Disgrace: Chapter 15

Summary – Chapter Fifteen
This chapter begins with a reference to two young sheep that David has noticed tethered all day on a patch of bare ground. They belong to Petrus and David asks him if ‘we’ could tie them somewhere so that they can graze. Petrus says they are for the party on Saturday and invites him and Lucy to attend. An hour later the sheep are still in the same place and David moves them to some grass. He tells Lucy about the invitation and she explains the party is a celebration for Petrus having the land transfer.
Her later snappishness reminds him to be patient with her and he asks if she has had the ‘test’ (without specifying for what). She says yes and tells him that it could take three months, longer or even forever.
The narrative shifts back to the sheep and how they spend the day where he left them, but are back on the barren patch the next day. Lucy says this kind of thing is ‘country ways’, but he thinks of it as ‘indifference’ and ‘hardheartedness’. He suddenly feels that the lot of these sheep has become important to him. He remembers Bev comforting the ravaged goat and wonders how she manages to get this communion with animals right. He then wonders if he will have to change and become like Bev. He speaks to Lucy and says he would prefer to not go to the party. She asks if this has to do with the sheep and he says he is ‘disturbed’ and never imagined he would be.
On Saturday, the preparations for the festivities begin and he feels a ‘vague sadness’ when he smells the offal cooking. When it is dark, Lucy says it is time to go and asks him if he is coming. He agrees to do so and when they arrive he notices they are the only whites there and sees the curious glances cast at them. He also thinks people might be looking at him because of the skullcap he wears as a dressing for his injury.
Lucy gives Petrus and his pregnant wife a present and Petrus calls her his ‘benefactor’. David thinks this is a ‘distasteful’ word, but also asks himself if Petrus can be blamed for this as he sees the language as ‘tired, friable, eaten from the inside as if by termites’. The only solution is, he considers, to start all over again with the learning of the alphabet and he will be dead by the time ‘big words’ have been ‘purified’ and made ‘trustworthy’.
Lucy goes to dance and he is given a plateful of food with mutton chops. He thinks he will eat it and ask for forgiveness afterwards. Lucy then comes over and says she wants to leave. She is breathing fast and is tense; she says ‘they’ are here and has seen one of them. She also says that she does not want to kick up a fuss. David goes to him, the ‘dull-faced apprentice’, and he tells him he knows him. The boy does not appear to be startled. Petrus comes over and is angry and says he does not know what the trouble is. David says how he is one of ‘them’ and is wanted by the police. The boy denies it. David says he will call the police and then finds Lucy and goes home with her.
At her house, she stops him ringing the police and says it is not Petrus’s fault and his evening will be destroyed if they are called. He tells her he is astonished she did not lay ‘real’ charges and sees her as protecting Petrus. She answers that she has at least the right to not be put on trial like this. He insists she cannot make up for the wrongs of the past this way and must stand up for herself now. She says no, and goes to her room.
He slips out and returns to the party. One of the guests is giving a speech, which he does not understand. David looks around and sees the boy. The boy sees him and others do too. He does not mind the attention, however, and thinks he is letting them know he is not ‘skulking in the big house’. He lifts his hand to his skullcap and ‘for the first time he is glad to have it, to wear it as his own’.
Analysis – Chapter Fifteen
The references to the tethered sheep and the goat that Bev tried to treat at the clinic also bring to mind echoes of religious, and specifically Christian, thought. This is because of the Judgement Day allusion to the division of the goats and sheep, but also because of the sacrificial lamb and the connection this has to Christ.
It should also be noted that the references to these and animals and the dogs that are put down are also a reminder of innocence. The cruelty inflicted on them is gradually recognized by David as a wider malaise of the society he lives in and is not necessarily tied to ‘country ways’. As he learns to be disturbed by their mistreatment, the readers also gain a measure of how he begins to change his perspective on humanity.