Persepolis

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After watching Persepolis, I can’t decide if I wish I had watched it at the beginning of the semester, or if I’m glad that I waited until the end. Had I watched it at the beginning of the semester, it would have helped me with a lot of the novels that we have read. I didn’t know too much about the Iranian Revolution going into the semester, so I spent a good bit of time researching the topic. Persepolis does a nice job of giving a description of the events that took place in Iran. Yet, having watched it at the end of the semester, I was able to make a lot of connections with the novels that we have read. For instance, the scene in the movie where Marji is describing the end of the Revolution where prisoners were given the chance to swear their allegiance or be executed reminded me of a similar scene in The Bathhouse. Another scene that stood out was when Marji got caught holding hands with her boyfriend and her father had to pay a fine to bail her out. He says to her that when he was fifteen, he used to walk hand in hand with her mother, but the times have changed and that is no longer allowed. Mohsen and Zunaira also longed for the time when they could walk hand in hand down the street in The Swallows of Kabul.  The scenes where Marji was sitting in the classroom under the strict supervision of the female teacher contrasted with the scenes of her walking down the street with her friends reminded me of the contrast between Kambili’s life under the watchful eye of her father and her time spent with Amaka and Aunt Ifeoma. Whether it be at the beginning or the end of the semester, I can definitely see the merit in watching this movie as part of a class on Post-Colonial Literature.

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I didn’t really know what to expect when I sat down to watch the movie. I hadn’t read any reviews or even the synopsis of the film. I was a little surprised to see that it was an animated film. After having watched it, I found out that it was the autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi and her time growing up in Iran. I think that using animation really was a brilliant move on her part. Had I been told I was going to watch a movie about a girl growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, I probably would have zoned out halfway through. I think for many Americans, we just don’t know enough about Iran (perhaps care enough would be the more appropriate term) to get involved in a movie about a girl growing up in Iran. My curiosity got the best of me in the beginning, and it didn’t take long for me to get hooked. Stylistically, the black and white images add to the gloom surrounding Marji for much of the movie. It seems as though it only switches to color when she’s about to embark on a new beginning and she has a little bit of hope in her life. Of course, that never lasts long for Marji, and soon we’re right back to black and white.

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Marji turns to her grandmother whenever she gets lost in the world. She always has advice to give, but it never comes off as preachy. This is probably due to grandma’s innate ability to throw in a penis joke whenever things are about to get too serious. She was definitely my favorite character. For as much as this was a movie about a girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution, it just as easily could have been about an American girl growing up in the city. The film does a great job showing the similarities between our cultures. Teenagers are teenagers all across the world. They all deal with angst and a sense of rebellion. They’re just looking for their place in the world. Persepolis does a great job showing that we are all a lot more similar than we are different.

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Modern African Poetry

While I will be the first to admit that poetry is my least favorite part of being an English teacher (I’d rather teach grammar), I must say that I could see the value of using this as a way to incorporate some African literature into my classroom. I think that a lot of these poems are easily accessible to a secondary student. The ones that I chose to look at were: “Not Standing Still” by Niyi Osundare, “Departure” by Don Mattera, “The Bar-stool Edible Worm” by Dambudzo Marechera, “Tarantula” by Musaemura Bonas Zimunya, and “In the Fist of Your Hatred” by Gwendoline Konie.

Throughout each of the poems, there were some common feelings of fatigue and anger. I think that these are representative of the feelings that would have been felt living under Colonialist rule. For example, “Not Standing Still” starts by saying “I grew weary of the tyranny of water/ and spat in the sea/ I grew weary of the power of the sun/ and lit candles at noon.” Both lines show the futility of fighting back against a greater power which is why in the closing lines the narrator talks about “calling his father’s name.”

In “Departure,” the narrator speaks of “growing tired and wanting to leave the city.” In the second stanza, the poet shifts tense and speaks of “sleeping the sleep of freedom” under the banks of the Nile. I read that Don Mattera was placed under house arrest for his political activities. I could imagine that that would be inspiration enough for anyone to dream of being set free.

