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Relationships and Rape in “Disgrace” by Coetzee


J. M. Coetzee is an author of a well-known novel that impressed the public at the end of the 20th century and is still often discussed. Disgrace was positively perceived by critics who appreciated the author’s desire to make the society question the morality of their actions. The novel is focused on the life of David Lurie. This man is a professor who has unstable sexual behavior. Being more than 50-years-old, he satisfies his appetite contacting with various women. Melanie Isaacs is one of these female characters. She appears to be a complex, intriguing character, whose unapparent double persona gets the best and worst of David, unfolding an intimate and fatherly side of him readers come only to know with her.

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Melanie and David’s Relationships

Melanie is a drama student who is educated by David. She is a small and gorgeous woman whose talent does not impress the professor, unlike beauty. Even though Melanie attends his Romantic Poetry class, David does not consider her to be a prominent student who can achieve much. Nevertheless, he is astonished by her appearance. The man thinks that Melanie’s beauty “does not belong to her alone” (Coetzee 6). He is sure that she should share it with others and him, in particular. Even though the woman rejects his first attempts to become closer, she yields to him with the course of time. On the basis of this information, it can be presupposed that Melanie makes David act this way. At first, her refusal makes him reveal the best of his character. He wines and dines her, proving that he can take care of her and that he is willing to parish her. However, as soon as she succumbs to his wishes, she lets him feel like a conqueror who achieved his goal and does not need to pretend anymore.

Rape VS Care

The novel reveals that David rapes two women, including Melanie. However, the situation in which she was involved can be questioned because the woman does not actually try to stop him. When David tries to find out if she has some worries, Melanie answers ‘maybe,’ which proves that she has not made a decision regarding their relationships yet. In this way, she lets the man take the lead and conclude: “I’ll take care. I won’t let it go too far” (Coetzee 6). Melanie’s uncertainty regardless her desires and the fact that she does not try to stop David makes their first sex possible. He does not ask for permission, but she has an opportunity to reveal her unwillingness to engage in physical contact.

So can it be concluded that Melanie’s actions make it possible for David to rape her? And is she actually raped? As the woman accepts courtship, she makes the man believe that she likes him and that she is willing to develop their relationships, reaching a new level. David crosses the boundary with Melanie, as he starts dating his student, which is prohibited by the university. However, Melanie does not seem to set any boundaries in their relations (Hall). Sex with Melanie is non-violent, and even if it is a wrong action, David treats the woman in a positive manner. While he makes another character, Lucy, have sex with him using force, he is better with Melanie. She makes him break university rules, but she also makes him be kind and polite.

After this event, Melanie realizes that she did not want to go so far with David, so she files a complaint against him (Kraus 85). Unfortunately, Coetzee does not provide enough information to claim whether she make this by her own will or she is pushed to act this way. Nevertheless, David considers that Melanie is not the one who can betray him and fill a complaint independently. His feelings and emotions make the man see the best in Melanie. Regardless of the trial, David has a possibility to retain his position, but he states: “I plead guilty. That is as far as I am prepared to go’ (Coetzee 15). David does not try to oppose the accusation. He could explain the situation and emphasize the fact that Melanie did not stop him or say that she was willing to avoid physical contact. However, he acts like an adult who accepts childish foolishness. Melanie awakes his fatherly side, as she makes him take care of her and benefit her. David tries to lead her and to please her. Being accused by Melanie, he does not want her to have any troubles and let her live her own life without him.


Thus, it can be concluded that Melanie appears to be a sly character who has two sides that make David act in his best and worst manner. The woman seems to be interested in the possibility to have physical contact with her teacher, but she is too shy and unassured to reveal her wishes. She likes the fact that the older man finds her attractive and acts provocatively to make David initiate their relationships and develop them. She does not know what she really wants that is why she plays with David until she experiences everything she wants.

Works Cited

Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. Penguin, 2017.

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Hall, Kate. “Relationships in Disgrace.” Overland. 2015, Web.

Kraus, Brittany. The Sins of David. 2013, Web.

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"Relationships and Rape in "Disgrace" by Coetzee." StudyCorgi, 31 Dec. 2020,

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StudyCorgi. "Relationships and Rape in "Disgrace" by Coetzee." December 31, 2020.


StudyCorgi. 2020. "Relationships and Rape in "Disgrace" by Coetzee." December 31, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Relationships and Rape in "Disgrace" by Coetzee'. 31 December.

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