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What is the dynamic between power and those who lack power?

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

1) What is the dynamic between power and those who lack power? Which character(s) have power? Which characters lack power? Does the dynamic stay static or does power shift between characters?

2) In the first couple of chapters, a secretary makes a comment to Lurie about “you people.” What does she mean by that? Try to dissect the layers of meaning in that comment.

3)What is Lurie’s understanding of women? How is this revealed in his interactions with his weekly prostitute appointment and/or his relationships with his student, with his ex-wife, and with his daughter?

4) Is Lurie a predator? If yes, how? If no, why not?

5) What is Lurie’s point in telling his daughter about the dog who learned to hate its own instincts, to punish itself for feeling desire? What does he mean with the statement that “desire is a burden we could well do without”?

6) In Chapter 11, on p. 95 of the printed edition, Lurie has a moment of despair where he feels that “mission” work and “missionaries” have done nothing good for “darkest” Africa. What does he mean? What layers of meaning can we ascribe to “darkest” Africa and to his consignment of Africa to savagery?

7) After Lucy’s rape, Lurie has a dream in which his daughter calls to him to save him, though she acts very different in person. What do you make of the dream? What do you think of the questions he asks about Lucy’s soul, which might possibly be leading an independent life because she does not believe in souls?

8) Lurie wonders if it is worse to rape a lesbian than a virgin, and he also wonders if the men have raped her knowingly because she is a lesbian. He is referring to the problem in South Africa of “corrective rape,” where lesbians are raped by men who wish to “turn” them so that they become straight. Whether this is what the men were doing or not, why does Lucy not wish to speak about it? Why doesn’t she report it to the police?

9) Do you think Lurie is correct in thinking that Lucy’s silence concedes a “victory” to the men who raped her?

10) Explore the complicated relationship between Lucy, Petrus, and Lurie. What does Lurie mean when he says he could have had it out with Petrus “in the old days”? What old days is he referring to? What does Lurie think Petrus is up to? How does their relationship change over time?

11) Lurie ends up with a growing attachment to animals–first to the sheep Petrus plans to slaughter, then to the dogs he helps euthanize with Bev. What do these animals symbolize for Lurie? Why does his attachment to them grow?

12) Why do you think Lucy chooses not to prosecute or followup pursuing the men who raped and robbed her when she sees one of the perpetrators at Petrus’s party? Why does Bev reassure Lurie that Petrus is a good man and will take care of Lucy? What does that mean?

13) Who was Lord Byron? Who was Teresa? Why does their love affair captivate Lurie and what role does the opera he write play in formulating the ideas and themes of this novel?

14) Why do you think Lucy decides to keep the baby?

15) In what ways do Lucy and Lurie understand their relationship to South Africa differently and how does this translate to different actions on each of their parts? Do they have different cultural paradigms?

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