 The narrator in “The Bar-stool Edible Worm” seems to have had enough of everything. He states that he is “Against war and those against/ War.” This sounds like someone grown weary of life and looking for an out. This seems evident in the dark humor of the last line “pass the Castor Oil, Alice.”

In “Tarantula,” we see the narrator talking to the spider that had bitten him in the leg while he was sleeping. He is watching as the legs of the spider finally stiffen in death. The spider has been killed for simply doing what it must in order to survive, much like many men were killed under the Colonialist rule.

“In the fist of Your Hatred” differs from the other poem in that it was written by a female. Konie was accepted politically as well as academically, but she could never escape the repression of being a woman in a male dominated sphere. The “tight grip that smothers her voice and mind with its brutal grip” symbolizes the male voices that fought against her success.

One of the things that struck me as a read through many of these poems searching for the ones that I would discuss was the raw emotions that seemed to dominate so many of them. It wasn’t difficult to pick out the anger and pain that came through in the poets’ words. I definitely think that this is a great way to begin a discussion on post-colonialism in the high school classroom. These poems could be a great launch point for a longer unit containing one of the novels that we have this semester.

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Omeros

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Wow, where to begin. To say that Omeros is one of the most complex pieces of literature that I have ever read would be an understatement. There is just so much going on in this poem that it is difficult to unpack it all. I teach a class titled Classics, and I do think that this would fit in nicely. I teach The Iliad in that class and I have taught The Odyssey in it before as well. In that class, I have my students do a webquest on Greek and Roman culture, and I think it would be fun to try to create a webquest using Omeros as your guide. It could be a way to try to cover as many topics as possible. The reality is that you could teach this poem ten years in a row and never focus on the same topic. That being said, I think it would be difficult to teach to a high school classroom because they simply don’t have the background information to get all of the references. If I were to teach this in in my Classics class, I would have to lose a lot of the material I already teach and insert some other things so that the class could culminate with Omeros. I would start by teaching The Iliad, because that seems like the one that smacks you in the face right away with Hector and Achilles being the main characters fighting over Helen. There are obvious references throughout the poem. I also think it would be beneficial to teach The Odyssey because Achilles spiritual journey to the past is, in essence, an odyssey of sorts. Then I would probably teach Dante’s Inferno, so that the students can understand the precedent set for Walcott to insert himself into the text as both narrator and character. The students would have to also know a bit of history to cover the colonialism that is represented through the relationship of Major Plunkett and his wife Maud, as well as the colonization of the Island and the history of the slave trade, because although none of the characters in the story have personally experienced slavery, it is a large part of their collective pasts. If we really want to get inclusive, it wouldn’t hurt to teach The Wasteland also because it is also one of the few major modern epic poems to compare Omeros with. This doesn’t even cover the symbolisms, metaphors, and characteristics of epic poetry that would need to be taught as well. While I can ultimately understand why Omeros is such a masterpiece, I am not sure how easily it could be incorporated into the high school classroom.

 

Tsotsi

Tsotsi is a man without a past and seemingly no future. He lives in the present, with his only goal being to survive the day. So many times, throughout the novel, he is described as not being able to recognize himself. In seeing his reflection in a shop window, he states “he recognized nothing except the shape of a man” (107). Part of Tsotsi not being able to remember his past is intentional, almost a survival mechanism. Whenever thoughts of his past came up, he tried his best to repress them. It is also the reason why he hated when people asked him questions about his past, he simply didn’t know the answers. Tsotsi is the Afrikaan word for a thug or a hoodlum. It is a persona that Tsotsi adopts to help him survive. It is something that he wears like a shield. He fed off the fear others had for him: “the big men, the brave ones, stood down because of him, the fear was of him, the hate was for him. It was all there because of him. He knew he was” )7). To Tsotsi, fear equaled respect.

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Yet, Tsotsi’s carefully crafted defenses came crashing down the night he attempted to rape a woman and ended up stealing her baby instead. Seeing the helpless child in the shoebox, something started to change in Tsotsi. Flashes of memories that were always bubbling just below the surface suddenly boiled over and started to flood his mind. Images of “the yellow bitch” and his mother came crashing back. Suddenly, Tsotsi started to feel again. He sees Die Aap as a person and not just some muscle that he used to work people over. He tries to reconcile with Boston after savagely beating him. He finds a woman to feed the baby after his attempts fail. He spares the life of the crippled beggar. He goes to a church in an attempt to understand God. And ultimately, he sacrifices himself in an effort to save the baby from the crews sent to raze the ruins where Tsotsi had hidden him.

