Study Guide

Melanie Isaacs in Disgrace

By J.M. Coetzee

Melanie Isaacs

We don't spend a huge chunk of time with Melanie during the course of the novel, but a lot happens in the few chapters during which we get to know her. When we first meet Melanie, she's the cute, fashionable girl taking David's Romantic Poetry course, a drama student who spends her time out of class rehearsing for a comedy called Sunset at the Globe Salon. David is instantly taken in by her, and honestly, so are we. She's the kind of girl who seems to have a lot of thoughts crawling around her head but who chooses her words carefully. She cares about literature, especially feminist writers like Alice Walker. She asks informed questions. She's someone we might have an interesting conversation with.

But then we get another version of Melanie: the secretive, sad Melanie who seems to have an approach/avoid relationship with David. She has sex with him even when she says she doesn't want to, making us think that he raped her; but then later she shows up at his apartment unannounced, crying hysterically and asking if she can stay with him. In fact, the Melanie we encounter during her affair with David is complex and, well, a little confusing, too. It almost makes us wish that we could get a sequel written from her perspective just so we could get a handle on what's going on here.

What happens with Melanie can be kind of hard to figure out. There comes a point where it's pretty clear that she shouldn't be having sex with David, and David seems to know it, too: "Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core" (3.67). Still, since we never hear the story from Melanie's perspective, she leaves a lot of questions open: do we think that Melanie felt violated and decided to press charges against David herself? Did she go slack in bed with him because, as we soon find out, she has a boyfriend and doesn't want to cheat on him? Why does she cry hysterically when she shows up at David's? Is it because she has already filed a complaint and now feels regretful? Or is everything falling apart for her? Melanie is one of the first characters to display feelings of true shame and personal disgrace, and it is also because of his desire of her that David himself becomes disgraced.