All throughout Disgrace, animals are referenced sometimes as literary devices such as analogies and sometimes as the actual living breathing animal being present in the text. The animals that seem to be used for literary purposes tend to be wild animals whereas animals that are actually present in the text are more domesticated animals. In the beginning of the novel, David refers to himself as a snake and a predator in the wild, animals that are notorious for being ruthless and victimizing less powerful, smaller animals. As the book progresses, we see David and other characters interacting more with animals that have been domesticated such as the dogs and interacting with them rather than referencing them as an abstract idea.
A parallel could be drawn between David and his actions towards the beginning of the book and the way predatory animals act. He stalks his prey,whether it be Soraya or Melanie, and wait for a moment when they are weak to attack and get what he desires from them. In these relationships, David has all the control and these women are helpless against his power and his dominating ways. Similarly to how a snake would sneak up on and eat his prey before the poor animal had any idea what was coming for it.
As the book progresses however and David begins to be reprimanded for his predatory and unacceptable behaviors, the way that animals are integrated into the text changes. The first time the reader sees David portray real empathy or compassion for anyone is when he takes over the task of incinerating the dogs. In this moment, we see David stoop down to the level of the dogs and treat them very humanely, not something David has often done with characters in the past. In dealing with these dogs, he sees parts of himself in Katy the bulldog and can try to value and respect their lives. Interacting with these animals opens David up to vulnerability and acceptance that we have not seen from him prior to this. Could animals be the key to opening David’s heart to become more humane?