Disgrace: Chapter 11

Summary – Chapter Eleven
On Wednesday morning, David and Lucy take the dogs for a walk and she asks him why he has not stood up for himself more. He explains that the case she wants him to make is one that can no longer be made. He expands and says his case ‘rests on the rights of desire’. He then reminds her of when she was small and they lived in Kenilworth, and the people who lived next door used to beat their dog when it became ‘unmanageable’ when a bitch was in the area. The dog learned from this that when he sensed a bitch was close by, he would flatten his ears, have its tail between its legs and whine and try to hide. She asks what the point is and he tells her it is that ‘no animal will accept the justice of being punished for following its instincts’.
She then refers to him as a scapegoat wandering in the wilderness and he extends this point to talk about the death of the gods and the birth of the censor and of watchfulness.
As they walk, two men and a boy approach and pass them, and Lucy does not recognize them. When they reach the house, the strangers are there and the boy is making threatening gestures to the dogs. David notices that one of the men is ‘strikingly handsome’.
Lucy puts the dogs in their cage and asks the men what they want. The youngest one says they ‘must telephone’ and after more talking she lets the ‘handsome’ man in, who is supposed to want to make the call, but after a moment the second man pushes past and goes in the house too. David knows something is wrong and shouts ‘Lucy’ and ‘Petrus’ (as Lucy had also done earlier). The house is silent and the door latch has clicked shut.
David sets the bulldog, Katy, on the boy who is now heading for the front door. With the boy trying to keep the dog at bay, David returns to the back door and kicks it open. He creeps into the kitchen on all fours and he is hit on the crown of his head. He is aware of being dragged across the floor and then blacks out. When he comes round, he sees he is locked in the lavatory.
He starts battering at the door and the second man comes in holding a bottle and asks for the keys. David says ‘“no”’ and the man pushes him and raises the bottle. David tells him to take them, to take everything, and asks they just leave his daughter alone. Without a word, the man takes the keys and locks him in again.
David looks out of the barred window and sees the second man with the rifle and a bulging bag and recognizes the sound of his car door slamming. The boy and the man notice David and he believes they discuss his fate, but does not understand them: ‘He speaks Italian, he speaks French, but Italian and French will not save him here in darkest Africa.’ He regards himself as helpless as ‘an Aunt Sally’ and as a cartoon figure, as a missionary waiting, ‘while the savages jaw away in their own lingo before plunging him into the cauldron’.
The other man then appears with the rifle and shoots at the dogs. He takes his time and picks them off. The toilet door is opened and as David leaves he is tripped over and methylated spirits is poured on him. A match is lit and he is pushed back in the room, and he splashes water on himself. Except for a patch over his ear, his hair is burned.
David shouts for Lucy again and after he hears the car start she unlocks the door for him. She goes to one of the dogs that is still breathing and he tries to take her in his arms. She wriggles loose from him. She goes to the bathroom and tells him to not come in. He tries to remind himself he is lucky to escape alive and to count Lucy as lucky too. He also tries to think that it is a risk to own anything and there is not enough to go round.
She comes out of the bathroom and her face is clean and blank. She does not try to soothe him as he chokes on tears when he calls her ‘“my dearest, dearest”’, but tells him his head looks terrible and says he should put baby oil on it.
She then says how they have let the tyres down on the Kombi and the phone has been smashed. Because of this, she has to walk over to Ettinger’s (who is a neighbor). She asks him to keep to his own story of what happened to him, and she will say about what happened to her. He says she is making a mistake, and she disputes this. When he takes her in his arms, ‘she is as stiff as a pole’ and yields nothing.
Analysis – Chapter Eleven
This pivotal chapter is concerned with the attack on Lucy and David and David’s reaction to it. It is made clear that the attackers are African and while in danger David’s sense of his own whiteness and the weight of past oppressions comes back to his mind.
He also recalls the stereotyped image of the white missionary waiting to be eaten by black cannibals, and this demonstrates that his liberal views with regard to race are not so firmly held as he perhaps believed. In this way, Coetzee challenges both the stereotyping of racial characteristics and the dangers of a liberal position that fails to understand that violence is an undercurrent of all societies.
In addition, his failure to understand what his attackers are saying (even though he is able to speak English, French and Italian) demonstrates the inadequacies of his white Western education. It is also a reminder of the centrality of racist values, which upheld the Apartheid system and undermined African culture. The gulf between David and the men who raped his daughter is seen to be as massive as it was when Apartheid was still in place.