The baby, who Tsotsi had named David, after himself, seems representative of Tsotsi’s own rebirth. In the absolute squalor of Sophiatown, Fugard sets out to show us that hope can be found anywhere. When Tsotsi’s crew murders Gumboot in the beginning of the novel, Tsotsi whispers in Gumboot’s ear an obscene reference to his mother because “A moment of hate at the last, he had learnt, disfigured the face in death” (12). Contrast that with the description of Tsotsi in death at the end of the novel: “All agreed that his smile was beautiful…it was hard to believe what the back of his head looked like when  you saw the smile” (226). It is clear that Tsotsi has found peace in sacrificing himself for another.

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Purple Hibiscus

Politics and religion are generally two things that you shouldn’t discuss in a bar. They also happen to be two of the main themes running throughout Purple Hibiscus. While Religion is the more overt theme, we definitely see the undercurrents of the unstable political situation running in the background and having major effects of the lives of the characters. Nigeria is in a state of political transition during the novel. We can see the remnants of a democracy present in Eugene’s capitalistic business ventures and Ifeoma’s job as a professor at the University of Nigeria; however, we also see the beginnings of another militaristic occupation as evidenced by the continual raids of the newspaper plant and the arrests of Ade Coker. The government’s presence is also noted with the armed guards patrolling checkpoints and the fuel shortages in Nsukka. It is very reminiscent of what is currently happening in Venezuela, where food and fuel shortages are commonplace. This all comes to a head with the death of Ade Coker. It drives Eugene into a deep depression in which he gets more and more violent towards his children and wife, which leads to his murder.

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While the political revolution is a violent one, it doesn’t compare to the violence that Eugene inflicts on his family in the confines of his home. Eugene essentially has two masks he wears, a public and a private one. The public mask allows Eugene to be revered in the community for his generosity and devout Christianity. Everywhere he goes, he is handing out money. He is constantly being given awards for his humanitarian efforts. It is a source of great pride for Kambili and Jaja. His generosity was on full display at Christmas in Abba: “We were always prepared to feed the whole village at Christmas, always prepared so that none of the people who came in would leave without eating and drinking to what Papa called a reasonable level of satisfaction. Papa’s title was omelora, after all, The One Who Does for the Community” (56). Yet, his religious zeal that allows him to be so generous also allows him to bathe in his aura of piety and cast dispersions on those who do not share his same religious beliefs. He has cast out his father and only allows Jaja and Kambili to visit him for fifteen minutes. He only allows his children to visit with their cousins under the guise of a religious pilgrimage. He is a controlling figure in everyone’s lives.

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Eugene’s public mask also has its effects on his children, especially Kambili. The girls at school think that she is a snob because she doesn’t hang out with them after school. Instead she sprints to her car. The girls have no idea, of course, that she only sprints because she is fearful that she will be late and anger her father. This happened once and Papa slapped her on both sides of her face and left her ears ringing for days. Amaka also has a disdain for Kambili when she first meets her. She sees all the luxurious things and assumes that Kambili doesn’t play with them because she is bored with them. In reality, she doesn’t use them because she is not allowed. It isn’t until Kambili is beaten so severely that she ends up in the hospital that Amaka realizes what is happening and takes pity on Kambili, leading to a close friendship.

Eugene’s private mask is the mask of an abuser. He sets unrealizable goals for his family and then beats them when they fail to reach these goals. He beats his wife to the point where she has miscarriages, yet she feels grateful to him for not taking another wife who could provide him with more children. Of course, she may have had more children if he did not abuse her. Jaja and Kambili were not immune to his violence as well. Each has scalding hot water poured over their feet for not leaving Ifeoma’s house when their “heathen” grandfather visits them. They “saw the sin and walked right into it.”

