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A Post-colonial Analysis of Cultural Identity Crisis in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace

Author WangZuo
Tutor PanShouWen
School Jilin University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Post-colonialism Disgrace Cultural Identity Crisis ApartheidPost-colonialism Apartheid
CLC
Type Master's thesis
Year 2012
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The so-called cultural identity refers to a kind of judgment of the cultural value.That is to say groups or members in a certain culture recognize the new elements intheir culture or the different elements outside their culture as the one coincident withtheir traditional cultural values. After the disappearance of the apartheid policy, agreat change happened in the culture of South Africa. Therefore, the ending ofcolonial rule in South Africa led to a series of cultural identity crisis. The whitecolonizer, the descendant of white colonizer grown up in South Africa the black, andblack have all shown exclusion or disaffection towards the new culture. Coetzee madea precise description of the cultural identity crisis in the new South Africa in Disgraceby describing the characters’ psychology and behaviors in the novel.The main problem for the paper to study is which kinds of cultural identity crisiscaused by the end of the colonialism in the new South Africa in novel Disgrace. In thefirst place, the paper revealed the white cultural identity crisis by analyzing theprotagonist Lurie’s morality spiting, the obscuring in his languages and his socialidentity’s change. Second, the black cultural identity crisis was revealed by analyzingthe inner hatred of Petrus, his change from “slaves” to the “masters” and hiscontradictions with Lurie. Thirdly, by analyzing the perplexities in Lucy’s heart, herdisgust of white identity and her compromise to the black culture, the paperperformed cultural identity crisis the “otherness” experienced in the process from theuncertainty of their value to so-called deterministic. This paper argues that in SouthAfrica, colonial rule and apartheid has been smashed, but the cultural identity crisislike a shadow are still existing between the black and the white. The racial superiorityawareness and the self-defense tendency of whites, the inferiority consciousness andthe resist tendency of the blacks are deeply rooted in the culture of their nation.Taking into account the special historical background of South Africa, the only way toresolve the crisis is the cooperation and coexistence between the two races. After the disappearance of the apartheid policy, a great change happened in theculture of South Africa. The white colonizer, the black, and the descendant of whitecolonizer grown up in South Africa have all shown exclusion or disaffection towardsthe new culture. Therefore, the ending of colonial rule in South Africa led to a seriesof cultural identity crisis. The so-called cultural identity refers to a kind of judgmentof the cultural value. That is to say groups or members in a certain culture recognizethe new elements in their culture or the different elements outside their culture as theone coincident with their traditional cultural values.Coetzee, a famous contemporary writer in South Africa, got the Nobel Prize forLiterature in2003. Coetzee made a precise description of the cultural identity crisis inthe new South Africa in Disgrace by describing the characters’ psychology andbehaviors in the novel. The main problem for the paper to study is which kinds ofcultural identity crisis caused by the end of the colonialism in the new South Africa innovel Disgrace. Coetzee is a prolific writer. The novel he created has beautifulwriting ideas, brilliant text organizations and profound. In addition, Coetzee’s writingstyles of criticizing the rationalism and pseudo-morality of Western civilization arealso sharp and penetrating. His several novels depicted the human nature under manymasks accurately. In the human’s history of against the barbaric and ignorance,Coetzee expressed the firm support for the vulnerable experience of individuals’struggle through writing. Disgrace is a metaphor of a new chaotic society in SouthAfrica, which made a wise and profound study on the issues South Africa’s identityand culture after apartheid policy was lifted in South Africa. His novel Disgrace wonthe Booker Prize in1999. According to the novel’s accurate and subtle narrative,Disgrace became a milestone of his creation in a sense---Coetzee is the first man won the Booker Prize for twice.South Africa became a British dominion in May1910. The British named SouthAfrica as the Union of South Africa. On May31,1961, South Africa withdrew fromthe British Commonwealth and the established the Republic of South Africa. In1948,the KMT made full implementation of the apartheid regime to suppress the resistancestruggle from the people of South Africa. In1989, de Klerk, the new leader of KMT,made the implementation of political reforms, and to cancel the ban on blackliberation organization. After independence of South Africa, the apartheid system wasabolished in this land. Therefore, the cultural system gradually of which the white hasbeen taken proud had lost the advantage of its existence. The status’s advantage of thewhite settlers as a master has gradual disappeared. The inner world of the white feltinto the unprecedented fear and confusion. Under the prosperous surface of the whiteculture is the loss of morality, the changes of the identity and the collapse of theWestern civilization. At the same time, the black culture felt into the mud algae ofrevenge. After independence of South Africa, with the abolition of the system ofapartheid, blacks got independence and freedom and enjoyed equal human rights astheir former white masters. However, black culture was not led to the right path withthe nation’s independence. The crimes committed by white settlers on this land in thehistory were indelible. It is also difficult for the black to accept the coexistence withthe white. Therefore, and the racial inferiority and resist tendencies of the black didnot disappear with the collapse of the apartheid regime. Revenge tendency of theblack culture is serious. The racial conflicts were unprecedented sharp. In addition,the descendants of white settlers who were born and grew up in the land of SouthAfrica went into the realm of dilemma. On one hand, they grew up in South Africa,who was the beneficiaries and the successor of the South African culture. But theywere well aware of the crimes committed by their ancestors in this land, and alsoaware of it is difficult to be accepted by the local black. On the other hand, they arefar away from European continent and the Western civilization. In Europe, it