The novel Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee reflects on a lot of important social and moral questions. The author depicts the most valuable issues and concerns through an interesting and contrast setting. Setting plays a role as a meaningful background for the characters’ actions, choices, thoughts, and behavior. The novel illustrates contrasting regions, where the protagonist lives, and that influences his life and outlook greatly. David experiences opposite realities in the city and the countryside, which provide him with fundamentally different set of rules to live in.
The novel illustrates South African Republic during the Post-Apartheid period. The author was born here, that is why, his native country appears to be the initial setting for most of his novels (Manhart 2). The novel demonstrates how the system of Apartheid contributes to the contemporary outlook of South African people. Racial segregation, humiliation, total control, and narrow-mindedness were the essential aspects of Apartheid ideology that lasted from 1948 to 1994. The author shows that such system has led to separateness experienced by the majority of Africans even after its failure. Despite being the full-fledged citizens of the country, the blacks lived separately from the whites in South Africa under Apartheid.
Disgrace uses Post-Apartheid period and Cape Town as crucially important setting, because it allows the readers to understand why David and other characters behave as they do. Cape Town as a setting is not an occasional city, because it was considered so-called “white” city in South Africa at the time of Apartheid. Importantly, that was the reason why the city demonstrates a higher level of development and cosmopolitan ideology in comparison with other African cities. The novel demonstrates “the relationship between setting and character as integral as between plot and character” (McDonald 280). David is a professor of the Cape Town University, so that he is considered a well-educated, intelligent, and reasonable man.
The setting, however, makes apparent and clear why the protagonist feels so desperate and pessimistic. David is not sure what kind of future he can live in Cape Town. He is a man with no illusions about life. No positive vision of own perspectives can be seen in the novel. Cape Town illustrates that it is almost impossible to hope for a better life after humiliating decades of racial segregation. The blacks do not have an incentive to transform own life, because they used to think they are not valuable citizens of Cape Town. The protagonist is a man of his fifty-two, who “solved the problem of sex rather well” (Coetzee 1) sleeping with a lot of women after divorce. David’s messy behavior, pessimistic thoughts, and irresponsible attitude to sex show that Apartheid managed to deprive the blacks of hope, cheer, and sincere love.
David is aware of his irresponsibility and consumerism regarding sex and interaction with other people. As the author describes the protagonist, “His sentiments are, he is aware, complacent, even uxorious” (Coetzee 2). David’s awareness confirms that Post-Apartheid Cape Town makes him lack the hope to be happy. As the researchers confirm, “what is missing in David is this sense that he is a person in a social world” (Bradshaw and Neil 3). A divorced man has nothing more than striving to gain as much pleasure as he can. Escort services have become the true reality for David and the only virtue he manages to have.
The Eastern Cape provides David with fundamentally different way of thinking behavior, and life finally. This setting shows how important the contrasting regions are to shows personal development, improvements, and transformations of the characters. Leaving Cape Town with Lucy and moving to Salem, David has not even imagined what kind of life he would get. Contrast to Cape Town, Salem illustrates the Eastern part of South Africa. It is not for the whites, but traditionally for the blacks. In Cape Town, David feels more comfortable and secure, because there are not so many racial tensions in this city. In contrast, Salem presents the examples of harsh oppressions and segregation of the black population.
Contrasting regions, presented in the novel, do not reflect on racial problems only. They are more likely to demonstrate the tensions between men and women. David’s relationships with women illustrate the aspects of oppression and submissive behavior that are similar to Apartheid ideology. Contrasting regions show how it is hard to get used to the new social rules and hierarchy existed in Eastern Cape. David feels that his life was much simpler and clear in Cape Town, than it is in Salem. As the author mentions, “Were this a chess game, he would say that Lucy has been outplayed on all fronts” (Coetzee 148). The relationships between David and Lucy reflects on the sharp dynamics and tension similar to a game.
In conclusion, the novel Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee presents an interesting approach to setting that helps the author reveal his theme and characters. South Africa in Post-Apartheid period is not an occasional setting, because the author was born in Cape Town. The novel’s setting makes possible to understand how African people cope with harsh Post-Apartheid ideology, full of racial segregation, inequality, tension, and anxiety. The author illustrates the contrasts in lifestyle and outlook between two African regions – Cape Town and Eastern Cape. The city and province differ in their attitude to racial problems. The protagonist of the book David goes through deep transformations in his attitude to life, women, and world view living in Cape Town and then moving to Eastern Cape. The setting makes the plot full of dynamics and tension between David and Lucy. Due to this literal element, the author manages to reveal the true reality of South African life and problems the region faces till today.