Study Guide

Disgrace What's Up With the Title?

By J.M. Coetzee

What's Up With the Title?

Disgrace. It's not a big word, but it sure is a loaded one when you hear it said, or even when you just see it staring back at you on the cover of a book. We know it doesn't sound too pleasant, but what exactly is it? Well, disgrace is a thing in itself – a loss of reputation or respect – but disgrace can be an action, too: to bring shame on yourself or on somebody else.

The word "disgrace" appears throughout the book and is used in reference to a number of characters, from David (who seems to be an especially big fan of the word…), to Lucy, to the dogs on the farm. David, for one, experiences disgrace in a number of ways. He disgraces Melanie by making her feel ashamed; he also disgraces himself in front of the University community when he loses his job in a public and humiliating way. Lucy doesn't disgrace herself, but it's possible that she feels she's living in disgrace as she copes with the pain and mortification of being raped in a brutal and abusive way. Even the dogs in this novel live pathetic lives; they are disgraced both by living base, simple lives and by dying in undignified ways. Disgrace touches every character of the novel in some way, both through the ways they affect others and through the ways that others affect them.