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by J.M. Coetzee

Disgrace Theme of Women and Femininity

Some of our most important characters in Disgrace – Melanie, Lucy, and Bev – play major parts in the text precisely because of what they have to tell us about the experience of women, and they each do so in a distinct way. Melanie is beautiful and youthful, qualities that give her power over men but also make her vulnerable to them. Bev, on the other hand, is plain and getting on in years, but she is wise, motherly, and experienced. Lucy emerges somewhere in the middle; she is strong and forthright. She also brings a different quality to the table in terms of sexuality: she is a lesbian. As a result, she exists both outside the social pressures of male/female dynamics that affect the other characters, but it also makes it that much more shocking when she is raped by three men.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Why does Petrus ignore the fact that Lucy has been raped and instead only focus on the fact that David's car has been stolen? Is it merely to protect his family, or do you think this perspective tells us a little bit more about his attitude towards women?
  2. Are there any instances in which the women of the novel use their femininity to control men? Or are they merely controlled by men?
  3. We see that Petrus doesn't regard Lucy as a typical woman. Do you think David would agree or disagree with Petrus? Why?
  4. What traits do the major women of the novel – Bev, Lucy, and Melanie – hold in common? How are they different?

Chew on This

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

As a result of Lucy's rape, David is forced to reexamine his attitudes toward women.

Lucy's rape affects the way that David thinks about how men treat Lucy, but it doesn't change his actions or attitudes toward other women.

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