Politics and religion both hang over the characters’ heads like a storm cloud in this novel. They are oppressing forces that push down on the characters until they reach their breaking point. Ultimately, they lead to Ifeoma’s firing and Eugene’s death. The characters cannot escape their reach.

The Swallows of Kabul

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Right from the very opening pages of The Swallows of Kabul, we see the devastation that the Taliban rule has left in the once-beautiful city of Kabul. “The Afghan countryside is nothing but battlefields, expanses of sand, and cemeteries.”  “The cratered roads, the scabrous hills, the white-hot horizon, the pinging cylinder heads all seem to say, Nothing will ever be the same again.” How true these words are. Nothing will ever be the same in Afghanistan since the Taliban moved into power.

The novel tells the story of the intersection of the lives of two couples both dealing with the changes to their daily lives now that the Taliban is in power. Much like the landscape of Kabul has forever been altered, so too has the lives of these characters. Atiq, a jailer who has adopted the Taliban teachings, is cracking under the stress of his job, and trying to take care of his wife, Musarrat, who is suffering from a debilitating, terminal disease. Mohsen comes from a wealthy family of shopkeepers; his wife, Zunaira, is as beautiful as she is intelligent. A professor before the Taliban suppression of women, she struggles to acquiesce to the teachings of the Taliban and their oppression of females. She stays inside their small home where she “doesn’t have to hide her face.” In an attempt to relive a small bit of their old life, Mohsen is able to convince Zunaira to put on her burka so that they can take a walk to the market. It is a decision that will change the lives of all four characters. The two are stopped by an armed guard who forces Mohsen into a temple to hear a man speak while Zunaira is forced to wait for him like a dog in the street. She is humiliated and never forgives him.

From this point forward, Zunaira refuses to take off her burka or speak to her husband. This goes on for ten days when finally Mohsen has enough. They get into a heated argument and Zunaira tells Mohsen she never wants to see him again. Her words are like a physical blow to him and he reacts by striking her. At this point, he has become exactly like the men they both despised. “You’re nothing but a common lout” she responds. Mohsen is shocked by his actions but when she tries to escape, he grabs her by the wrist. In the struggle, she pushes him backward and he falls, hitting his head hard. Zunaira has just killed her husband. She is put in jail where she meets Atiq, whose life is about to be awakened.

In jail awaiting her death sentence, Zunaira sits in her cell without her burka. Aside from his wife, Atiq hasn’t seen a woman’s face for many years. “Never before has he seen such splendor. With her goddess’s profile, her long hair spread across her back, and her enormous eyes, like horizons, the condemned woman is beautiful beyond imagination.” Atiq had been walking around in a fog, trying to make sense of his life. After seeing Zunaira, he finds meaning in life once again. Even Musarrat notices a change in her husband. “After more than twenty years of marriage, at last you reveal the poet who’s been hiding inside you…I’d like to kiss the feet of the woman who’s awakened such sensitivity in you in the course of a single night.” Their marriage having been one of convenience, Musarrat is the antithesis of Zunaira, subservient wife who will do anything to make her husband happy. Yet, even Atiq couldn’t imagine how far Musarrat would go to please her husband. Musarrat is giving up her life in exchange for Zunaira’s so that Atiq can have a chance at happiness. “She’ll be everything I couldn’t be for you. You have no idea how happy I am this morning. I’ll be more useful dead than alive.” Musarrat epitomizes the selfless wife that the Taliban values so much.

Yet, this being Kabul, Atiq’s happiness is short-lived. When he goes to meet up with Zunaira, she is nowhere to be found. Atiq spirals into despair, spending the days crying out her name. In a fit of delirium, he grabs onto a woman he thinks is Zunaira, and is beaten to death in the street. Kabul, “the accursed city, every day more expert in killing, more dedicated to the opposite of living,” has claimed for herself another victim.

