Comment on the theme of retribution in Disgrace.

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Disgrace begins with the narrator David Lurie being dismissed from his job as a professor because of an affair with a student.  In this relationship, David Lurie clearly used the power of his position as a professor to seduce, or coerce, the student into an affair.  When the affair becomes public, Lurie accepts his dismissmal without protest.  He clearly crossed the line; he accepts the consequences. Even though this situation did not involve race, it did involve a power struggle.

But there is more suffering in store for Lurie--much more than merely losing his professorship.   When he goes to live with his daughter, he helplessly witnesses the rape of his daughter by neighboring black workers.  Even though this situation is much worse than his own indiscretion, he and his daughter are now the victims of abusive power.  In a frank conversation with his daughter, David wants vengeance; Lucy wants to keep the violation private and not press charges.  David says, "Do you hope you can expiate the crimes of the past by suffering in the present?"  He believes his daughter is attempting to atone for the history of apartheid through her refusal to seek retribution. Lucy insists that because this place is South Africa, she cannot deal in abstractions of guilt and salvation.  She must live in the present.

In many ways, this is a tale of the power shifts in South Africa.  The white male no longer can act with impunity, and as his presence grows weaker in the region, he may pay for his misdeeds and mismanagement of power in eruptions of violence against him and his own.

As the narrator atones for his misdeeds, both as a professor and as a father, we see a parallel changing of the guard as the black man, in the form of Petrus, regains his country.  And the white man will know what it is like to be violated. Will he continue to feed the fire of vengeance or retribution, or will he make his peace, as Lucy does, and submit to the new regime?

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