The language techniques of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace are characterized by a skeptical, almost suspicious attitude toward language. Through the use of minimal narration and duplicity on the part of its characters, the novel invokes in readers the sense that language (and by extension all self-representation) is to some extent untrustworthy.
Language gives us the power to clarify, but also the power to deceive ourselves. The main character, David Laurie, has deceived himself into believing that he is a man of character and status. David uses language to depict an inaccurate, self-congratulatory picture of reality
Unable to create meaningful, healthy relationships with women, David minimizes has negative actions with self-talk. After sex with his unwilling student Melanie, he thinks of the encounter thusly: “Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core.” Through this duplicitous self-talk, Laurie maintains his sense of himself as a man of integrity, even while participating in actions as extremely immoral as rape. Not until the women in his life begin rejecting his authority does he question these inaccurate world- and self- representations.
The narrator of Disgrace writes in a dispassionate third-person, never commenting or making judgments. Indeed, the narrator is almost invisible. He gives the reader unmediated access to David’s thoughts and feelings. David himself uses language sparingly. He often makes controversial or confusing claims with no follow-through. After having sex with a prostitute, David says he “had solved the problem of sex.” Rather than going into an inner-monologue about why he considers sex as a “problem” to be “solved,” he instead abruptly turns his attention to the mundane task of getting home. The limited nature of David’s self-talk, combined with the work’s sparse narration, force readers to come up with their own interpretations and judgments about David.