Study Guide

Disgrace Suffering

By J.M. Coetzee


Chapter 10
Bev Shaw

"You can have him back afterwards," says Bev Shaw. "I will help him through, that's all." Though she tries to control her voice, he can hear the accents of defeat. The goat hears them too: he kicks against the strap, bucking and plunging, the obscene bulge quivering behind him. The woman drags the strap loose, casts it aside. Then they are gone. (10.26)

This is one of the first instances of physical suffering that we encounter in the novel, and it is also a major image of disgrace. The goat is a pity to look at; one of his testicles is full of grubs. It is doomed to die in pain and suffering, despite Bev's offer to "help him through" via lethal injection. What's interesting here is that the goat seems to know his fate just by the sound of Bev's voice.

Chapter 13
David Lurie

"His pleasure in living has been snuffed out. Like a leaf on a stream, like a puffball on a breeze, he has begun to float toward his end. He sees it quite clearly, and it fills him with (the word will not go away) despair. The blood of life is leaving his body and despair is taking its place, despair that is like a gas, odourless, tasteless, without nourishment. You breathe it in, your limbs relax, you cease to care, even at the moment when the steel touches your throat." (13.13)

Suffering doesn't just have to be a product of what you feel, either physically or emotionally. Sometimes not feeling can arouse feelings of suffering. For David, despair is kind of like an invisible, tasteless, undetectable force that takes away the joy of living.

Chapter 14

Lucy is not improving. She stays up all night, claiming she cannot sleep; then in the afternoons he finds her asleep on the sofa, her thumb in her mouth like a child. She has lost interest in food: he is the one who has to tempt her to eat, cooking unfamiliar dishes because she refuses to touch meat. (14.53)

It seems that Lucy's emotional wounds are getting worse rather than better. Right after the attack, she seemed eerily OK; at this point, her suffering seems just to be getting worse to the point that she seeks childlike comforts like sucking her thumb.

The demons do not pass him by. He has nightmares of his own in which he wallows in a bed of blood, or, panting, shouting soundlessly, runs from the man with the face like a hawk, like a Benin mask, like Thoth. One night, half sleepwalking, half demented, he strips his own bed, even turns the mattress over, looking for stains. (14.55)

The word "demons" in this passage is especially interesting; it implies that David is tormented by an inhuman and otherworldly outside force. His nightmares, which seem particularly gruesome and disturbing, follow suit.

"She would rather hide her face, and he knows why. Because of the disgrace. Because of the shame. That is what their visitors have achieved; that is what they have done to this confident, modern young woman." (14.22)

Suffering in Disgrace isn't just about physical pain. Perhaps more importantly, experiencing feelings of shame and disgrace constitutes an even more powerful kind of suffering. Lucy seems to get over her physical injuries, but the emotional scars left from her rape will have a significantly longer-lasting effect.

Chapter 15
David Lurie

He tells himself that he must be patient, that Lucy is still living in the shadow of the attack, that time needs to pass before she will be herself. But what if he is wrong? What if, after an attack like that, one is never oneself again? What if an attack like that turns one into a different and darker person altogether? (15.17)

This passage shows us that suffering isn't just something experienced inwardly; it is also something that affects one's perception of and interactions in the outside world. Lucy's suffering causes her to become snippy with him, and we can only guess that her opinions of other people have changed forever.

Presumably they have until Saturday morning, two days. It seems a miserable way to spend the last two days of one's life. (15.30)

Here, David watches the two suffering sheep that are waiting to be slaughtered for Petrus's party. Do you think David would have thought about their suffering if he hadn't first been exposed to a great deal of pain himself, including thinking he was going to die? Do you think that David's experience with near-death has given him a different perspective on the lives of all living things?

Chapter 19
David Lurie

"I am sorry for what I took your daughter through. You have a wonderful family. I apologize for the grief I have caused you and Mrs. Isaacs. I ask for your pardon." (19.102)

When David apologizes to Mr. Isaacs, he acknowledges the suffering that he put Melanie and her whole family through. Do you think it eases their pain or Melanie's pain to know that he is now sorry for what he did?

"In my own terms, I am being punished for what happened between myself and your daughter. I am sunk into a state of disgrace from which it will not be easy to lift myself. It is not a punishment I have refused. I do not murmur against it. On the contrary, I am living it out from day to day, trying to accept disgrace as my state of being. Is it enough for God, do you think, that I live in disgrace without term?" (19.106)

Here we see a connection between suffering and disgrace that is highly personal for David. When he says that he is living out a punishment for what happened between him and Melanie, what do you think he means? Do you think he's started to see his own actions toward Melanie in Lucy's sexual assault?

Chapter 24

It is a young male with a withered left hindquarter which it drags behind it. Whether it was born like that he does not know. No visitor has shown an interest in adopting it. Its period of grace is almost over; soon it will have to submit to the needle. (24.12)

This is a pretty pathetic image. This dog has to suffer through life with an unusable leg, and it is also unwanted – perhaps because of its disability. We can imagine that for the dog, daily life leaves something to be desired. Why is this dog pertinent to our discussion of suffering? Is it possible that watching it and knowing it will die adds to David's own suffering?