Disgrace: Chapters 2-3

Summary – Chapter Two and Chapter Three
The week is described as ‘featureless as a desert’ without ‘the Thursday interludes’ and David spends more time in the university library reading about ‘the wider Byron circle’.
One Friday he stops to talk to one of his students, Melanie Isaacs, who is in his Romantics course. He invites her to his home for a drink and she agrees. She then stays for supper and they talk. She notices his books on Byron, for example, and he explains how he (Byron) went to Italy to escape a scandal and settled there. He asks her to stay and says that she has ‘a duty’ to share her beauty.
When he quotes the first lines of Sonnet 1 by William Shakespeare (‘From fairest creatures we desire increase, / that thereby beauty’s rose might never die’), her smile loses its ‘playful, mobile quality’ and he has become the teacher again. She leaves and turns down his offer of walking her home.
In Chapter Three, it is mentioned how this is where he (David) ought to end it but does not. He goes to the empty campus the next day and finds Melanie’s records. He rings her and asks her out to lunch. She has a little time to ‘wriggle out of it’, but she is too ‘confused’ and the moment passes.
During the meal he says he will not ‘let it go too far’ and later ‘he makes love to her’ on his living-room floor; she is described as being passive throughout. She leaves a few minutes later and he makes no effort to stop her.
She is not in his next class, and he rings for flowers to be sent to her. On Tuesday, it is raining and when he sees her at the university he gives her a lift in his car. He thinks how young she looks and that she is no more than a child, ‘yet his heart lurches with desire’. She does not answer when he asks when he will see her again.
The narrative shifts to Wednesday and Melanie is in her usual seat and they are studying Wordsworth, specifically Book Six of The Prelude. The class is unresponsive as David asks them what ‘usurp upon’ means. He then explains it means ‘intrude or encroach upon’.
The narrative then cuts to David in the auditorium of the student union. Except for a man ‘in a janitor’s uniform’, he is the only spectator of the rehearsal for Sunset at the Globe Station. It is described as ‘a comedy of the new South Africa’ and is set in a hairdressing salon. On stage, a hairdresser, who is ‘flamboyantly gay’, attends to two clients, one black and one white. Melanie plays the role of somebody who has come to the salon for a job.
He goes to her flat the next day without warning her and she is at first too surprised to resist. She says her cousin will be back soon, but nothing will stop him now and he carries her to her bedroom. She does not resist, but she ‘averts’ herself. We are told this is ‘not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core’.
She is not in class the following day. It is the day of the mid-term test and he marks her as present and gives her the provisional mark of 70. She stays away all of the next week and he rings her ‘time after time’ and gets no reply.
On Sunday, she appears at his home at midnight and asks if she can sleep there. He agrees and lets her sleep in his daughter’s old room. The next day (after sobbing) she asks if she can stay for a while. Although he thinks this is the last thing in the world he needs, he also finds the thought of it ‘intoxicating’. She promises she will come to class tomorrow and says she has missed the others because of the production. He thinks she is behaving badly, and ‘getting away with too much’, but he also knows that he has got away with more.
Analysis – Chapters Two and Three
David’s sexual relationship with Melanie is depicted in ambiguous terms in these chapters. This is particularly the case when he visits her flat and she is described as averting herself and the sexual act is referred to as ‘undesired’ on her part. By making this a morally ambiguous act, Coetzee leaves room for both the questioning of David’s abuse of power, and for a discussion on what constitutes rape. Although he is referred to as not raping her, we are invited to believe that his concern for his own pleasure takes precedence over what he thinks Melanie desires. It is also of note that the readers are never made privy to Melanie’s thoughts and, therefore, are only able to guess or suppose how she experiences her encounters with him.