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Sold

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Sold is a story of hope in the face of all adversity, a story of what could have been, and a story of the struggles of a girl who is let down by almost all of the men in her life. From the very first page of the story, we see that Lakshmi lacks a trustworthy man in her life; yet, she still hopes for a better life for her and her mother. The tin roof that she longs for is what drives her to do everything that she can to help her mother in spite of her step-father’s failings. “A tin roof means that the family has a father who doesn’t gamble away the landlord’s money playing cards in the tea shop” (McCormick 1). Lakshmi’s mother is a strong woman. She is hunched over from carrying heavy baskets up and down the mountain all day. She never complains and fulfills her role of wife dutifully. Lakshmi thinks she is beautiful. Her step-father, on the other hand, while technically disabled from a broken arm in his youth, makes no effort to help his family. He heads out each day to gamble away what little money they have. “When he looks, (at the cucumbers that she is growing), he sees cigarettes and rice beer, a new vest for himself.  I see a tin roof” (2).

Because Lakshmi’s best friend Gita was able to go and work for a wealthy family in the city, she has been able to send money home for her family. Gita’s family has a tin roof on their hut, electric lights hanging from their ceiling, and money for spectacles, a fancy wedding dress and an education for her brother. This is one of the few ways that a girl can help to provide for her family. Lakshmi desires to follow in Gita’s footsteps to make life easier for her mother. It is at a very difficult time, when Ama is sick and Lakshmi is tending to the household, when Lakshmi finds out that she will get her chance to go into the city and work as a maid. She discovers this news when she finds Ama weeping behind their house. Lakshmi finds strength that she never knew she had and tells Ama that she will send her wages home. “Enough for a coat for the baby and a sweater for you. Enough for a tin roof” (49). Little does Lakshmi know that she is about to be majorly let down by a man in her life for the first time.

By having the novel told in the first person, we are able to go along for the ride with Lakshmi. Her youth and naivety are on full display when her step-father is haggling over a fair price for his daughter. Lakshmi still believes she is going to be a maid in the city. The two are contrasted here in the items that are bought. While her step-father is loading up his basket with cigarettes and chewing gum, Lakshmi places a sweater for Ama and a coat for the baby into the basket. While he is thinking only of himself, she is selflessly thinking of others. This only makes his actions that more despicable.

Lakshmi is about to find out that the world is full of illusions, that things aren’t always what they seem. Her step-father, a man who is supposed to care for her, has just sold her as a sex slave. The woman that takes Lakshmi into the city is dressed beautifully. Lakshmi thinks that she may even be a movie star. When Lakshmi mentions this to her, she removes the veil from in front of her mouth and smiles, revealing a set of blackened teeth. Soon she is sold again to a man who she calls her “uncle husband.” He seems kind and helps her to get into the city, yet he slaps her when he is provoked. And finally, she enters “Happiness House,” the biggest ruse of them all. This house will provide her with anything but happiness. This is the second time that Lakshmi is let down by a man in her life. She thought that her “uncle husband” was watching out for her, had her best interest at heart. His only interest in her was delivering her to Mumtaz so that he could be paid.

After Lakshmi has been at Happiness House for some time, you would think that she would have lost all hope. This is not the case. Just like the jailed women in The Bathhouse, the women in Happiness House provide a sense of community. They depend on each other to get through this painful situation. Gender roles are not always what one would think them to be in this novel. Even though women generally occupy a lower rung in the societal ladder, there are women of power in the novel, namely Mumtaz, Bimla and Bajai Sita. These three women haggle with men and make a killing doing it, yet the means by which they make their money is deplorable. This doesn’t mean that all the women in the novel are evil though. Shahanna helps Lakshmi adjust to her new life and she becomes friends with Anita. Monica is the highest earning woman in Happiness House and we later learn that she is sending money home for her daughter’s school fees. Each woman does what she has to do in order to survive Happiness House, and they lean on each other to get through. In the same sense that not all the women of the novel are evil, neither are all the men. Harish is Pushpa’s eight-year-old son who lives in the house. He befriends Lakshmi and teaches her how to read in English and Hindi. There is also the tea vendor who brings Lakshmi gifts and shows her kindness. And of course, there is the American who pretends to be a customer to gain information and ultimately sets Lakshmi free.

This is a beautiful novel, written in simple prose, which sheds a light on a horribly dark subject. Unfortunately, this is not just a third-world problem. Sex-slavery happens in the United States, whether we want to admit it or not. Patricia McCormick does a wonderful job of starting a dialogue. This is a book that stays with you long after you put it down. I find myself sitting here wondering what happened to Lakshmi after she was set free and how many other girls out there are in that same situation. You get the sense from her last lines that Lakshmi will be alright, that she hasn’t lost the sense of who she is.

