Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 2 | Summary



Following the end of his relationship with Soraya, David Lurie struggles to occupy himself in his solitude. One evening, he runs into Melanie Isaacs, a student in his Romantic poetry course, and persuades her to come to his house. He wonders if he is "prepared" to undertake something with Melanie. He is very attracted to her physically but knows that "they will have to meet again as teacher and pupil." He tries to talk to her about literature but fails to engage her. Despite this, she reluctantly accepts his invitation to stay for dinner though she remains uninterested. After dinner, David pours her a drink and invites her to spend the night, telling her she ought to do so because "a woman's beauty does not belong to her alone ... she has a duty to share it." Melanie's manner is ambivalent, and so David tries to woo her by quoting a Shakespeare sonnet: "From fairest creatures we desire increase ... that thereby beauty's rose might never die." Melanie leaves immediately, obviously turned off.


David's attempt to have sex with Melanie, from start to finish, is full of indicators that they have no real connection. The narrator describes David's feelings for Melanie as "mildly smitten," adding that "it is no great matter," as David feels this way about a student every semester. He is as unimpressed with her personality as she seems to be with his. However, David does not care if they don't connect since he only wants to use Melanie for sexual release.

There is a single moment when David considers the possible complications of having sex with a student. In that moment David asks himself whether he should pursue Melanie. However, he does not answer his own question. When he tells Melanie he wants her to do "something reckless" by sleeping with him, he uses the term reckless as an attempt to make sleeping with him seem more attractive, without having comprehended himself just how reckless crossing the teacher-student boundary will be.

With his quoting of Shakespeare and his insistence that Melanie has a duty to share her beauty with the world, it becomes clear that David's values are not aligned with a moral compass but rather with his poetic and aesthetic conceits. He sees neither Melanie nor himself clearly but only through the lens of some romantic ideal.

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