Summary: Disgrace Literary Essay: Symbolism in Dogs

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In this novel Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, we see the symbolism of dog and man many times throughout this novel. The disgrace that David feels for the different kinds of dogs he has cared for from volunteering in the animal clinic, is the same disgrace he has longed to get away from. The comparisons of dog’s and David when he puts them to sleep is the disgrace, he wants to take away from himself. He aligns himself with these animals for conforming to their sexual instincts that he always gravitates towards.

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This novel Disgrace takes place in Cape Town, South Africa a long time after the ending of the Apartheid. David is a professor at a university in Cape Town where there is a large portion “white” South Africans. After David was involved in a mischievous scandal with one of his students, he is fired from his teaching position at the university. He proceeds to go to Salem, which is located in Eastern Cape to live with his daughter Lucy. The main protagonist David moves to a location that has unresolved racial segregation compared to where he has lived for so long in Cape Town.

Once David moves in with his daughter Lucy, dogs come in to play and are a lot more prevalent to the story and to David then people may realize. The dogs in this novel develop a bond with the characters and start to develop a crucial role and even become characters in this story. “Recent portrayals of canines have turned suggestively, if equivocally, from denigration toward signaling post-apartheid racial authenticity”. According to the animal likenesses article dogs are a powerful symbol in South Africa, they played a huge role in the colonial efforts of Africa, this show the human to dog relations and what a huge impact they had on the South African society. This being involved in the novel of Disgrace tells the meaning Coetzee had with animals especially dogs when writing the story, and he knew the impact it would have on the South African community.The social status of some of these characters change throughout the story especially with Petrus, who towards the beginning of the novel when David first met him, he introduced himself, “I look after the dogs. I am the Dog Man”. After the tragic incident with Lucy when she was raped by three black men and her dogs were murdered, after that Petrus had a party for the land transfer that completed. He also invited Lucy and David to this party, Petrus at the party says “No more dogs. I am not anymore the dog-man”. This was an offensive remark towards Lucy who was just traumatized by what happened to her and the murder of her animals. But by Petrus making this announcement towards David and Lucy you can see where the symbolism of dogs comes into place as well, where he means he will never be on the same level ever again in his life.

Coetzee refers to dogs as a form of the social statuses of characters and individuals in the novel and the degradation or disgrace of that some characters may invoke. For example, Lucy believes that humans find animals to be inferior in many ways and she then develops a conversation with her father David “I don’t want to come back in another existence as a dog or a pig live under us”. The author Coetzee shows that animals are inferior to humans in a huge way, and that they are here for their own desires, which in turn could be them conforming to their own sexual instincts. “We are a different order of creation from the animals” – David, David states this when having a conversation with Lucy during the same chapter; but David himself even follows these same basic instincts of any dog these desires that he conforms to that he can’t get away from.

According to the article “We are all souls” you can see the social transformation of Petrus and David when David takes over the job title of “Dog-Man” from Petrus. A social transformation that has taken over in post-apartheid that a white educated man that is searching for income is taking over the responsibilities of a simple farm worker. This brings the change of a new survey of the lives of the domesticated species a transformation in the novel that has taken place between humans and animals.

You can see in this novel that animals and humans are vulnerable creatures, David towards the end of the novel grows attached to a certain dog with a disabled leg in the clinic. For the novel finale David puts the dog to sleep after many times refusing to put the dog to rest. David more than once states that he rather be shot then to live a life where he could not follow his true nature. After selfishly keeping the dog alive he gave him a peaceful death valuing the dog’s dignity and even his soul letting go of the disgrace that David may have had; he gave up a part of himself that had an issue with sex. The dogs in the novel portray the dishonor that people have dealt with in their lives, the experience of values of this society.

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