Disgrace: Top Ten Quotes

1. Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core. As though she had decided to go slack, die within herself for the duration, like a rabbit when the jaws of the fox close on its neck.
p. 25 This quotation refers to the time David has sex with Melanie at her flat and she is also described as averting herself. Parallels between this situation and the later rape of his daughter may be drawn as it is never fully outlined whether Melanie did experience this sexual encounter this way. Although she fills in the harassment form against him, we and David never discover the contents of her complaint and she does not speak about this here or elsewhere in the novel. Because of her silence, David’s morality is depicted as ambiguous and uncertain.
2. Scandal. A pity that must be his theme, but he is in no state to improvise.
p. 31 In this instance, Melanie has appeared in class with her boyfriend (Ryan) and David has already planned to talk about the theme of scandal in relation to Byron. This situation is an example of the awkward humor that Coetzee draws upon occasionally in this novel, and this acts as some relief to the later harrowing storylines.
3. That is how it begins.
p. 38 This sentence comes immediately after Melanie’s father, Isaacs, has confronted David publicly about his relationship with Melanie. There is an element of foreshadowing of events with this line (‘That is how it begins’) as the readers are introduced to the idea that change for the worst is about to happen to the main protagonist.
4. ... the whole thing is disgraceful from beginning to end. Disgraceful and vulgar.
p. 45 This is Rosalind’s view of David having sex with Melanie and is one of a few instances of a direct reference to the title. By invoking the word disgrace, Rosalind is used to reiterate the condemnation of bad behaviour and immorality.
5. Confessions, apologies: why this thirst for abasement? A hush falls. They circle around him like hunters who have cornered a strange beast and do not know how to finish it off.
p. 56 At this point in the novel, David has just emerged from the inquiry and has been asked by a girl with a tape recorder if he has any regrets. The inquiry and later media interest in his situation highlights the public demand, which has been fed by the media, for the confessional response.
6. It reminds me too much of Mao’s China. Recantation, self-criticism, public apology.
p. 66 David is explaining to Lucy why he would not accept the idea of counselling to further his cause with the inquiry, and the parallel he draws with Mao’s China highlights how he regards this as a form of a show trial. He also goes on to say that he sees these as ‘puritanical times’ and is depicted at this point as questioning the moral self-righteousness of those he has been judged by.
7. What was ignoble about the Kenilworth spectacle was that the poor dog had begun to hate its own nature. It no longer needed to be beaten. It was ready to punish itself. At that point it would have been better to shoot it.
p. 90 David is referring to the dog that used to be beaten for reacting noisily when a bitch was in the area. This story outlines his concern for the expression of desire and is also a means for criticizing cruelty to animals (which is a central concern of the novel).
8. Too many people, too few things. What there is must go into circulation, so that everyone can have a chance to be happy for a day. That is the theory; hold to the theory and to the comforts of theory. Not human evil, just a vast circulatory system, to whose workings pity and terror are irrelevant. That is how one must see life in this country: in its schematic aspect. Otherwise one could go mad. Cars, shoes; women too. There must be some niche in the system for women and what happens to them.
p. 98 This is David’s response following the rape of his daughter, the attack on him and the robbery of her home. He is depicted as attempting to hold on to a liberal position despite the damage that has been incurred. It is also a position that recognizes that women’s bodies are a part of this trading system.
9. More and more he is convinced that English is an unfit medium for the truth of South Africa. Stretches of English code whole sentences long have thickened, lost their articulations, their articulateness, their articulatedness. Like a dinosaur expiring and settling in the mud, the language has stiffened.
p. 117 The inadequacy of language has been a significant aspect in the novel in that David, a Professor of Communications, is seen to struggle with speaking about central topics such as Apartheid, his daughter’s sexuality and the rape of her. At this point, the inadequacy of the English language is made specific and David demonstrates a recognition that South Africa needs to move beyond its colonial past (and which he represents in many ways).
10. You behave as if everything I do is part of the story of your life. You are the main character, I am a minor character who doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through.
p. 198 Lucy’s anger with David is vented here as she questions the minor role allotted to her as the daughter of the main character. This quotation highlights the self-reflexivity of this novel, as it reminds us that this is a fiction we are reading where Lucy is a minor character who appears halfway through