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The Motif of Postcolonialism in Coetzee's Disgrace

By yamadaaka Oct 27, 2012 939 Words
In Coetzee’s novel ‘Disgrace’ intricate aspects of postcolonial South Africa are explored through power and identity. The themes of power and identity in Coetzee’s discourse show a shift in thinking of the post-colonial and post-apartheid South Africa. These complexities are best explored through self-journey of the main character and anti-hero of the novel, David Lurie. In Coetzee’s discourse the self-journey of David is an allegorical representation of the shift in power and destabilisation of the identity of white man and coloniser in the post-colonial South Africa.

In Disgrace, David starts off as a communication professor at a University in the city of Cape Town. As the initial section of the novel progresses David is disempowered from his position as a professor and the setting of the story changes into a rural town of the post-apartheid South Africa where intricate racial complexities are abundant. Coetzee uses the change in scenery of David from city to rural town Salem as an allegory of the disempowerment of the white race in the post-colonial South Africa. This physical displacement presents an event that strips away part of David’s identity as he no longer holds a position of power. He is also seemingly unable to connect and identify himself with the post-colonial South Africa as seen when Lucy states to David “"Wake up, David. This is the country. This is Africa." Through David’s experiences, attention is drawn to the shift in power of the whites in South Africa as well as the colonisers in a post-colonial country.

Coetzee also explores the retribution of past atrocities of the white coloniser in this post-colonial discourse. David’s exploitation of the two young women Soraya and Melanie is alludes to the suppression and colonisation of the indigenous race of South Africa by the whites. The exploitation of the women and colonisation of the blacks are a representation of suppression in order to gain power. David self-justifies his atrocious actions in regard to Melanie by claiming that he became a “servant of Eros” of which parallels the rationale of the white colonisers with their belief of the ‘White man’s burden’ of colonising and subjugating those they consider inferior to them. However in the post-colonial and post-apartheid context of Disgrace, in where the blacks are slowly being empowered, retribution is sought from David. David is cast from his position of a professor is condemned from the rest the community due to his actions and forced to flee to his daughter’s abode in the rural areas of South Africa. Once again Coetzee uses David’s situation as an allegory of the continual shift in power from the whites to the blacks in South Africa.

As the backdrop of the novel changes to the rural South African town of Salem, Coetzee brings forward a situation in where a coloniser’s identity is destabilised and power if stripped away. Petrus, an indigenous local of the town is a representative of the new emerging entrepreneurial blacks. The emerging power of colonised are seen as when David and Petrus lay pipes together and David is subjected to a position below that of Petrus, as he passes the pipes. Coetzee, also uses language to destabilise identity of the white coloniser. David’s turmoil feelings and thoughts are conveyed by Coetzee in first person when he is unable to understand the Saturday football game broadcasted in native South African language as he thinks “He speaks Italian, he speaks French but Italian and French will not save him here in the darkest Africa”. This illuminates the fact that Eurocentric vision is no longer suitable for the new South Africa. Coetzee uses these experiences of David to insinuate the loss of identity of the colonisers as they are no longer able to connect to the country with language and in turn a shift in power.

Coetzee attempts to address and questions the concepts of Redemption, reconciliation and retribution in this post-colonial discourse. After the rape of Lucy and attack on David, David attempts to seek retribution from the attackers, a rationale of a white coloniser. However, Lucy refuses to seek retribution and instead suggest adapting to the situation in order for reconciliation to occur instead of continuing the cycle of vengeance. Lucy’s act of adapting seems unreasonable to David but as a disempowered individual, David is cast aside in the process of solution between Petrus and Lucy. David, representing the white colonisers, redeems himself with the compassion and selflessness he shows to the dogs towards the end of the novel. “Yes, I am giving him up” is the last line in the novel in where David gives up the dog, the closest companion he has had since his disgrace in Cape Town, in order to end its suffering. This action can be seen as David trying to redeem himself and an allegorical representation of a white coloniser’s reconciliation efforts. These acts show that the supreme identity and power of the coloniser is no longer prevalent and questions reconciliation, redemption and retribution issues of the post-colonial South Africa. .

In conclusion, the novel ‘Disgrace’ embraces the rising and complex concerns emerging in the post-colonial South Africa. In this post-colonial discourse the concepts of retribution, redemption and reconciliation of the indigenous South Africans are explored as a new South Africa emerges. As a result, issues relating to power and identity of the white and black race are questioned. Coetzee examines these issues and obstacles in an attempt to a possible way for the people of the post-colonial and post-apartheid South Africa to move forward.

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