Irony in Disgrace

John Maxwell Coetzee is a real genius of literature of the XXI century. In the book The Cambridge Introduction to J. M. Coetzee, it is affirmed that “the South African novelist J. M. Coetzee is one of the most highly respected and most frequently studied contemporary authors” (Head 1). He is a mysterious and even frightening author of novels about the essence of the human nature. People around the world read every book of the author with an incredible enthusiasm. A novel Disgrace has become a key creation in the writer’s career, a certain denominator in all of his future work. The purpose of the paper is to study the notion of irony in the novel Disgrace as it is the main device the author uses to depict bipolarity of human world as well as to prove that every person has to pay for his/her actions.

The novel can be divided into two parts, which describe the life of the main character before and after the event with the student. In the center of the plot, there is an educated man, a professor David Lurie. He is a divorced man and has a daughter who is a lesbian. The novel’s main character falls in love with the student Melanie. It all happens in the first part of the book. Love of the professor to his student begets tragedy. For this love, David Lurie pays with his career, status, and a good name. Thus, love becomes a destructive force. In this psychosexual drama, the professor suddenly turns into an object of mockery, a pariah, an outcast. The inner state of David Lurie, as well as life after the court, has changed dramatically from a position of dominance to the position of humiliation. After the court, the main character is forced to leave home and work. David seeks refuge at a distant farm of his daughter. However, Lurie brings disasters to all people. Shortly after his arrival, Kaffirs attack the farm, beats the professor, mercilessly kills the dogs, and rapes Lucy’s daughter. William McDonald states that David Lurie “encounters disgrace, first through his sexual exploitation of one of his students, and then through the gang-rape of his only daughter” (3). Critical mass of disasters extremely changes the life of the professor and his daughter. They will never be able to live as they have lived before. They are people without property, rights, and dignity. It is also a kind of irony as the rapist will expect no changes after a terrible thing he has committed.

However, David Lurie and Lucy experience even more serious troubles in the future. Lucy knows that she is pregnant from one of the rapists. Despite humiliation and insult, she decides to keep the baby. She describes it as “Subjection. Subjugation” (Coetzee 159). In her opinion, she is a woman and should perform her laws of nature. Violence is a moral concept. However, nature does not know the rules of morality. While for the civilized human society, a rapist is a villain who has committed a crime, for nature, such a person is one of the males that can conceive an offspring. In this way, the rapist has made a significant contribution to the perpetuation of human race. Besides, Lucy has made a choice that is dictated by her wish to live outside civilization. The professor cannot understand the desire of his daughter to give a birth to a baby from the man who has raped her. It seems that civilization became obsessed with morality. Therefore, civilization concedes defeat in a fight with wild masculinity that takes what it desires ‒ a representation of the cruel forces of nature. The author claims that in such a way, morality weakens the society and people. Therefore, it is the main irony in the novel Disgrace. The respected professor, who has had mediocre affair with a student, is severely punished for his romantic passion. Nonetheless, the rapist is not punished. Moreover, he can be regarded as a winner in this situation because a baby conceived by him will be born and, thus, he will extend his family.

The paradox consists in the fact that in a moral and conscientious man, a sin is noticeable stronger than in the one who has committed many terrible sins. It refers to the professor and his daughter’s rapist. Being an educated and respectable person, life of David Lurie cannot change anything when his life falls apart because of the case with the student. However, the life of the rapist does not change and he remains unpunished. It shows that civilized people turn away from the shameful spectacle and, thus, they admit their helplessness. Civilization is apparently not maturation of the society but its complete powerlessness.

In the novel of John Maxwell Coetzee, there is an echo of Nietzsche’s philosophy which claims that Christian morality enslaves people. However, despite this, Coetzee unhesitatingly makes a choice in favor of morality as one of the most important values in life. The author is ready to admit an idea that the characters in the novel, who try to live in accordance with their conscience, experience constant misfortunes. Coetzee forgives their weakness, although he probably would like to see them in the role of courageous fighters protecting the honor and dignity of the person.

The novel Disgrace by John Maxwell Coetzee is creates the feeling comprehensive fatalism. It is mainly another tack in the coffin of culture of double standards and common values. In the book J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Power, it is noted that “Disgrace depicts the situation of a nation which, despite political changes, continues to be firmly anchored in a distorted morality in which concepts such as ‘pity’ or ‘honorable dealings’ bear no more meaning than they did during apartheid” (Tegla 182). The novel nurtures certain otherworldly stoicism – the last hope of the outsiders of the world. However, Coetzee does not justify defeatists, outsiders, and anyone who has lost the will to resist. On the contrary, the author is rather severe to these people because a person who has taken the life catastrophe as inevitability can be saved only by the power of the spirit, faith, and moral resistance. When everything is lost, there is only one thing to do to be a human. Not every failure is a sufferer. Nevertheless, Coetzee is interested in those severe cases of life failures, when a person realizes that his/her only wealth is dignity and a clear conscience.

In Disgrace, John Maxwell Coetzee describes his beliefs that a person cannot forget the evil which has been committed. Thus, the notion of evil does not leave a person. Archetypal consciousness of people bears one of the most important components of the idea of the inevitable retribution.

The novel Disgrace of the South African writer is a vivid example of literature of the XXI century. It is intellectual, critical, and multifaceted. The whole novel is based on irony. For small sins, a person should suffer. At the same time, some people are not punished for terrible offences.. However, it does not matter whether a sin is serious or not. In every case, a person should pay for the actions.

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