Use of Imagery and Metaphors in Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee





Use of Imagery and Metaphors in Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

            Disgrace is a novel based on the story of a professor tutoring Romantic Literature in one of South Africa’s university. Coetzee’s novel is a story of sexual needs and desires, race, love, hate and family. He has utilized imagery and metaphors in relaying his work. This essay illustrates specific incidences where he used these techniques in the novel. An explanation on the reasons why he used these methods would also be illustrated. Finally, the plot of the novel would be summarized at the end.  

            Animals have been used metaphorically on numerous occasions in Coetzee’s novel. Man’s best friend played a massive role in ‘Disgrace’. This was particularly when David had moved to the countryside. To some extent, the dogs became characters in the novel. His daughter, Lucy kept some dogs in her Kernel. The likes of Katy the bulldog have renowned personalities in the novel rather than mere canines as one would consider. The image of dogs has been repeatedly emphasized in the novel. This shows the writers interest in placing emphasis on individual disgrace and societal status. At one point, Lucy stated that she does not want to come back in her second life as a dog. This symbolizes the status held by dogs in the society. It illustrates how dogs have been deprived certain privileges and this was concerning the incidence where Lucy’s dogs were murdered.

            Looking back at how Petrus’s character was introduced in the novel illustrates the use of dogs to symbolize people’s status. He introduces himself as a dog-man to David. Taking into account that Lucy was the dog owner, the description, dog-man immediately falls to mean Lucy’s servant. The dogs at this point were used metaphorically in Coetzee’s context. After ascending in the social ladder, Petrus make a joke and says that he is no longer the dog-man. This joke can be linked to the fact that Lucy’s dogs had been murder. Having no dogs to take care of automatically disqualifies him from being a dog-man. Seemingly, the statement was metaphorically used to mean that he had a growing social status hence; he was no longer on similar levels with dogs.

            Basing on dogs symbolizing Petrus’s life, both the dog and dog-man has been used metaphorically to represent South Africa. At the time when Petrus still recognized himself as a dog-man, it-symbolized South Africa’s level while they were still under the British rule. South Africans were treated as dogs in their native land since they were not allowed to interact with the white. The Apartheid movement had further established itself to a point that they were not allowed to use the same road. Petrus stated that he was no longer a dog-man because his social status had risen. This symbolized the changes that had taken place in South Africa. This was inclusive of the freedom they got from the whites oppression and hence they were not dog-men anymore.

            Lurie went to his daughter’s hometown after being fired at the university. This resulted after he was accused of having sexual affairs with a student in the institution. Having no salary, David suffered a lot with chaotic scenarios in his life. His bills went unpaid; he lacked enough money to sustain himself as his credit was almost drying up. He therefore set back to Cape Town after three months and found his house had been broken into. Most of his belongings had been robbed from his house. A smelly long dead pigeon is also discovered in his house. Coetzee used the deceased pigeon as an animalistic symbol of David’s life at that time. The pigeon symbolized his life and status as being dead.

            Lord Byron, can be identified as one of the most talented and prolific poets in the Romantic era. His works are still being studied in present days. One might wonder how Lord Byron fits in Coetzee’s novel. David can be illustrated as a man who had knowledge about Byron. Being a professor and teaching Romantic literature enabled him understand Lord Byron’s character. From the novel, it is evident that David tries to fit in Bryon’s character. He idealizes himself as a smooth conversationalist and suave fan for women. Similarities in their characters have been identified in the novel. He not only tries to be like Byron but exhibits Byronic heroism in his character. Hence, Coetzee made use of Byron as a reference figure and a symbol of David’s personal character.

            Animalistic symbolism and metaphors appeared most in Coetzee’s novel. Years after losing his job, David opted for a music career. He spent his days playing different instruments that would compose of his opera. No one seemed to be interested in his music with the exception of one handicapped dog. This dog had emaciated left hindquarters that he dragged. Seemingly, the dog was David’s only fun as he could jump in amazement at the sound of the banjo. On weekly basis, Losung, meaning killing sessions took place. David offered this dog despite the relationship he had with it. He gave up on the dog that he had once taken to surgery and carried in his own hands. Coetzee used this episode metaphorically to represent David’s ambitions. David had a successful career in Cape Town. His denial of having an affair with a student and refusing to apologize made him loose his job. He gave up on his own life just as he had given up his dog.

            Since David was a symbolic representative of Byron, means there may be a character that his daughter symbolized. Allegra fits into this situation. Byron had neglected his daughter because she was an illegitimate child   that he had conceived with Claire Clairmont. Allegra later died of malaria at the age of five and this made Byron feel upset for his actions. Byron’s history relates to David. This is because David felt remorseful since he had not saved his daughter from the raping incidence. Using his opera that related to the Allegra’s death, he learns of ways he could treat Lucy in real life. This was a metaphoric approach used by Coetzee.

            Coetzee’s novel, Disgrace, is a compelling story illustrating that nothing is ever simple. The writer also explains that everyone has motives that we cannot explain to other people because it is difficult. The reader is introduced to David, a professor of English who ends up losing everything he had in life, his job, his wife, piece of mind, reputation, his artistic dreams, good looks and finally his ability to protect his daughter. His disgrace dawns on him when he is fired from the university as a lecture due to his love affair with a student. Divorced twice and no job, he was forced to move in with his daughter Lucy in the countryside. The novel is also apprehensive with David’s interactions with other characters. This included Bev, an animal welfare officer and Petrus, who looked after Lucy’s dogs.

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