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Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Monika Siebert


For David Lurie, a scholar of romantic literature and professor of English, the intersections between language and reality became blurred when as a child he read about rape for the first time. The aging protagonist of J.M. Coetzee’s 1999 novel Disgrace remembers “poring over the word rape in newspaper reports, trying to puzzle out what exactly it meant, wondering what the letter p, usually so gentle, was doing in the middle of a word held in such horror that no one would utter it aloud” (160). The word ‘rape’ and the experience of reading it becomes tied to the word’s meaning in several ways. He notes that the word is often printed in newspapers, although it is never spoken aloud. He remembers that he independently learned the meaning of the word through his own reading rather than through experience or instruction from adults. And he associates the gentleness of the sound ‘p’ with the violence of rape. Young Lurie’s first introduction to the reality of sexual assault is mediated through language: print, speech, and sound. Before he understands the meaning and gravity of rape, it is already a linguistic artifact in his mind. Lurie grows up perceiving reality through artifacts of language that he himself creates, maintains, and enforces; this first encounter with rape and its linguistic counterpart predetermines his attitude toward sexual assault. By the time he reaches middle age, Lurie’s tendency to fixate on language moves beyond the scope of his profession and dictates the structures of his relationships. Because Lurie considers himself an expert in the English language — both artistic and utilitarian — he imposes his linguistic prowess on others, forcing them to translate reality into his particular brand of articulation. Set in newly post-Apartheid South Africa, Disgrace explores how Lurie’s changing attitude toward language changes the way he digests reality and comes to bear on linguistic, gender, and racial issues in South Africa.

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