Study Guide

Disgrace Plot Analysis

By J.M. Coetzee

Plot Analysis

Initial Situation

David feels like everything is mediocre and sleeps with a lot of ladies.

We learn a couple of things about David when the novel begins: he's someone who likes to spend time in bed with the ladies, but he also doesn't feel any passion toward them – nor is he particularly attached to any of them. Soraya gets the job done for him in terms of fulfilling his sexual urges, but we also learn that his trysts with her are scheduled precisely for every Thursday at 2pm – seriously, what's sexy or spontaneous about that? The narrator's explanation of David's sex life further reveals that the rest of his life is sort of ho-hum and passionless. He's OK with his job, but he also has a lot of issues with it; he's content enough, but we don't get the impression that he's really happy.


David has an affair with Melanie, who then files an official complaint against him.

David finally finds the passion and excitement that until this point has escaped him when he begins his relationship with Melanie. Finally, he has some mind-blowing sex. For a short while, our pal David is just walking on sunshine – that is, until he realizes that he might be forcing himself on Melanie a little too much. Things start to get heavy; she shows up at his door in tears but never explains what's up. Her boyfriend comes after David. One day he finds out that Melanie has filed an official complaint against him for harassment.


David loses his job and has to move out to the country to lie low at Lucy's for a while.

After an unsuccessful appearance before the faculty committee that leaves us all slapping our foreheads and groaning, David loses his job and heads out to the rural town of Salem in the Eastern Cape. He starts working with Lucy, Petrus, and Bev and finds that it will take some effort to get used to country life. On a personal level, he starts to feel his age creep up on him. He's not exactly a happy camper.


Two men and a boy invade Lucy's home, raping Lucy and seriously hurting David.

This is the number one game-changing moment of the novel. Just when David is starting to get used to life in the country, he and Lucy are attacked in a vicious and inhuman way. This is the sort of event from which you never really recover. The events of this scene dictate the direction of the entire remainder of the novel, not only in terms of what happens plot-wise, but also in terms of how the characters relate to one another. David's relationship with Lucy changes forever.


David and Lucy go to a party at Petrus's house. They see the boy. David causes a ruckus.

So, let's recap. Lucy and David were attacked and, during said attack, Petrus was nowhere to be found. David thinks this is a little sketchy. Then Petrus comes back and throws a party, and Lucy puts on a happy face for the first time since the attack and drags David to join her at the shindig. As if Petrus's timing weren't a little weird on its own, he's also been downplaying the seriousness of what's happened to them. Then the boy shows up at the party, and Petrus seems not only to know him, but also to defend them. Then Lucy gets upset with David for wanting to get the police involved. This is a major us-versus-them moment in the book, where David isn't sure who to trust and we as readers aren't sure how everything is going to turn out.


David leaves the Eastern Cape, goes back to Cape Town, but then returns to Salem.

At this point in the novel, David's relationship with his daughter is pretty much shot and he doesn't know how to salvage it. The more he tries to reach out to her, the worse he makes things. David heads back to the Eastern Cape, stopping by the town of George to see the Isaacs family on the way. He arrives back in Cape Town only to find that there's not really any life there for him anymore – his home has been totally ransacked and someone else has taken over his office. He goes to see Melanie's play, but Ryan accosts him and tells David that Melanie never wants to see him again. Basically, this is the part of the novel where he ties up the loose ends of his old life – everything belonging to his life in Cape Town seems to be a part of the distant past. We don't know if he'll ever return to Cape Town in the future, but for now it seems like that chapter has ended. He wants nothing more than to go crawling back to Lucy and return to the country; he gets the excuse to do so when Bev tells him that there have been "developments."


David stays in Salem, waiting for Lucy's baby to be born; he continues his work with Bev.

David tells Lucy that he's coming through Salem on the way to a "job interview" and asks if he can hang out for just a couple of days. David knows – and we know – that this is a lie. Instead, it's pretty clear that he's starting a new chapter of his life out in the country. David finally gets the chance to slap Pollux silly for impregnating Lucy, but of course this only further alienates him from Lucy. David hopes that things will change with Lucy once the baby arrives. In the meantime, he continues working on his opera – the work that he hopes to leave behind as his personal legacy – and helping Bev out in the clinic. As a symbolic act of self-sacrifice, he brings the dog who has been following him around to Bev, who will put him to sleep.