On Rape and Responsibility
Throughout the course of Disgrace, Coetzee attempts to juxtapose the rape of Melanie with that of Lucy. By analyzing the actions of David Lurie, Lucy and Petrus, it becomes apparent that there is a dynamometric sense of responsibility among victims and abusers. Coetzee attempts to demonstrate that rape is more than a gendered based crime, that social class, and ethnicity also play roles in determining what harm is committed. It is because the rapes are not viewed through the eyes of the victim but primarily through Lurie, who sympathizes with Lucy and denies raping Melanie, that the readers are forced to determine who burdens responsibility and to what extent actions are repentant. Lurie’s attack on Melanie is more or less a date rape. He doesn’t take no for an answer and her passive means of refusal are not enough for him to take the hint. He truly believes that he is dating this woman, and that it is his right to engage in such relations with her. This belief is wound up in his perpetual state of selfishness and his arrogance of self delusion. She ends up filing for grievances making the whole situation public. Lucy is not just attacked, she is punished. What is done to her is done for the sole intention of causing her harm, of scaring her as an individual. It is done because she is a white woman, because she is the epitome of what is wrong with her rapist’s world. Along with the rape she is robbed of her property, and her father is assaulted and badly burned. In the end they both have to live with the scars of what happened. The attack on her is not personal; it is the way an oppressed social class is lashing out at the harsh mistreatment they have received for generations. What is ironic however is that the fact that the act in itself is the most personal it could have been. The society they are trying to punish is not going to be affected as a whole to what happened that day. It is a tragedy but one that would otherwise be swept under the rug, if Lucy had not swept it under herself Lucy. The hatred they had for society, they funneled into this woman. They made it personal once they had decided that Lucy was their victim. Similarly the reason these women are harmed is not purely random. Yes Melanie as student put her into the pool of prey for David Lurie, but his attraction to her is personal, and her mild response to him in the beginning paves the path Lurie takes. Her response is what Lurie feeds his delusions with, and that causes him to make the decisions he makes. Lucy is chosen out of what seems like convenience, Pollux attacks close to home, victimizing the woman that oversees his brother-in-law. Lucy is the best representation for the oppressive white class that he has, since she is “oppressing” Petrus. What theses essentially break down to is a crime of opportunity and a crime of restitution. The strongest underlying feeling that distinguishes the two is hate. It is not because Lurie hates Melanie that he does her injustice, it is because he is selfish and has no regard for her wants or feelings. Lurie finds Melanie alluring; he pursues his desires and treats what are blatant expressions of refusal as too subtle to actually mean “no”. The two rapes do however shed light on the misconception that rape is simply a gender based crime. Rather race and class complicate the situation making the two incidents vary widely in their response. Lucy keeps quite while Melanie comes forward; Lurie denies his actions while the other men acknowledge what they did as it matched their motive. Lucy’s refusal to come forward stems from white guilt, believing that what happened to her she had coming to her. She analogizes her gang rapists to tax collectors and feels that she should be paying to them what they feel they deserve. Her white guilt and higher class both make her a target and victim distinct from Melanie. Reporting such a rape would thereby...
Cited: Coetzee, J M. Disgrace. New York: Penguin Books, 1999
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Saunders, Rebecca. "Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission." Parallax11, No. 3 (2005): 99- 106
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