Disgrace | Study Guide

J.M. Coetzee

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Disgrace | Chapter 5 | Summary



On Monday, David Lurie finds a notice in his mailbox that Melanie Isaacs has withdrawn from his class. Her father calls him and asks him to convince Melanie not to drop out of school. David is hesitant but calls Melanie, who refuses to speak to him. On Friday Melanie's father comes to the school and confronts David about sleeping with Melanie. David walks away from him.

The next day, Saturday, David is summoned to the vice-rector's office to discuss the sexual harassment complaint Melanie has filed. David imagines Melanie is incapable of filing the complaint herself. Instead he fantasizes that Melanie was forced to so by her father and her roommate.

That afternoon, David meets with Vice-Rector Aram Hakim; his department chair, Elaine Winter; and the chair of the university's discrimination committee, Farodia Rassool. Elaine Winter says they are investigating the harassment complaint as well as the apparent discrepancy in Melanie's grades and attendance. David says he has no defense. Hakim, obviously sympathetic to David, explains that there will be a hearing in which a committee makes a recommendation to the rector regarding if and how David should be disciplined.

David realizes the whole university is abuzz with gossip about him. When he calls his lawyer, the lawyer suggests he agree to counseling in exchange for Melanie dropping the charge. This suggestion offends David. Meanwhile, on campus, it is Rape Awareness Week. The student organization Women Against Rape puts a pamphlet under David's door bearing the handwritten threat, "Your days are over, Casanova."

David discusses the situation with his second ex-wife, Rosalind. She tells him she has no sympathy and finds the entire situation "disgraceful." David tells her he plans to visit his daughter, Lucy. Rosalind alerts David the following day that there is a story, with sensationalized and inaccurate details, about his situation in the newspaper.


In the previous chapter David became associated with Lucifer through his lecture on the Lord Byron poem Lara. Coetzee does not portray David as an evil character but as one whose flawed thinking, rebellious pride, and lack of self-understanding lead him to commit crimes. In this chapter, as the crime of his sexual relationship with Melanie Isaacs becomes public knowledge, David becomes disgraced in the eyes of everyone from his ex-wife to the local newspaper.

In addition to this outward or public disgrace, Mr. Isaacs's words to David evoke disgrace in its spiritual or religious aspect. Melanie's father implies that David has fallen out of God's favor, an aspect of disgrace that affects one's soul rather than his reputation. David's assessment of himself as a "disgraced disciple of William Wordsworth" suggests that he is aware of his spiritual disgrace. However, the chapter's closing lines, an excerpt from Wordsworth's Prelude, suggest David's ambivalence or uncertainty. Some part of him still identifies with the innocent, and blessed, character from the epic poem.

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