Language, Location, and Class

“The commentary alternates between Sotho and Xhosa, languages of which he understands not a word.”

Within Disgrace the issue of language is an interesting concept.  If one isn’t able to understand the language that is dominant in the country of which they are present are they then of a different class than other citizens living there?  Here in America, the answer is a resounding yes.  Take a look at standardized testing, entrance exams, common core curriculum and many other existing factors.  America is geared towards a form of English that is particularly “white-washed” that leads towards alienation of minorities.  When looking at Africa, I personally am not sure.  Perhaps this text puts this information in a light that is relevant to begin examining this if we were to discuss it in a classroom.

Beyond the issue of language, I’m also curious as to the issue of location.  While we move from Cape Town to Salem it’s interesting to note the cultural exchange that occurs and the increase in racial tensions from point A to point B.  While I’ve been making comparisons to America with these issues and realizing that is a problem with this text, it seems all too readily available for such comparisons when discussing different locations.  I would be interested to see if the novel would work as well in a different location or if Salem is the required course.

(Random Side Note) If you were to pair this book with an American text for a class, what would it be?  Is there something that works well here?




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One Response to Language, Location, and Class

  1. Anne Gulick says:

    Language politics in South Africa (as well as Africa as a whole) are certainly different from U.S. language politics in many major respects. Most South Africans do speak at least two languages if not more; it’s not uncommon for white South Africans to speak at least a little Zulu or Sotho or Xhosa (depending on where they live). But it’s really a multilingual society and not everyone speaks everyone else’s language. I’d love to get a better sense of what significance you see multilingualism playing in Coetzee’s text.
    Re location: the shift from city to country is crucial in Disgrace. Krog’s text gives some indication of what the stakes of the rural, and the farm, are in the country, but we can talk more about that today in class.
    One U.S. novel that I think serves as a powerful paratext for Disgrace is Morrison’s Beloved.


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