Term Paper: Race Relations in Disgrace

Pages: 5 (1465 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports - Women  ·  Buy This Paper

race relations in "Disgrace"

Upon initial analysis, it would largely appear that J.M. Coetzee's 1999 novel Disgrace appears to be an incisive critique of the state of interracial relations within post-Apartheid South Africa. After all, the novel was composed a few years after Nelson Mandela was elected president of the country in which the iniquitous practice of apartheid had reigned for the better part of 25 years. Furthermore, this viewpoint appears to be largely supported by the fact that the central drama within the novel is the raping of a white woman by three black men. However, a closer look at the language and its implications within the novel actually reveals that in many ways, whether knowingly or not, Coetzee is actually reinforcing and reproducing conventionally racist modes of representation and repression. This facet of the novel becomes particularly lucid after examining the principles of intersectionality outlined by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw in an article entitled "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color." The author primarily manifests these conventional racist modes through the means of the novel's central character, David Lurie, and his interactions with a bevy of women (including, interestingly enough, one of whom is his daughter).

Perhaps one of the most integral expression of European colonialism and dominance of Africa that apartheid typified, and which was also present in the system of chattel slavery in other parts of the world, is the treatment administered to African women. Colonialism, essentially, is the wanton appropriating of resources of another country or continent -- one of the most valuable resources of all, of course, is the women of a particular region. The premise of Coetzee's novel revolves around the fact that its white protagonist, Lurie, is something of a womanizer whose particular interest in this subject is women of color. Lurie is used by the author to represent Europe and European sentiments, and the women whom he sexually conquers, the vast majority of which are women of color, represent the subjugated resources of Africa. In this respect (that the author has a main character who is sexually having his way with women of color) Coetzee's novel is extremely typical in its depiction of race relations in South Africa.

Furthermore, deconstruction of the 52-year-old professor's sexual relationships with two women of color effectively corroborates this viewpoint. The most eminent of these would have to be his relationship with the college student Melanie, who is quite obviously a representation of Africa and its subjugation to Europe (represented by Lurie). Melanie is of mixed heritage, which is largely indicative of Europe's influence in South Africa in itself. Furthermore, her name symbolizes the country she represents, as the following quotation indicates. "Shift the accent. Melani: the dark one" (Coetzee 1999, 18). Yet the most prudent evidence regarding Melanie's ill-fate (she is raped by Lurie) and the little chance she stood against it can be found in Crenshaw's work. Intersectionality is the notion that women of color are alienated from both conventional feminist and racist defense (and therefore more subject to attack) due to the fact that few people consider the category of being female and black (Crenshaw, 541). Yet there are certain facets of Melanie's situation and her relationship to Lurie, who was her professor, that doubly underscored this concept in relation to her character, as the following quotation evinces.

Patterns of subordination intersect in women's experience of domestic violence. Intersectional subordination need not be intentionally produced; in fact it is frequently the consequence of the imposition of one burden interacting with preexisting vulnerabilities to create yet another dimension of disempowerment (Crenshaw, 281).

The "intersectional subordination" that Crenshaw refers to can certainly apply to Melanie, who was not only a woman of color, but also a student of Lurie's. These three facets of her character certainly make her subordinate to him, a white male in South Africa -- which of course was widely colonized by Europeans. Melanie witnessed "domestic violence firsthand when Lurie raped her. In many circumstances and in many different ways, rape is chiefly about power or, for the female, it is about "disempowerment." Coetzee's description of this sexual encounter between Melanie and Lurie certainly reinforces the notion of her disempowerment, as the subsequent quotation effectively demonstrates.

He has given her no warning, she is too surprised to resist the intruder who thrusts himself upon her. When he takes her in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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