“My name is Lakshmi,” I say.

“I am from Nepal.

I am fourteen years old.”

The Bathhouse

The Bathhouse is set in Iran at the beginning of the Fundamentalist Revolution of 1979. It begins when our unnamed narrator, a 17 year-old girl is taken from her home in the middle of the night by the Revolutionary Guard. She is unwittingly caught up in her brother’s leftist political activity. When she is thrown into the van, her brother Hamid and his wife Ferial are already seated and try to reassure the narrator that she’ll be alright and home within a few hours. As soon as she enters the prison, she is given a form to fill out asking about her political affiliation and religious beliefs. She has none and therefore believes she doesn’t have to worry about anything. The only thing she is truly worried about at this point is her sister returning home to an empty house. Perhaps it is this knowledge of her own innocence that allows her to survive the terrors of the bathhouse. She is young and strong and is able to detach herself physically and mentally from the torment taking place around her.

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Another reason I believe that she is able to survive is due to the almost familial relationships that she builds with a lot of the other female prisoners. Strong female figures like Leila, the doctor whose tongue got her in trouble for speaking out against the religious leaders, the motherly Mrs. Moradi, and Zohre, the woman with the child, all gave our narrator a reason to keep on living. In fact, it wasn’t until much later during her imprisonment when most of the women that she knew were gone that she finally started to show any signs of emotional distress. It just goes to show you that even in the face of utter brutality and despair, simple acts of kindness are enough to sustain a person.

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I believe it is significant that our narrator doesn’t have a name. In gathering the background for this novel, Farnoosh Moshiri interviewed dozens of women back in her home country of Iran. These women lived through the terrors of the Khomeini regime. Their stories make up the pages of this novel. I believe that the narrator is representative of Moshiri, who is giving a voice to all of those women that survived that regime, and perhaps more importantly, to those who did not survive. By writing this novel, she is keeping alive the memories of those who are gone, and hopefully, allowing us to learn from the past so that we can move on to a better future.

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On a somewhat related note, I came across an interesting blog when searching for this image and I think a lot of the topics that they discuss are relevant to the topics we are discussing in this course. https://womeninitblog.wordpress.com/about/

 

 

The Struggle is Real

In the novel Disgrace, David Lurie is trying to hang on to the last vestiges of his life when he is banished from the university after a scandalous affair is discovered. David is representative of a white majority who is used to getting his way simply because of the color of his skin and the position that he holds. It is why he feels entitled to Melanie Isaacs. When she at first resists his advances, he reminds her that her beauty does not belong to her, but it is something that should be shared with the world. When he says that it should be shared with the world, he means it should be shared with him. After their first sexual encounter, she attempts to avoid him but he meets up with her at her apartment and forces his way inside and pretty much rapes her. She doesn’t outright resist him, but she isn’t exactly an eager participant either. David is used to getting what he wants and she is no exception.

David is symbolic of the white minority in South Africa during apartheid. Even though the whites were outnumbered by people of color, they held all of the power. David is used to having all of the power. He cannot accept that his power is slipping out of his grasp and that times are changing. When the affair with Melanie is exposed, he is given numerous opportunities to repent, but he cannot bring himself to admit any wrongdoing. He felt that it was his right to “conquer” this innocent young student of his and he’ll be damned if anyone at the university was going to tell him what he can and cannot do.

When David is forced into exile at his daughter Lucy’s farm, he needs to adapt to the world around him. Lucy, like most women in South Africa during apartheid, was a farmer. She lived off the land and relied on the help of Petrus, the black man who lived on the adjacent farm. These two got along well enough, and Petrus was always around; that is, until the day that Lucy was attacked and raped. When Lucy and David were attacked by three young, black men, their whole lives were turned upside down. David cannot understand why Lucy will not report the rape to the police. He leaves for a while and returns later on to find that Lucy is carrying the child of one of her rapists. Furthermore, it is discovered that the rapist is a family member of Petrus and he is protecting him. David is naturally enraged. He is used to being in a position of power, so when Lucy tells him to just leave it be, he cannot understand.

