Power in Relationships in Disgrace

In: English and Literature

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Disgrace Essay: Question 2

“Disgrace can be seen as an exploration of the relationship between the powerful and the powerless.”

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, amidst a large scale shifting of power in many forms countrywide, Disgrace can very much be seen as an exploration of the relationship between the powerful and the powerless. Disgrace delves into power dynamics in various, contrasting relationships, and explores these dynamics between people of different race, gender, generations, positions of authority, and even those between humans and animals. During the course of the novel, various questions surrounding power in interpersonal relations are raised, and by the conclusion of Disgrace, Coetzee leaves us with profound thoughts and suggestions on which to dwell. In just about every relationship in Disgrace, the themes of dominance and power are present, albeit to varying degrees. There are four main relationships to which the subject of power is central: those between Lucy and Petrus, the rapists, and her father, and that between Melanie and David.

Analysing these relationships with reference to Hegel’s view of “history being determined by a cycle of domination and counter-domination in which individuals who strive to fulfil their need for recognition are entrapped” (Marais 2008:35) greatly enhances the understanding of power and its context within the various relationships in Disgrace, especially with regard to Lucy’s decisions after her rape, and to Lucy’s relationship with Petrus.

Early on in the novel, we are introduced to the relationship between David and Melanie. Being in a position of authority, that is, being Melanie’s lecturer, David has been entrusted with a certain degree of power. David abuses this power by using it to develop a sexual relationship between himself and Melanie. From the moment he first approaches Melanie whilst…...

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