Race Relations in Disgrace Upon Term Paper

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All she does is avert herself: avert her lips, avert her eyes…as though she had decided to go slack, like a rabbit when the jaws of the fox close on its neck (Coetzee, 1999, p. 25).

This quotation indicates that the sexual encounter between Lurie and Melanie was forced by him and a grotesque violation of her will -- and body. Most disturbing of all about this quotation and this salacious act is Melanie's immediate subjugation and acquiescence to this vileness -- the likes of which can be attributed to her insubordinate status due to the aforementioned intersectionality as a woman of color who is a student of her attacker. By depicting such scenes as this that symbolizes Europe's conquest over Africa and her peoples, Coetzee is definitely representing conventional racists modes.

This point is also demonstrated in Lurie's relationship with Soraya, a female prostitute who is also a black woman. Due to the fact that Lurie is paying Soraya's agency money to meet with her every Thursday, he is able to have his way with her. Significantly, that way is for her to assent to all of his needs and desires, sexually, of course, and to inject as little of her personality, or even voice, as possible. Doing so allows Lurie to imagine all sorts of ridiculous notions about his perceived affection for her. In this respect, Lurie is able to take from Soraya all he likes, which was quite traditional of Europe's relationship with Africa, which is again represented by these two characters, respectively. However, the circumstances that put Soraya in the position in which she is working as a prostitute are definitely related to a pattern of structural intersectionality, as the following quotation sufficiently proves.

Many women of color, for example, are burdened by poverty, child care responsibilities, and the lack of job skills. These burdens, largely the consequence of gender and class oppression, are then compounded by the racially discriminatory employment and housing practices often faced by women of color, as well as by the disproportionately high unemployment among people of color (Crenshaw, 280).

Virtually all of these circumstances apply to Soraya, who is a mother of two and is just trying to earn a living in conditions that are ripe for her to fail -- and for her to succumb to the money and whims of high paying Europeans, who consider her ethnicity to be exotic. Again, this relationship with Lurie and Soraya demonstrates how Coetzee is presenting traditional racial representations of Africa and Europeans' effect upon it.

However, it is when Lurie's daughter gets raped and he is attacked by three black men that the author becomes even more overt in his depiction of the state of racial affairs in the novel. The following quotation is certainly representative of the conventional opinions of Europeans and racial matters with Africans and those of African descent.

He speaks Italian, he speaks French, but French and Italian will not save him here in darkest Africa. He is helpless, an Aunt Sally, a figure from a cartoon, a missionary in cassock and topi waiting with clasped hands and upcast eyes while the savages jaw away in their own lingo preparatory to plunging him into their boiling cauldron (Coetzee, 1999, p. 95)

This representation of Lurie as a distressed, cultured European -- note how many different languages the author feels the need to list that Lurie speaks -- confounded by "savages" looking to eat him alive ("plunging" him into a "boiling cauldron") is beyond typical and is fairly stereotypical. The 'bad guys" in "darkest Africa" have penetrated the European's sense of culture and are attempting to do something befitting of savagery and heathens. Such portrayal of interracial relationships between Africans and Europeans is far too common, and demonstrative of the fact that the author is merely reproducing a number of racist modes throughout this work.

In conclusion, a close examination of the interactions between the principle character of Disgrace, Lurie, and black people within Coetzee's novel show that the author is merely portraying traditional racial relationships between Europeans and Africans within this work. Even the attack that led to the rape of the author's daughter is employed for this same purpose.


Coetzee, J.M. (1999). Disgrace. New York: Penguin books.

Crenshaw, K.W. "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality,…[continue]

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