Disgrace: Chapters 17-18

Summary – Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen
One Sunday, Bev asks David about his personal life and the ‘young woman’ in Cape Town (which she knows about through Lucy). They talk more and on impulse he runs a finger over her lips, and she brushes her lips against his hand.
The following day she calls him and says he is to meet her at the clinic at 4 pm. They make love on the floor and he compares her (in his mind) negatively with Melanie and thinks ‘this is what I will have to get used to’. He also considers how he will have to stop calling her ‘poor Bev Shaw’ as ‘if she is poor, he is bankrupt’.
In Chapter Eighteen, David thinks if Lucy were to be sensible she would work out a deal with Petrus and ‘return to civilization’. He approaches Petrus who is on the site of where he will have his new house. He asks Petrus if he would be prepared to keep the farm running if he and Lucy went back to Cape Town. After a discussion, Petrus says no.
The narrative shifts to David receiving a call from the police in Port Elizabeth. He is told his car has been recovered and two men have been arrested. Lucy goes with him to the station and waits outside in the car. David is shown the car that they believed was his, but he notices immediately that it is the wrong one. He returns to Lucy and tells her. He then says it is time she faced up to her choices and either stays where she is or moves on and starts a new chapter. She says she wishes she could explain and is sorry.
He thinks of her as his ‘dearest daughter’ and also thinks that one of these days she will have to guide him. He then wonders if she can smell his thoughts. He drives them home and to his surprise she refers to the rape (but does not use this word) and says how ‘it’ was so personal and was done with ‘such personal hatred’. She asks why they hated her so, and he says the following: ‘“It was history speaking through them.”’ He also says it was not personal: ‘“It came down from the ancestors.”’ She says she is afraid they will come back and he suggests she takes a break and goes abroad to Holland and he will pay. She says that if she does so, she will not come back but thanks him anyway.
She wants to decide for herself and does not want to be ‘pushed’. She says there are things that he does not understand. He says on the contrary he does understand all too well: ‘“I will pronounce the word we have avoided hitherto. You were raped. Multiply. By three men.”’ He goes on and says how he did not help her, but she says he could not be expected to rescue her. She tells him then that she thinks the two older ones have done this before and are rapists first and foremost and stealing is incidental. She also thinks they will come back; she is in their territory and they have marked her.
He says again how she must leave, but her response is that perhaps this was the price she had to pay for staying and ‘“they see themselves as debt collectors”’.
He remembers being a child when he read the word rape and how the letter ‘p’ was usually so gentle. In his room, he writes a letter to Lucy and tells her she is ‘on the brink of a dangerous error’ and claims she wants to ‘humble’ herself ‘before history’. He says this will strip her of her honor. Half an hour later she sends him a response, which she pushes under his door. This says how she is not the person he knows and is ‘dead’. She does not yet know what will bring her back to life. She says if she leaves the farm now she will leave defeated and finishes by saying he cannot be a father forever and she cannot be a daughter forever. In addition, she says he is not ‘the guide’ she needs at this time.
The narrative then cuts to the animal clinic and to David and Bev who are lying on the floor at the end of a day of ‘dog-killing’. She asks him about his first wife, Lucy’s mother, and he says how she is Dutch and now lives in Holland, and that he wants Lucy to go there. He also points out that Lucy is not inclined to take his advice at the moment. Bev says they will look after her as will Petrus.
Analysis – Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen
Chapter Eighteen is significant as David explicitly speaks of the rape for the first time. Because of this, he breaks the silence and the taboo but the result is seen to be the same as Lucy continues to resist reporting the men and still wants to stay in her home.
This chapter is also of note for the references made to the weight of history, and the implication is that the attack on Lucy and David has some tragic inevitability attached to it that has come down from the years of Apartheid and colonialism. Lucy’s position is one that implies guilt on the part of white settlers and is now re-paying a debt to those whose lands where stolen. It should be said that this is only implied, however, as she refuses to admit that she deals in abstractions (such as guilt) and yet she thinks she has had to pay a price for staying where she is.