Study Guide

Lucy Lurie in Disgrace

By J.M. Coetzee

Lucy Lurie

When we first meet Lucy, it's sort of a shock that she's even remotely related to David. In contrast with David's sleek, suave, sophisticated ways – pouring red wine, watching art films, teaching at a university in a major metropolitan area – Lucy is an earthy woman who lives out in the country, works the land for a living, and doesn't pay attention to fashion or body image. We learn that Lucy's home was once a commune, but now she's the only person who hasn't moved away:

[…] now here she is, flowered dress, bare feet and all, in a house full of the smell of baking, no longer a child playing at farming but a solid countrywoman, a boervrou. (7.5)

We don't know about you, but this both strikes us as a little odd and makes us more interested in Lucy – why should she decide to stay on the farm even when her friends (and lover) leave? Lucy never gives us these answers up front, but she keeps our curiosity churning every step of the way through the book.

Lucy's relationships with others, particularly her sexual relationships, are some key components of her character that are worth paying attention to. Slowly through the course of the novel, we learn that Lucy is a lesbian and that she used to live with a woman named Helen, who has since moved on. Lucy's sexual identity doesn't just tell us about Lucy's views on sex; it also provides a platform upon which David thinks about women and sexuality in general. In some ways, David feels more at ease talking to Lucy about his affair with Melanie because both he and she have experience with women, romantically and sexually. Of course, we learn pretty early on in the novel that Lucy isn't just going to see things from David's side of the coin; her experience as a victim of sexual assault inevitably prods her to see things from Melanie's perspective – or, you might argue, a more universal female perspective – as well.

Lucy's experience as a victim of assault doesn't just change her views on male/female dynamics; it also changes the way she relates to the people in her own life. It seems like David and Lucy are on the verge of developing a closer father/daughter relationship when the unthinkable happens: three intruders viciously attack Lucy and David, and during this attack Lucy is raped.

Lucy's character undergoes a perceptible shift after this event. Despite the obvious trauma she experiences, she is reluctant to seek help from the police. This totally baffles David. She becomes depressed and withdrawn, lying awake all night and falling asleep during the day. She also becomes increasingly irritable and snippy with David. While it doesn't seem that they are ever really that close, before her rape Lucy is at least willing to open up to David about a number of highly personal topics. It seems that, after her rape, though, she closes up. More than that, she almost seems to see David as no better than the men who raped her – didn't he, after all, put another woman through something just like what she's dealing with?

After a good deal of tension and conflict emerges between Lucy and David, Lucy seems to think that David is incapable of offering her a better option than what she already has. In fact, in spite of David's best efforts to persuade her that the country is dangerous and uninhabitable, it's hard to convince her that she should go back to live in a more "civilized" setting with David.

Instead, her rape seems to tie her even more to the land and the people there. Just think about how Lucy's relationship with Petrus changes after Lucy is assaulted. They go from being friendly neighbors to becoming something like family. The way that Lucy looks out for Petrus and defers to his needs is especially apparent when the boy shows up at Petrus's party: even though Lucy is totally upset to see him there, she also doesn't want to disturb Petrus's big event or mess things up for him by getting the police involved, so she opts for a quiet exit (even though David clearly isn't capable of following suit). When we find out that Lucy is pregnant as a result of her rape, she decides to marry Petrus as a means of protection. We can tell that there isn't much in the way of a personal connection between Petrus and Lucy, but they do coexist in their own unique way. Lucy helps Petrus achieve a higher social status by helping him to acquire land; Petrus supposedly looks after her (though he's notably M.I.A. during her rape) and will look after her child when he or she is born.

By the end of the novel, it seems that she's tied to the country for good. What do you think Lucy's actions say about her? We don't have access to her thoughts, so we only have her actions to go on for clues. Why do you think she decides to stay in the country, and what do you think she wants in the long run?