Literary Devices in Disgrace

Disgrace is a novel by J.M Coetzee set in post apartheid South Africa with a political agenda. Since its publication, it has contributed to controversy both in emotional and political aspects of the society across the world. In part, the novel has been criticized for its seemingly racial sentiments while still maintaining support for painting an effortless picture of post apartheid South Africa. Most of the text revolves around David Lurie who suffers over an affair with a student resembling the disgrace that apartheid bestowed on the country. The writer is effective in the application of literary styles in communicating different themes and subjects. For instance, the use of symbolism, imagery and allegories is widely evidenced in the text. The use of literary devices such as symbolism contributes to the effective articulation of the theme as envisaged by the writer.

Perhaps the most used literary device is symbolism where the writer uses different personas and situations to represent real life scenarios. The dog, considered to be man’s best friend, is central to the unfolding of the story especially after the entry of David into the country. First, the dogs used in the plot become characters since they have names and personalities that are clearly recognizable. Despite the use of these dogs as man’s helper, they are not mere canines as applied in daily lives. Rather, the image of dogs is repeatedly used in the text to portray the novel’s interests in personal disgrace and social status (Coetzee, 2011). The use of dogs is thus employed to reflect the varying statuses that different people hold in society. For instance, Lucy asserts that she would not wish to come back in another life as a dog and be forced to live as dogs do. In this regard, the dogs cited by Lucy insinuate a lower level of social order that people abhor.

Still, the use of dogs is stretched to reflect changing dynamics in the social aspects of society. Petrus, for instance uses the symbol of dogs in two different instances to reflect his changing status. In one instance, he introduces himself to David as the dog-man to imply that he is an assistant to Lucy (Coetzee, 2011). Later on in the text, Petrus ascends the social order and does not want to be referred to as a dog-man again. This, he jokes about when in a party to symbolize his ascension in the social chain. David also uses the symbol of dogs to articulate his place in society at a more personal level. In similar aspect, dogs are used to characterize his status with an emphasis on his internal and personal tribulations and trials. As his star dims pushing him deeper into disgrace and shame, his character is described as that of a dog. At one time, his affair with a student is symbolized as a dog that has been beaten for following its sexual instincts.

Further afield, the connection between disgraced persons and dogs is explicitly mentioned in the text. David discusses the humiliation of events with Lucy by suggesting that he will start all over again with nothing just like a dog (Coetzee, 2011). The use of a dog to signify this status is used in line with the fact that dogs are helpless creatures that have no rights or sense of pride. In fact, David reverts to the personal care of dogs at a local clinic perhaps to symbolize his low life status. Towards the end of the novel, David attains personal attachment with a dog that suffers from a crippled leg. Later, he gives the dog up to Bev to be given a lethal injection thus saving the dog from a life that is even worse than death.



Coetzee, J. M. (2011). Disgrace. London: Vintage.

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