Resistance to Change

All right, I’ll do it. But only as long as I don’t have to become a better person. I am not prepared to be reformed. I want to go on being myself. I’ll do it on that basis. . .  Understood?

In Chapter Nine, as David grows restless with the slowness of his life on the farm, Lucy suggests he volunteer with Bev Shaw at the Animal Welfare League. David agrees, but given his great resistance to change, determines to make his motives clear to Lucy. He tells Lucy he will volunteer at the clinic because he needs something to fill his time, and to appease her, but not for the altruistic reasons that she and Bev volunteer. David likely sees the potential of becoming a better person through his service at the clinic as a slippery slope: If volunteering there leads him to gain sympathy and compassion for animals, then what’s next? It’s possible David knows this type of growth would force him to fully examine himself and his past actions, including his affair with Melanie, something he’s resisted to this point. 

How brief the summer, before the autumn and then the winter!

 This passage occurs at the conclusion of Chapter Ten, as David reads Byron’s letters of 1820 and considers the poet in Ravenna, Italy, alongside his mistress, Teresa. David envisions Byron, now overweight and middle-aged, lamenting how his later years have brought a diminishment of desire and passion. The vision, and David’s ensuing thoughts, mirrors his primary concern for his own life: that his younger days, represented as summer and summed up by his sexual potency and prowess, have passed far too quickly. It is David’s resistance to transitioning into the later seasons of his life and renouncing his womanizing ways, particularly with younger women, that ultimately propels him to his state of disgrace. 

I cannot be a child for ever. You cannot be a father for ever.

In Chapter Eighteen, Lucy writes a scathing letter to David, scolding him for his failure to listen to her and respect her decisions, and his inability to see that their relationship has changed. Although David insists that Lucy report her rape, leave the farm, and start fresh someplace new, Lucy has resolved to stay and fight. “[I]f I leave the farm now I will leave defeated, and will taste that defeat for the rest of my life,” Lucy writes. Although David at times sees Lucy as an adult, his desire to dictate what she should do with her life shows he still has more to learn. For David, acknowledging Lucy as a wholly independent adult means acknowledging he has entered the later seasons of his life, a realization that doesn’t crystallize until he contemplates her pregnancy and the continuum of life at the end of Chapter Twenty-Four. 

The Exploitation and Subjugation of Women

But they own No. 113 and other flats in Winsor Mansions; in a sense, they own Soraya too, this part of her, this function.

This passage from the beginning of Chapter One comes from the novel’ third-person narrator but reflects David’s thoughts during his weekly rendezvous in flat 113 with a prostitute named Soraya. David is aware of the realities of prostitution, that it commoditizes and exploits women, and that Soraya, in part, is the property of Discreet Escorts. Nevertheless, he seems to have no qualms about soliciting Soraya’s services and supporting the business. His perception of Soraya, and the many “whores” he’s had sex with over the years, as an object to satisfy his sexual needs, later informs his perception and pursual of his student, Melanie.

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, with no mention of the pain he has caused, no mention of the long history of exploitation of which this is a part.

In Chapter Six, after Melanie lodges her complaint against David with the Vice-Rector’s office, David finds himself before a committee of his peers who will soon decide his fate. Throughout the hearing, David is combative and defiant. He offers only a hollow apology and ultimately says that Eros, the Greek god of love, is responsible for the sexual affair. Although the men in the committee, including Dean of Engineering Desmond Swarts, attempt to help David and even excuse what Desmond calls “weak moments,” the committee’s women press David to acknowledge his actions. Here, Social Studies professor Farodia Rassool determines to make David see that his act wasn’t an isolated incident, and simply about following desires. Instead, Farodia views the affair within a larger tapestry of abuse, exploitation, and sexism against women. David, she says, like many men before him, used his age, gender, and position of power to take advantage of his young female student.

Not slavery. Subjection. Subjugation.

Lucy’s insights, which she shares with David in a heated exchange in Chapter Eighteen, reveal the motivations of the three men who raped her. Lucy knows that the attack wasn’t about sex, and she disagrees with David that it was purely racially motivated. Instead, she tells David that the rape, and likely other rapes committed by the same three men, was meant to show Lucy that she was their property and is now under their control. Lucy adds that her rape was also motivated by hatred, and tells David, that as a man, he understands how this same hatred likely makes aggressive, domineering sex more exciting for men. Lucy’s words come as a revelation for David and force him to consider if he can truly empathize with this type of situation.

Compassion and Empathy for Animals

This is the only life there is. Which we share with animals. That’s the example that people like Bev try to set. That’s the example I try to follow. To share some of our human privilege with the beasts. I don’t want to come back in another existence as a dog or a pig and have to live as dogs or pigs live under us.


In Chapter Eight, after David visits the Animal Welfare League for the first time, he and Lucy discuss the plight of animals in South Africa, which Lucy admits are nowhere on the list of the country’s priorities. Despite Lucy’s concern for animals, and her desire to help Bev at the clinic, David shows disdain for their cause, even making a distasteful joke about animal-welfare advocates. The insult leads Lucy to challenge David, and his belief that she should be living “a higher life.” Lucy says she’s already living a good life, and that this includes treating animals with compassion and respect. Her ability to conceive of another existence, one where she trades places with animals, shows her sense of empathy and desire not to exert power over and subjugate others, in this case animals, even though they may be seen as having a lower status.

They are part of the furniture, part of the alarm system. They do us the honour of treating us like gods, and we respond by treating them like things.


As Lucy and David discuss the abandoned bulldog Katy in Chapter Nine, Lucy shares more of her feelings regarding animal welfare and the great imbalance between how dogs and humans treat one other. Again, Lucy shows an understanding and empathy that David has yet to discover, but soon will based both on his own state of disgrace and service at the Animal Welfare League. After descending from a university professor to “the dog-man” at the animal clinic, David’s sense of compassion and empathy grows. Soon, he concentrates on giving dogs love as they’re euthanized and goes out of his way to load their corpses into an incinerator himself to help preserve the dogs’ dignity.

Sheep do not own themselves, do not own their lives. They exist to be used, every last ounce of them, their flesh to be eaten, their bones to be crushed and fed to poultry.

In this passage from Chapter Fifteen, the novel’s third-person narrator again provides a window into David’s thoughts, likely shaped by larger societal realities and perceptions, as he contemplates two sheep that Petrus will soon slay for his party. Although David insists to Lucy that he hasn’t changed his way of thinking regarding animals, “in this case I am disturbed [and] I can’t say why,” he says before untethering the sheep so they can temporarily roam free. This action could be because David feels disturbed because the tethered sheep, who will soon be sacrificed, remind him of Lucy, trapped and powerless during her rape. Then again, David’s decision could be because the sheep’s final days and impending death remind him of his own passage into the later seasons of his life and his own inevitable ending. Either way, it seems that Bev and Lucy’s examples of kindness, compassion, and empathy have influenced David, who, despite his resistance, shows he’s capable of self-growth.