression like domination of women and nature through colonization and that all these different forms of oppression are equally serious and related to each other (cf. Smith 21f.).
Read from an ecofeminist perspective, “Disgrace” appears as a highly controversial piece of literature in terms of male oppression of women and domination and human superiority over(nonhuman) nature. The protagonist, David Lurie, is a 52-year-old professor at the Technical University of Cape Town and he appears as a man who suffers from a midlife crisis. It seems as if he doesn’t want to accept that he is getting older, he even seems to be afraid of being perceived as an “old man”by others because he always refers to his age: “Archetypes? they are saying to themselves. Goddesses? What is he talking about? What does this old man know about love?” (Coetzee 23); “After a certain age, all affairs are serious. Like heart attacks” (ibid. 42); “Not after a certain age. After a certain age one is simply no longer appealing, and that’s that. One just has to buckle down and live out the rest of one’s life.” (ibid. 67)So it seems as if David Lurie has the feeling of becoming old and going towards an uncertain future, so he wants to enjoy his last years on earth. “[…] but then ageing is not a graceful business. A clearing of the decks, at least, so that one can turn one’s mind to the proper business of the old: preparing to die.” (ibid. 9)
In order to escape the process of ageing, at least the mental one, he tries to have sex with women who are substantially younger than him. The first woman the reader gets to know is Soraya, a young prostitute, who Lurie has been sleeping with for one year. One gets the impression that he thinks of Soraya as a woman on the one hand, but on the other hand he treats and describes her like a being lower in hierarchy than he himself as a man. This gets clear when he describes Soraya as being obedient and as a “ready learner, compliant, pliant.” (ibid. 5) So with regard to ecofeminism, this description displays male-gender power over women. Immediately after this description, the reader gets to know about Lurie’s proclivity for giving presents to Soraya, so one could think that he values her as a woman. But, read from an ecofeminist perspective again, the fact that he “enjoys her pleasure” (ibid.) could be another expression of superiority over her as well, because he feels to have the power to let her feel pleased.
Furthermore, David Lurie describes Soraya’s company as “entirely satisfactory” (ibid.1), which is not a typical adjective to describe a woman, and speaks about her only in relation to sex or her job as a prostitute. Some ecofeminists argue that language we use reflects our conception of ourselves and our world, so when language is sexist, it mirrors conceptions of women (and nonhuman nature) as inferior to manhood (cf. Warren 12). From this point of view, Lurie appears as a man who has only a shallow kind of respect for women, but he rather sees them as tools to satisfy his needs: “It surprises him that ninety minutes a week of a woman’s company are enough to make him happy, who used to think he needed a wife, a home, a marriage. His needs turn out to be quite light, after all, light and fleeting […].” (Coetzee 5)This hints at the fact that, possibly due to his midlife crisis, Lurie returns from cultural values like being married to remembering basic needs. He doesn’t want any complications as he states several times (cf. ibid. 8f.;21; 27). In addition to that, Lurie appears as a quite selfish person with regard to his sexual desires. He considers only his own satisfaction and doesn’t care about the women’s emotions and lives, e.g. when he sleeps with Dawn, the new secretary in his department, even though he knows that she is married and has a child (cf. ibid. 8f.). After he finds out that she is sexually not satisfactory for him, he begins to avoid her and ignores her hurt looks (cf. ibid.). So David Lurie isn’t looking for a serious relationship, but for, as he calls it, a “quick little affair” (ibid. 27). With regard to this, it seems as if Lurie sees women as objects to satisfy a man’s basic needs or as creatures with a lower status than men because he simply doesn’t care about them. This becomes especially clear when he notices that Melanie actually doesn’t want to sleep with him and he even thinks of the act as kind of rape, but he simply continues (cf. ibid. 24f.). Correspondingly, he expects women to be obedient: “[…] he is the one who leads, she the one who follows.” (ibid. 28)So regarding Lurie’s attitude towards women, ecofeminist theorists believe that such an attitude, namely men’s domination of women, is deep and systematic and it is “accepted around the world by most men and many women as ‘natural’, as something that somehow cannot be changed.” (Kelly 112). Furthermore, he thinks of Melanie as a “Poor little bird” (Coetzee 32), which is, from an ecofeminist perspective, a reinforcement of male superiority over women, because he animalizes or naturalizes Melanie in a culture where animals are seen as inferior to humans, i.e. men (cf. Warren 12).But Lurie’s objectification of women goes even further when he literally says that it is part of a woman’s nature to share her beauty with men who desire her: “Why? Because a woman’s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it.” (ibid. 16) This quote displays that Lurie sees women as creatures who are, justified by nature, weaker than men and ought to serve them with regard to their sexual desires.
- Arbeit zitieren
- Deborah Heinen (Autor), 2015, David Lurie’s Inner Development Regarding Women and Nonhuman Nature in J. M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” (1999), München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/306699