Study Guide

Pollux in Disgrace

By J.M. Coetzee


Pollux is another one of our chief characters who exists solely in the country. The narrator initially presents him as "a boy," which makes him sound innocent enough until we actually see what he is capable of doing. It is pretty clear from the get-go that "the boy" doesn't really have a mind of his own yet; rather, he follows along with what others are doing – and this can be a dangerous quality. The first thing we see him do is taunt and harass the dogs in Lucy's kennel, which causes a stir and sets up the frightening and disturbing attack on Lucy's home. Though he seems uninvolved at first – just the two men are in the house with Lucy – he is present when David gets set on fire. But look at what he's up to: "behind him [David] glimpses the boy in the flowered shirt, eating from a tub of ice cream" (11.93). Even while he assists in a brutal assault, Pollux still acts like a kid.

Pollux never exactly shakes away his childish demeanor. One quality that characterizes Pollux's interactions with others is the highly reactive way in which he tends to respond – sort of like an overgrown toddler. At Petrus's party, for example, Pollux initially acts smug and collected when David approaches him, but then when Petrus gets involved, he immediately gets whiny and defensive, as though he were afraid of getting into trouble:

"He—this thug—was here before, with his pals. He is one of them. But let him tell you what it is about. Let him tell you why he is wanted by the police."

"It is not true!" shouts the boy. Again he speaks to Petrus, a stream of angry words
. (15.106-107)

Later, when David catches Pollux spying on Lucy, he immediately starts wailing on him. Pollux doesn't "man up" and fight back the way his counterparts, the tall man and the second man, might have. Rather, he throws a hissy fit, as if this were a playground fight: "The boy is moaning with pain. Snot is running from his nostrils. 'I will kill you!' he heaves. He seems on the point of crying" (23.12). Lucy immediately runs to break up the fight, and his reaction to her characterizes him even further as a child: "'Come, let us go wash it,' [Lucy] says. The boy sucks in the snot and tears, shakes his head" (23.14). At this moment, it seems inconceivable that Pollux ever could have raped and impregnated Lucy. Doesn't it seem more like Lucy is the mom and Pollux is the little kid? Maybe he's referred to as "the boy" throughout the novel not only because he is visibly youthful, but also because in many ways his actions characterize him as a child – albeit a disturbing, violent one.