“A pause. ‘Why aren’t you telling the whole story, Lucy?’
‘I have told the whole story. The whole story is what I have told’” (Coetzee 108).
After leaving his teaching position, David has gone to stay with his daughter Lucy on her farm. An incident occured wherein three black men robbed them, shot the dogs she was looking after, and at least one of them raped Lucy. Having spoken to the police, Lucy omitted that last detail, and David wants to know why. Lucy says that “in this place, at this time” (post-Apartheid South Africa) she does not feel she should come forward, and that it is only her business (109).
I chose this conversation to talk about because it held similarities to David’s inquiry. He quickly pleaded guilty, not wishing to dwell on it, and grew annoyed when he was being asked to be more specific and to show remorse. He explained why he slept with his student, but as Farodia Rassool said, “yes, he says, he is guilty; but when we try to get specificity, all of a sudden it is not abuse of a young woman he is confessing to, just an impulse he could not resist” (50-51). He had this power over Melanie that undoubtedly factored into her decisions, but that’s something he hasn’t fully registered. David still doesn’t accept what he did, and that is why he was remaining figuratively silent.
Meanwhile, Lucy has more than accepted what happened to her. It was not an action that she took, like with David, but something out of her control. It was traumatic and frightening, and she does not have the luxury of ignoring that. But the difference between her and her father is that David was holding back for the sake of himself, and Lucy was holding back for the sake of others. She recognized that, even as a victim, she had some element of power over the attackers. To be clear, by ‘power’ I am not saying that she should have been able to physically stop them, or that she in any way deserved what happened because of said power. I am acknowledging that, as a white woman, it would have been very easy for her words and the assault to justify violence against those men because of their race and the situation of their country.
She was not just taking into account the general climate either. When she realized that Petrus knew at least one of the intruders, she was even more adamant that nothing should be said. She felt the police shouldn’t be contacted because, “everything will be destroyed for him” (129). She knew that speaking up was going to hurt this man and his family; neighbors and, in a sense, coworkers. His recent land transfer, too, might have been called into question. Again, to clarify, I’m not saying that excuses what happened, especially not if Petrus is revealed to have had an active role in this. I think it’s worth noting, though, this distinction between silence to protect oneself and silence to protect others. How David choses to use his power versus how Lucy does. I’m not saying it’s right that Lucy should remain silent, rather that she might be more mature than her father in that she is considering the implications this horrible event has for everyone involved.
How might utilitarianism and the greatest happiness principle come into play in this situation? Is it truly just if the needs of the many involves suffering on the part of an individual?
Class discussion and impact:
My contributions: Again I spoke quite a bit. Other than sharing my QCQ, I mentioned how in David’s inquiry he was trying to use an explanation of impulse. I connected my QCQ to the #MeToo movement in terms of women being hesitant to come forward before, mentioned the implications of race in the incident with Lucy. I talked about potential bias that victims run up against, as well as a belief that David in the hypothetical situation of being assaulted might not have wanted to come forward due to emasculation or shame. Finally, I expressed my optimism about Petrus but lack of clarity as to why he would act against Lucy, as well as noting that harmful messages for men are everywhere.
Others’ contributions: Koren brought up her QCQ and frustration with David’s ideas about attractiveness, and how David constantly thinks about being wrong but does nothing about it. Jill also noted the expectations that society has of women. And Sinead brought up how David’s thoughts on what happened with Melanie are different from how he sees what happened to Lucy, and that she has the right to take time and process the event without immediately coming forward.
I knew going in that we were going to run up against some difficult topics, but I appreciate that we were able to have a mature conversation. I like the connections to Mill and Machiavelli in terms of the greatest happiness and autonomy, as it drew all our readings together. I am a bit nervous to move forward in the novel, but I feel safe with this class and feel like we will be able to have more constructive conversations.