Study Guide

Disgrace Violence

By J.M. Coetzee


Chapter 6

Yes, he says, he is guilty; but when we try to get specificity, all of a sudden it is not abuse of a young woman he is confessing to, just an impulse he could not resist, with no mention of the pain he has caused, no mention of the long history of exploitation of which this is part. (6.69)

Here, once more, we see the point where sex and violence meet. From a woman's perspective, David's affair can be seen as an act of abuse. It is also apparent that David hasn't thought about his affair with Melanie as something that caused her pain – until now, at its very worst, he has seen it more as an awkward mistake.

Chapter 11
David Lurie

A blow catches him on the crown of the head. He has time to think, If I am still conscious then I am all right, before his limbs turn to water and he crumples.

He is aware of being dragged across the kitchen floor. Then he blacks out. (11.71-72)

This assault of David is one of the few concrete instances in which we actually see what happens during the attack on Lucy's home. The immediacy and brutality with which it happens gives us a pretty clear picture of how awful the events were that we didn't see.

"It happens every day, every hour, every minute, he tells himself, in every quarter of the country. Count yourself lucky to have escaped with your life. Count yourself lucky not to be a prisoner in the car at this moment, speeding away, or at the bottom of a donga with a bullet in your head. Count Lucy lucky too. Above all Lucy." (11.115)

Here, a discussion of violence gives us more information about the society in which the novel takes place. As shocking as the violence we just witnessed was, it wasn't unusual. David knows that as bad as things were, they could have been much worse.

As he lies sprawled he is splashed from head to foot with liquid. His eyes burn, he tries to wipe them. He recognizes the smell: Methylated spirits. Struggling to get up, he is pushed back into the lavatory. The scrape of a match, and at once he is bathed in cool blue flame. (11.94)

This is a moment of personal horror, pure and simple. After being knocked out, worrying about what the heck is happening to Lucy, and watching the dogs get killed execution-style, it seems like things couldn't get worse. Then he gets doused with alcohol and lit on fire. Great.

There is a heavy report; blood and brains splatter the cage. For a moment the barking ceases. The man fires twice more. One dog, shot through the chest, dies at once; another, with a gaping throat-wound, sits down heavily, flattens its ears, following with its gaze the movements of this being who does not even bother to administer a coup de grâce.

A hush falls. The remaining three dogs, with nowhere to hide, retreat to the back of the pen, milling about, whining softly. Taking his time between shots, the man picks them off. (11.91-92)

The execution of the dogs is one of the most graphically violent scenes of the book. One aspect that makes it especially upsetting is the slow, deliberate, and emotionless way that it takes place. Coup de grâce is French for "blow of mercy," something that the tall man doesn't bother to give to the dog who is bleeding to death in front of him. Instead, he slowly "picks off" the others, a nonchalant-sounding way of phrasing that emphasizes his casual, thoughtless way of slaughtering some innocent animals.

Chapter 18
David Lurie

"On the contrary, I understand all too well," he says. "I will pronounce the word we have avoided hitherto. You were raped. Multiply. By three men."


"You were in fear of your life. You were afraid that after you had been used you would be killed. Disposed of. Because you were nothing to them."

"And?" Her voice is now a whisper.

"And I did nothing. I did nothing to save you." (18.81-85)

This isn't just the first time we hear David using the word "rape" when talking to Lucy about what happened; it's also the first time Lucy confirms for us without a doubt that she was raped – up until this point, we've understood that that's what happened, but it hasn't been black and white until this moment.

Lucy Lurie

"I think they have done it before," she resumes, her voice steadier now. "At least the two older ones have. I think they are rapists first and foremost. Stealing things is just incidental. A side-line. I think they do rape." (18.88)

Lucy asserts that these guys are basically every woman's worst nightmare. In her opinion, they aren't out there to rob people or to exercise vengeance over particular racial groups; they're out there to dominate women.

Chapter 22
David Lurie

The flat of his hand catches the boy in the face. "You swine!" he shouts, and strikes him a second time, so that he staggers. "You filthy swine!" (22.4)

Finally, David does what he's wanted to do all along. He finally gets to smack the daylights out of Pollux. Pay attention to the language here – you can almost feel the intensity of the impact of his hand "catching" Pollux's face.

Chapter 23
David Lurie

The word still rings in the air: Swine! Never has he felt such an elemental rage. He would like to give the boy what he deserves: a sound thrashing. Phrases that all his life he has avoided seem suddenly just and right: Teach him a lesson, Show him his place. So this is what it is like, he thinks! This is what it is like to be a savage! (23.5)

Here, we see pure violence and hatred raging through David's entire being – he even thinks of himself as a "savage." All bets and rules are off; as far as David is concerned, it's go time.


In a single quick movement the boy scrambles to his feet and dodges out of range. "We will kill you all!" he shouts. He turns; deliberately trampling the potato bed, he ducks under the wire fence and retreats toward Petrus's house. His gait is cocky once more, though he still nurses his arm.

Lucy is right. Something is wrong with him, wrong in his head. A violent child in the body of a young man. (23.17-18)

Lucy, David, and even we as readers can see that violence isn't just about actions, but also thoughts. Pollux doesn't just act violently; it seems that he also thinks violently.