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Power In Relationships In Disgrace Essay

1364 words - 6 pages

Disgrace Essay: Question 2

“Disgrace can be seen as an exploration of the relationship between the powerful and the powerless.”

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, amidst a large scale shifting of power in many forms countrywide, Disgrace can very much be seen as an exploration of the relationship between the powerful and the powerless. Disgrace delves into power dynamics in various, contrasting relationships, and explores these dynamics between people of different race, gender, generations, positions of authority, and even those between humans and animals. During the course of the novel, various questions surrounding power in interpersonal relations are raised, and by the conclusion ...view middle of the document...

After engaging in sexual intercourse for the first time, Melanie is “lying beneath him, her eyes closed, her hands slack above her head, a slight frown upon her face” (Coetzee 1999:19). Soon thereafter, Melanie “frees herself” (1999:19), and David “makes no effort to detain her”(1999:19). Though clearly unwanted by Melanie, David pushes on in search of another sexual encounter, which duly arrives. David appears at Melanie’s house and, despite her protests of “No, not now!”(1999,25), they once again engage in sexual intercourse. This time Melanie “does not resist”, and it is clear to David that it is “Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core”(1999:25). Melanie is clearly disgusted by this act. Choosing not to resist, Melanie rather averts herself completely from the situation at hand, distancing herself mentally from this violation at the hands of her professor. As a result of his actions, David loses all of the power that was entrusted to him as a lecturer after being fired by the university.

Lucy’s rape at the hands of the three men is not only a very striking assertion of power, but also one that “occurs in the specifically Hegelian context of a struggle for affirmation” (Marais 2008:36): “Slavery, they want you for their slave” (Coetzee 1999:159). At this time in South Africa’s history, black people were just beginning to experience freedom after having been racially oppressed for many years under the apartheid regime. During these years of oppression for black South Africans, white people had a great deal of power over black people, and this power was given to them through the laws of the country. Lucy’s rape can be seen as a means of these three men trying to gain affirmation after they had been subservient to whites during the years of apartheid, by asserting their power over a white woman in such a barbaric manner, as was the nature of their oppression – “Subjection. Subjugation” (1999:159). Lucy’s way of dealing with her traumatic rape and moving forward can easily be interpreted as her just simply giving in, victimising herself and losing self-respect. However, in the context of Disgrace, Lucy’s passivity can be seen as her removing herself completely from the struggle for affirmation, and refusing to perpetuate the cycle of domination and counter-domination, refusing to “remain in the oppositional position relative to the rapists that she is forced to occupy at the time of her rape” (Marais 2008:37).

As a father to his daughter Lucy, David has been used to having parental power over Lucy as a child. Of course over time in any relationship between a parent and child, the child gains more power until they are both seen as equals. “From the day his daughter was born he has felt for her nothing but the most spontaneous, most unstinting love (Coetzee 1999:). It is possibly because of this great love for Lucy that David finds it hard to come to terms with the fact that he has very little influence...

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