Disgrace: Theme Analysis

The process of ageing and of being made to feel redundant is a thought that is seen to run through David’s mind intermittently throughout the novel. This is a mark of his self-absorption, of course, as he is often seen to be more concerned with his own feelings than those of others.
It is perhaps a mark of his development, though, that as the narrative moves on he changes slightly in his perception of ageing. The changing nature of his Byron project alludes to this most obviously as he decides to shift his focus from Teresa as a young woman to when she is middle-aged. This has the effect of suggesting, but not stating outright, that David finally comes to terms with at least the inevitability of getting older.
As the title of the novel, this state of being is evidently always a central concern. This is particularly so when one considers the references that are also made in the novel. It is David’s charge of sexual harassment and his decision to stay with Lucy that invites us to at least wonder if he deserves to be the university scapegoat. At the same time, the readers are also asked to consider how he may be seen as having acted disgracefully as he abused his power by having sexual relations with a student who is younger than his daughter. Melanie’s described passivity during sex means that this point is left as ambiguous.
David learns to name this word towards the end of the novel and his ability to do so implies that he has moved on at least partially from the self-absorbed character that was introduced in Chapter One.
It is mainly through his care for the dogs, which are either dead or about to die, that his change in character is effected as he is taught by Bev to think of them rather than himself. The novel avoids preaching or over-sentimentalizing any form of conversion he appears to have undergone, but it is nevertheless finally optimistic about how others (namely David) can continue learning as they grow older.