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Zebb Duffany



To most students of literature analyzing Coetzee's Disgrace, the use of several characters as

metaphors should be apparent. These metaphors are used to symbolize the different groups present in

South Africa during the fall of the white government. The usage of both rapes, David's and Lucy's, to

symbolize who's in power should be likewise apparent. A question that strikes many readers, however,

is what kind of meaning Coetzee could place in Petrus's desire to marry Lucy. It's not about sex, and

neither is it about love. Nor, arguably, is it about a lust that Petrus holds for Lucy, for no mention of his

attraction to her was ever made in the book. So what meaning could the marriage possibly hold?

Answer; Coetzee uses the marriage to illustrate an important point about post-apartheid society.

Before we attack this at a symbolic level we must establish which characters stand for which

South African groups. David Lurie is the stand in for the old age white South Africans, who are used to

being in power. Petrus is the face of the old age black South Africans who are used to being pressed

and glad for the chance to expand. Lucy symbolizes the new age whites in South Africa who must

accept the change in power. Then we have the three young black men who rape Lucy, each of them

represent the “new”, younger blacks in South Africa who don't know what to do with the power they've

been given, and thus misuse it at the expense of others.

Having established which groups these characters represent, we can now look into the

symbolism of the marriage, which is caused by the fact that Petrus's brother in law was one of the ones

who had raped Lucy. We know that the rape it's self was political; it showed that the blacks had risen to

power and were letting the formally empowered whites know it in a most violent manner. In a very

similar fashion the marriage was political. Petrus remarks to David that his brother in law “will marry
Lucy. He will marry, only he is too young. Maybe one day he can marry, but not now. I will marry.”

(Coetzee, 202). When you look at this at the symbolic level you begin to see a picture. The older black

community is, in a way, apologizing for the crimes it's members have committed. They say that the

ones who have committed the crime can't yet realize what they have done. So the older members of the

black community will do what they believe is right. We must also remember that all of this is being

said to the older members of the white community (represented by David), who aren't accepting the

change in power as it is.

The marriage also reinforces the power relationship that is established with Lucy's rape. The

marriage is not about sex, not lust, nor love. It's an obligation that Petrus believes falls to him because

his little brother can't fulfill it. The older blacks take control of the situation after the younger ones let

things fall apart. Petrus's marriage to Lucy out of his sense of duty shows how the wiser, less violent

blacks eventually took control of the situation and imposed an order to things, giving protection to

whites, but not necessarily under terms that the whites found appeasing.

Petrus's wanting to marry Lucy isn't a plot driven decision. Coetzee used it to finish telling what

happened after the end of the apartheid. Using the various characters he'd created to represent the

different social groups in South Africa, Coetzee literally marries the long suffering blacks and the

newly overthrown whites together. With the marriage and the mulatto child Lucy is bearing, Coetzee

tells the reader that these two groups of people are stuck together until they can figure out their