This attack is similar to the end of apartheid. There were often violent uprisings in the years leading up to the end of apartheid. The white minority wasn’t going to go out without a struggle, much like David attacked Lucy’s rapist before she broke it up. Lucy’s acceptance that she will probably end up marrying Petrus and raising the child within his family is also symbolic of the joining of whites and people of color at the end of apartheid and Lucy’s child is a blend of these two cultures. Lucy, with an eye to the future, submits to her role so that her child can have a more harmonious future.

Living in Disgrace

Disgrace is not just the title of the novel, but a central theme throughout it. When the novel opens up and we find David Lurie in bed with a prostitute, it is only a matter of time before we see how his life is about to fall apart, bringing disgrace to both himself and a lot of others around him. David is a university professor, and with that title comes some degree of prestige; so to find him with a prostitute isn’t exactly normal behavior for a man of his stature. Yet, David isn’t your normal professor, at least in what society deems normal. He is a 52 year old twice-divorced man with what seems to be a bit of a sex addiction. In years past, he seems to have had no problem getting women to sleep with him, but now he is a player whose time in the game has passed. He fills his desire with his weekly appointments with a prostitute called Soraya. At his age, David is aware of his lack of desirability to a young, attractive prostitute like Soraya; so it comes as not much of a surprise to him when Soraya abruptly ends their weekly appointments under the ruse of a sick mother. David should have been able to move on, yet his attempts to find another girl out of the book just didn’t satisfy him the way that Soraya satisfied him. So, he did the only rational thing that he could do, he hired a private detective to stalk her and then David called her at her home. She rebuked him and demanded he never call her again. He crossed a line. He knew she had a family. He potentially could have brought disgrace to her and her family.

When the regular appointments with Soraya ended, he attempted to fill the void with a secretary in his department. After the sex wasn’t up to his standards, he ignored her like any mature man would. She felt disgusted and disgraced and proceeded to ignore him afterwards. Then one day he met Melanie Isaacs, a blithe young student of his. His first attempt at seduction is awkward and unsuccessful. Lines that normally worked for him did not work on her; they only emphasized his age and her youth. Yet, he continues to pursue her and the first time they have sex she is aloof, detached. She doesn’t attend class the next day and eventually he makes his way to her apartment and forces his way inside. He proceeds to have sex with her in what is described as “Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core” (Coetzee 25). She forces him to leave immediately afterward. He realizes that he has disgraced her and even though he knows he should leave her alone, he is drawn to her like a moth to the flame.

When his car is vandalized and his class is interrupted by her boyfriend, it is only a prelude of what is to come. Her father shows up in his office and threatens him. Eventually a harassment suit is brought against him. His scandalous affair has gone public and disgraced not only Melanie and himself, but her family and the university. He is given an opportunity to apologize publicly and take some time off. Yet, his smugness and an air of infallibility refuse to allow him to accept this far too generous offer. He is fired and loses everything. He is forced to leave in disgrace.

Yet, his trail of disgrace does not stop in the city. When he goes to stay with is daughter in a remote part of the country, he continues to bring disgrace to everyone around him. Bev Shaw, the woman from the animal shelter he volunteers at, becomes another one of his mistresses. This, after her husband treats David as a friend and allows him to stay in their house after David and his daughter were attacked. After David overstays his daughter’s welcome, he returns home to find his apartment had been ransacked. He sits and eats in the dark, completing the image of disgrace. When he returns to help his daughter, who was impregnated during her rape, he continues his work at the shelter. He seems to have found a niche there; helping Bev Shaw put unwanted dogs to sleep. At the end of the novel, he is given the opportunity to save a dog that has taken a liking to him at least for one more week; yet, he brings the dog to Bev. She asks, “Are you giving him up?” He responds, “Yes, I am giving him up.” I believe that he is metaphorically referring to himself when he says this. This dog has lived in a state of disgrace, much like he has for much of his life. It seems as though he is giving up his former life and is resigning himself to the quiet life in the country. Perhaps it is a chance for him to start over.