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by J.M. Coetzee

Disgrace Theme of Men and Masculinity

What is it, exactly, that makes a man a man? This is a complex question that lies at the heart of Disgrace. On one hand, masculinity can be characterized as one specific side of the gender coin. You've got masculinity and you've got femininity, characteristics of the male and the female. But masculinity isn't just about gender alone; it's also about how gender affects one's actions, identity, and attitudes. In Disgrace, Coetzee pushes us to look at some of the more complicated issues that spring from masculinity, particularly through the ways male characters treat women. When Petrus says that he wants his firstborn to be a boy, he explains that boys should show girls the proper way to behave. This shows us an ingrained attitude about masculinity in opposition to femininity. We can look at the three intruders' rape of Lucy as an example of how masculinity can be used as a means of suppressing femininity. In a book that pays close attention to the sexual dynamics between men and women, it's not surprising that questions of gender roles come hurtling to the forefront.

Questions About Men and Masculinity

  1. What are some different ways in which the men in Disgrace assert their masculinity?
  2. Is there any trait that we can use to define "maleness" for the characters in Disgrace?
  3. When Lucy thinks about marrying Petrus as a means of protection, does it characterize the country as being a male-dominated society, or does it merely show that Petrus is someone who personally has a lot of power in their community?
  4. In what ways is David's sense of masculinity compromised in the novel? Why does he refer to castration so often?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In Disgrace, male characters assert their masculinity by dominating women.

The men of Disgrace don't need to assert their masculinity through any particular acts; rather, they can act as they please simply because they are men.

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