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Analysis of Disgrace by J. M. Coatzee and Harvard Square by André Aciman


Disgrace by J. M. Coatzee Assignment # 1 

  1. Disgrace by J. M. Coatzee – options to write a paper or to present (your choice). Presentations may be power points, story boards, or any imaginative and creative format you choose for 6-8 minutes. If you opt to work with a partner, you should both agree on the format. The novel ostensibly is about a professor’s abuse of his position and white privilege, yet profoundly underscores the changing circumstances of South Africa and the difficulties of readjustment.
  2. Black and white relationships in Disgrace cross lines from the personal to the political. Examine and evaluate the way South African politics impacts the personal relationships for Professor Lurie and his daughter.
  3. The film and the novel highlight and emphasize different ways of seeing the same work. Identify at least three key ways the genres demonstrate unique ways of seeing similar content and cite specific examples. Assess what each adds to understanding the work and the way each enhances the story. What, if anything, do you find missing from each format? Conclude by offering your view of the genre that left the greatest impact and explain why.
  4. Abusive relationships are at the core of the Coetzee novel, whether men and their abuse of women, individuals and their abuse of animals, and men and their abuse of other men. What does Coatzee want to convey to the reader about the nature of abuse and violence in relationships? How does he see both as emblematic of South Africa?
  5. As an English professor, Lurie, who is the protagonist but not the narrator, often alludes to other works of literature. One of his favorites is a Romantic poet Byron on whom Lurie wants to write a major critical study. Unfortunately, he never quite gets it done; instead, his “life” becomes his narrative. Starting with his affinity for Byron, what other literary allusions are cited and what purpose and impact do they have on him? Are the allusions merely empty and hollow suggesting his life lacks meaning or do they hold far greater significance? Who narrates the novel? Argue persuasively.
  6. David Lurie as a 50ish disgraced professor/scholar who leads a “passionless” life hides out with his daughter Lucy who may be seen as a “mother” figure to him. What demonstrates this shift in the novel when he heads to his daughter’s place in chapter seven?  How does Lucy serve as the wise adult to David’s childlike indulgences?
  7. What role do animals play in Coatzee’s novel? What do they reveal about the natural world order? How do they help the reader to distinguish between acts of violence perpetuated by men versus animals? What is that distinction?
  8. Provide the historical context for this novel. Given that Coatzee was born, raised, and educated in South Africa and the United States, what attitudes towards his country of origin are shaped by the two different countries?  What can each country learn about race from the other? Be specific and use the novel to illustrate and support your position.
  9. The title of the Coatzee novel Disgrace is a word that operates numerous ways in the story. On the surface, one easily associates the word with the actions of a professor disgraced, but in reality, the word has a ripple effect and a much deeper meaning on several levels. Evaluate the way characters and society or societies partake in “disgrace.” Discuss the implications of this term, its impact, and the appropriateness of Coatzee using it for the title of his novel.
  10. The idea of making up for “wrongs of the past” is conveyed in personal terms through the events of Professor Lurie’s life and his daughter Lucy’s circumstances. This concept, however, takes on even greater significance when seen in light of black vs. white conflicts that play out in the novel. Discuss the significance of this concept for the novel, for the nations, and for our world today.
  11. Professor David Lurie may be described as a character whose “fall from grace” is a rapid and deep descent. Others may claim that he “needed” to fall to be saved and his life becomes more authentic as a result. Still, another view may hold that all David Lurie represents is the symbolic fall of western culture long overdue. Examine the novel and arrive at your own determination about the change in David Lurie’s circumstances. Argue your position convincingly and use passages and events in the novel to support it.

Harvard Square by André Aciman Assignment # 2 

  1. Harvard Square by André Aciman – options to write a paper or to give a presentation on the novel via storyboards, power points or some other creative vehicle that reveals and addresses one of the topic areas below. This novel has a first person narrator who remains unnamed throughout it. His “friendship” with Kalaj is one that is unexpected and surprising. They are “poster figures” for the expression “opposites attract.” In other respects, they find common ground that often leaves the reader feeling the ground has shifted or even slipped underneath.  Significantly, the reader is locked into the minds of at least one of the two characters, and possibly both.
  2.  An unnamed graduate student narrator struggles to get his Ph.D. at Harvard when he encounters a charismatic and charming streetwise Kalaj. These very different characters bond over the summer and find surprising common ground. Examine the relationship between these two figures. What benefits do they offer each other? What happens to their friendship?
  3. Games occupy a major place in the story, from backgammon to penny poker. Why are games and game playing a crucial metaphor for understanding the nature of both the narrator and Kalaj and their world views?
  4. Food occupies more than “just eating” in the novel. It represents survival, travel, socialization, and more. Account for the significance of this image in the novel and its underlying purpose. Think in broad terms (restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, clubs, bars, etc.) as well as “cooking” at home.
  5. Language is crucial to both the narrator and to Kalaj. Kalaj uses language to command attention and to be the center of attention. The narrator studies literature for his exams yet envies Kalaj’s ability to use language to manipulate him. Kalaj relies on favorite terms (ex. ersatz, Monsieur Zeb, etc.) that reveal a dramatic flair and demonstrate his uniqueness. How do the ways both characters relate to language reveal the nature of their bond and their uniqueness as individuals?
  6. Both the narrator and Kalaj have “difficulty” with women. Examine the way each character relates to women and their attitudes toward women. How are their viewpoints about women similar and different?  What does each want from women? Discuss specific women as examples for each one.
  7. The narrator and Kalaj are immigrants who experience America very differently, yet they find commonalities. Examine the way the immigrant experience is crucial to the lives of the narrator and Kalaj and the way it impacts their relationship. Why is immigration important for the university system?
  8. Harvard is an elite institution, but the presentation of the academic world of Harvard and its environs comes across as not too desirable during a long hot summer. Examine in-depth both the positive and the negative portrayals of the university. After finishing the novel, has your impression of the institution changed and if so, how?
  9. Movies occupy a “talking” point in the novel.  While allusions to movie are not as numerous as other allusions, they do occur to make a point. Cite several examples of films mentioned and explain their significance and what they contribute to the novel.
  10. Is Kalaj a doppelgänger for the narrator? Argue either for or against the doppelgänger concept in this novel. Make sure to cite specific examples to illustrate and enhance your position.
  11. The idea of the exotic foreigner is toyed with in Harvard Square with the narrator’s and Kalaj’s backgrounds. Both characters are portrayed as traveled widely and as “worldly” wise men who hail from the same region in the world. One may even contend that they were fated to meet. How does fate play and “toy” with both their lives?

Last Updated on April 19, 2021

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