is stilldifficult for the local whites to accept them. Therefore, the South Africa, there hasbeen a group of marginal people group living in the middle of both black and white culture but was exclusive by both the two. This kind of marginal people are called as“otherness”. The culture of “otherness” was also felt into crisis after the end of theapartheid.The cultural identity crisis brought about in new South Africa after thedisappearance of the apartheid can be studied in three aspects in this paper.At the first place, the white cultural identity crisis. This crisis is mainly reflectedin the falling of social moral standard, the collapse of Western civilization and thechange of the white’s social identity. At the alternate point of the old and the new era,the whites lost their own master status, the traditional European languages lost itsreproductive capacity, the white color and the corresponding cultural systems lost theadvantage of its existence. The protagonist Lurie in Coetzee’s novel Disgrace is atypical white people at the turning point of the old and the new era. The culturalidentity crisis led to the split of his morality. As a university professor, he became aclient. And even because of an improper relationship with his student he was expelledfrom the collage. As the pet of the Western culture, Lurie proficient a variety ofEuropean languages. However, with the independence of South Africa, he had to giveup his linguistics courses and turn to teach other courses. As a white settler, Lurie hisowner status also disappeared with the disappearance of the apartheid regime. He wasangry all day because he enjoyed the same treatment as his former black slave. Heindulged in memories of the past and could not accept the reality. But he can not finda solution. Therefore, he split into a deep confusion and pain.Secondly, the black cultural identity crisis. This crisis is mainly reflected on thechanges of the black’s social status and the contradictions with the white culture. Afterthe independence of the South Africa, although the black got the equal social status asthe white people, the black’s hostility and resistance towards the white did notdisappear with the independence of the race. On the contrary, the contradictionsbetween the black and white are unusually sharp, the racial problems areunprecedented serious. Petrus is the representative of the black in the novel Disgrace.This character reflected the living conditions of black people after the independenceof South Africa. Compared to Lurie’s weakness and incompetent, Petrus is a determined and brave man. However, under his brave and determined appearance,there is a heart full of hatred. The black suffered the unequal treatment and oppressionboth physical and psychological in the old South Africa in where full of racialsegregation. After the independence of South African, Petrus gained the equal socialstatus as Lurie. But instead of accepting the white, he thought about revenging the sinthe white implemented in the old days. Therefore he remained indifferent in face ofthe rape scene of Lucy, ignoring Lucy’s call for help. He married a white man’sdaughter, Lucy, which is only to obsess with his father’s farm, to recover the land oftheir ancestors.Thirdly, the “otherness” cultural identity crisis, and the desire for racialcoexistence the author wanted to express. The so-called “otherness” refers to a specialgroup of white growth in South Africa and did never return to their Europeanmotherland. They know they are Europeans but did not know of the European culture.They are familiar with the culture of South Africa, but also know that they are not thereal South Africans. They live between two cultures, but do not belong to any of them.They are a group marginalized people in the society. These special kinds of people arecreated by the South Africa’s special history. With the racial independence, SouthAfrica gave rise to this kind of people living between the black and white cultures.Sustained by the two cultures, they are hard to be accepted by any kind of them.These people are the descendants of white settlers living in South Africa. Lucy is arepresentative of them. She is strong and independent. This kind of independence isnot only reflected in economy, but also reflected in terms of ideology. Lucy’sindependence also means that woman’s resistance and subversion in man’s rightsociety. She did not indulge herself like her father, did not lost in spirit like her father.Facing with the change of her social status, she was brave. Facing with life, she wasstill optimistic. Coetzee also expressed the desire of the coexistence between thewhite and the black through the character of Lucy.This paper analyzed three kinds of cultural identity crisis in the novel. In the firstplace, the paper revealed the white cultural identity crisis by analyzing the protagonistLurie’s morality spiting, the obscuring in his languages and his social identity’s change. Second, the black cultural identity crisis was revealed by analyzing the innerhatred of Petrus, his change from “slaves” to the “masters” and his contradictions withLurie. Thirdly, by analyzing the perplexities in Lucy’s heart, her disgust of whiteidentity and her compromise to the black culture, the paper performed culturalidentity crisis the “otherness” experienced in the process from the uncertainty of theirvalue to so-called deterministic.Although the apartheid system has disappeared in South Africa, but this thecontradicted and defensive condition between the black and the white has still existed.On the contrary, it caused a series of cultural identity crisis: the white cultural identitycrisis, the black cultural identity crisis and the “otherness” cultural identity crisis.These all can be found in the characters in the novel. Finally, Lurie and Lucy findtheir own way to get rid of this kind of crisis, though the ways they found are totallydifferent. However, the problems that exist in the reality of South African society donot as easy as easy as in the fiction world of the novel. In any case, Coetzee expressedhis hope for the South African future through writing this novel. That is the racialcoexistence between the black and the white. This paper argues that in South Africa,colonial rule and apartheid has been smashed, but the cultural identity crisis like ashadow are still existing between the black and the white. The racial superiorityawareness and the self-defense tendency of whites, the inferiority consciousness andthe resist tendency of the blacks are deeply rooted in the culture of their nation.Taking into account the special historical background of South Africa, the only way toresolve the crisis is the cooperation and coexistence between the two races.

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