Choosing your literary essay topic on Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee is the first step to writing your literary analysis paper.

After reading the novel, you should be able to decide in which direction you’d like to take your paper.

Topics/ approaches (Focus on only one of the following, though some may overlap):


  1. Analyze one of the minor characters, such as Petrus. 

    Example:  Analyze not only the chosen characters’ personality but also what role  they played in advancing the overall theme of the novel.


  2. The protagonist’s conflict, the hurdles to be overcome, and how he resolves it.

    Examples: It  could be hope for change, both in South Africa and in David Lurie.  OR:  the disgrace David Lurie has suffered over the affair with a student and  how that matches the disgrace South Africa has suffered through  apartheid.

  3. The function of setting to reinforce theme and characterization. Example:  post-apartheid South Africa is a setting arguably more important than  anything else in the novel. Your outside sources would be a bit of  history concerning apartheid.The use of literary devices to communicate  theme: imagery, metaphor, symbolism, foreshadowing, irony


  4. Symbolism in the novel– Examples: Determine  if David Lurie represents the old, white authorities of South Africa,  while Lucy represents the new white people of South Africa.  OR:   Analyze what dogs symbolize in this story. Another example: What  is symbolized by the opera David Lurie is writing on Byron?


  5. Careful  examination of one or more central scenes and its/their crucial role in  plot development, resolution of conflict, and exposition of the theme.

    Example: Analyze  one or more scenes in which hope that change for the better is possible  through a character’s remorse and subsequent action, for example, the  scene in which David Lurie apologizes to the parents OR the scene in  which Lucy gets raped.

The possible issue to be addressed in introduction or conclusion:

Characteristics  that make the work typical (or atypical) of the period, the setting, or  the author that produced it. For this information, you must go to a  library database (you must read “How to Access Miami Dade Databases” if  you don’t know how) or a valid search site, such as Google Scholar  (there is often a fee for this one).

Do not open  or close with biographical material on the author. Biographical  material is important as it influences the author’s writing only and  should not be a focus of your paper.

Guidelines for Literary Essay

Be  aware that you will be writing about a novel, which in its broadest  sense is any extended fictional narrative almost always in prose, in  which the representation of character is often the focus. Good authors  use the elements of fiction, such as plot, theme, setting etc.  purposefully, with a very clear goal in mind. One of the paths to  literary analysis is to discover what the author’s purpose is with each  of his choices. Avoid the problem that many students have, which is to  hold the erroneous assumption that  simply retelling what happened in  detail is good enough (no, it is not). Plot summary is necessary, but  not the intended goal in a literary essay.


In addition to being written at college level, your essay must meet the following criteria.


  • Include an introduction with a clear thesis statement, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.


  • Use at least three quotes from the book.


  • When  citing your sources, use MLA style for literary essays. It is helpful  to keep your handbook open to the MLA tab as you write.


  • Minimum 850 words (more complex topics might require more)


  • Language: This is a composition class — your writing and grammar count.


  • Use  specific supporting details from the book and at least two from outside  sources.Go to the Miami Dade Databases (not Google) for your sources.

The following are not acceptable sources:


  • Class Lecture Notes
  • Textbooks
  • Study Guides (SparkNotes, Cliff Notes, BookRags etc.)
  • Wikipedia/ Encyclopedias
  • Dictionaries
  • Popular Magazines (PeopleGlamour etc.)
  • Popular information websites such as or
  • Personal Blogs

Why not? Because  for one, they are not original sources. Encyclopedias and textbooks are  useful to provide an overview or introduction to a topic for complete  beginners. These are meant to get you started on a subject. They are not  research documents.Wikipedia:  Many  instructors forbid reference to Wikipedia at all. Some professors do  allow its use, and the use of encyclopedias in general, but don’t do it.  It’s generally reliable for checking routine facts and extremely  specialized topics, but Wikipedia, actually all encyclopedias suffer  from the problem that they are not a primary sources. Wikipedia has the  added problem that although it is working on correcting errors, it still  has weak quality control. It is susceptible to deliberate sabotage,  vandalism, even censorship.  So don’t use it if you’re not familiar  enough with the subject matter to spot biases or errors, and don’t cite  it in any academic paper at all.

Required Procedures:


  • Read Disgrace by  J. M. Coetzee in its entirety before beginning your paper. Take notes  as you read. Mark some interesting passages and save necessary source  information (such as page numbers) for your in-text documentation and  your Works Cited list.
  • Think  about the topic and approach you chose located in the Topics and  Approaches page. Do not simply repeat or summarize the story.      
    • Write your well-constructed thesis, topic sentences, supporting details roughly before beginning.
  • Do  some research. It’s important to know a bit about apartheid and  post-apartheid South Africa before you begin the paper. Take notes and  save necessary source information for your Works Cited list.      
    • Use at least two outside sources from scholarly sites or journals.
    • Look at sample papers to refresh your memory concerning the format in Rules for Writers, 8th edition. 
    • Write a minimum 850-word (or more if necessary) for a good literary essay.
    • Use  formal language and the third person, avoiding personal anecdotes and  eliminating all references to yourself at all (I believe, in my opinion,  etc).
  • Revise,  edit, and proofread, proofread, proofread. It’s easy to make mistakes.  Correct them before you submit your paper.You may also use any of the  writing labs and centers in any MDC campus, where a tutor might help  you. There are some sites that help you catch grammar errors, such as  GrammarRater, but remember, they’re not human and don’t read for  content, so they miss things (often).

Remember: While you assemble your sources, keep your handbook open (or your online source handy). There are too many details to remember everything.


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