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How Does J.M Coetzee Present David Lurie and What Do We Learn About Him?


Submitted By betty304
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How does J.M. Coetzee present David Lurie in chapter one and what do we learn about him?

Coetzee’s novel Disgrace appears to be centred around an immature, arrogant, self-centred David Lurie. In the novel as a whole but particularly chapter one Coetzee demonstrates, through Lurie, the loss of power due to age and the loss of ‘white rights’ as the novel is set in South Africa after the apartheid. The loss of power links with Tennessee Williams’ play ‘A streetcar named Desire’ as both the protagonists demonstrate the loss of power and their unconventional coping strategies. Coetzee shows the reader the negative impact breaking away from the norms of society can have upon an individual. I think David Lurie is a character with whom the reader should sympathise with as he does not know who he is which may be what causes him to act in an irrational way. Furthermore I believe Coetzee aims to make the reader feel detached and uncomfortable in the first chapter thus reflecting Lurie’s feelings about this ‘new world’.

The theme of age and maturity is presented heavily throughout the novel. Growing old appears to be an unfortunate thing in the novel as Coetzee claims ‘for a man of his age’ Lurie has ‘solved the problem of sex rather well’. The beginning of this statement gives a disparaging view of again and could cause the reader to believe that growing old is something we should resist. However this is contradicted by the second part of the sentence as it gives the impression that Lurie can easily move past this and reflects his arrogance as although it may be difficult for someone of his age to have sex he is able to make in an enjoyable burden. The reader is given the impression through the use of the word ‘rather’ that Lurie still has to do more to accept that he is growing older. This could imply that Lurie is ambitious, but this may be undermined by the finishing line of the novel as Luire claims he is ‘giving up’ showing how his attitude changed through the course of novel. I believe Coetzee shows Lurie’s immaturity, despite being 52, through Lurie’s warped sense of identity as he claims he his ‘old enough’ to be the prostitute’s father but ‘technically one can be a father at twelve’. This may humour the reader but also cause them too feel disgusted as Lurie is quickly making excuses for himself. Furthermore this could also reflect his immaturity later on in the novel as he acts like a child for example when he refuses to apologise for raping his student but then asks for forgiveness from her family. I believe Coetzee may do this to show the novel is about maturity, self discovery and to show that we learn from everything we do. In addition I think Lurie lack of maturity in chapter one is reflected In Stanley in Streetcar acts like a child when he is first introduced by using single syllable word such as ‘catch!’.

Coetzee portrays Lurie as a stubborn character as he claims he is ‘too old to change’ which could imply that Lurie also fears change which is why he does not like the post-apartheid Africa. This could also show how age can restricts us and that when you reach certain point in your life you can no longer improve or evolve which may be ironic as that is what humans we meant to do. However this could be compromised through Coetzee use of a ‘butterfly’ to describe Lurie’s needs. This could demonstrate how Lurie’s needs change from something unattractive in to something beautiful and that they become something that can be admired. Lurie is also presented as a lonely character as he prefers ‘to be alone in the morning’, insisting to only see Soraya in the ‘afternoon not the morning’. This exhibits Lurie's crave or need for routine, just as child might need to routine, although it may be because it is something he can control unlike his age. Similarly in Streetcar, Blanche is unable to keep control of things like ‘Belle Reve’ therefore resorts to futile attempts to keep her beauty.

Furthermore Coetzee presents how individuals can be restricted in society through the repetition of ‘within’. This may cause the reader to empathise with Lurie as this could represent how restricted you can be in society, particularly when you do not conform to what is conventional and how this may cause an individual to feel isolated. This may be Coetzee using a white man to reflect feelings of black or ‘coloured’ people in pre-apartheid South Africa. Despite this Lurie appears to want a break from what is conventional as he has sex constantly cope with growing old and claims the prostitute he sleeps is ‘exotic’. This would have been illegal under the apartheid as someone who was of colour is unable to have relations with someone who was white. Coetzee shows that Oedipus, whom Coetzee refers to, is similar to Lurie attempts to break away from what is perceived as ‘normal’ and take control of his destiny, however this leads to his downfall, just as it did for Oedipus.

Through Coetzee’s use of language we view David Lurie as a character who is detached from himself and his surroundings, this is accentuated through Coetzee’s use of the third person throughout the novel. Despite feeling detached the reader may feel uncomfortable when reading the novel as we are able to read about Lurie’s most intimate thoughts and moments. This could reflect the lack of privacy Lurie feels as in post-apartheid South Africa black and white people could share things such as land which Lurie does not approve of. This causes the reader to feel as if they are intruding for example when Coetzee describes Lurie stroking ‘her honey brown body…and kiss[ing] her breasts’. I believe Coetzee may do this to cause the reader to feel how some of the women feel in the novel and how it may feel when men objectify or suppress a woman for example when Lurie goes to Melanie’s flat and ‘thrusts himself upon her’.

The theme of detachment is emphasised further through Coetzee’s use of foreign languages such as French as Lurie describes Soraya as ‘luxe et volute’. I believe this presents Lurie’s adherence for tradition as French is commonly referred to as the language of love. This shows how Lurie is stuck in the past and is unable to move on. However this obedient nature is then undermined by the use of animal imagery claiming when he sleeps with the secretary there was a lot of ‘bucking and clawing’ involved. This implies Lurie goes back to his animal instincts when he is with women and becomes wild and out of control. This is akin to Stanley in ‘Streetcar’ because as soon as he sees Stella (his wife) he gives the impression a cave man. I believe Coetzee does this to show that sex is a powerful tool and can turn even the most sophisticated of people into beasts. Furthermore I think that Coetzee shows the reader that despite your age that does not mean you know who you are, as Lurie does not appear to have a clear sense of who he is as he constantly refers to famous figures such as ‘Byron’ as if he were wishing that he could be them. Although he may not know who he is, he compares himself to the elite of society, implying he has quite a high opinion of himself.

In conclusion although David Lurie is commonly viewed as an ‘abusive, manipulative character who only thinks of himself’, I believe he is a complex character who some readers may sympathise with as he does not appear to have a place in the new world and has lost sight of who he is. In addition think that ‘Disgrace’ is a novel about change and maturity

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