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Set in South Africa after apartheid, J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace is a story about white, middle-aged David Lurie, an adjunct professor of communications at Cape Technical College in Cape Town. The novel relentlessly catalogs the trauma of rape, and the violence underneath the supposed calm of post-apartheid South Africa. The novel plays on the theme of silence as a sym-bol of trauma. Since narratives about trauma are difficult to express, and language is never clear and distinct, Coetzee tries to present the larger issue of trauma by making us think about silence and the absence of speech. In this paper, it will be argued, that the interplay between silence and creativity are in fact attempts by the individual characters in the novel to make sense of the col-lective trauma of South Africa’s violent history.
The notion of silence opens up the beginning scenes of the book. “Silence …. Silence again” (p. 21). The novel is told through David’s limited perspective, and as Longmuir points out in an essay in The Explicator, this allows us to see the story unfold as David experiences it, even if it causes the reader to feel uncomfortable (p. 119-120). The theme of limitedness runs through-out the story. David’s limited perspective corroborates with the deeper collective trauma caused by the violence of racial segregation. The novel troubles the claim that trauma can really ever be resolved, and this is the reason why silence is such an important theme....