Aside from the story line of a creepy 52-year-old man hitting on young women, there are a few ideas that I wanted to address that present themselves in the first four chapters of Disgrace. I apologize in advance for how jumbled my thoughts are most likely going to sound, but I feel like there are a bunch of loose ends in these short opening chapters!
There seems to be a lot of talk about the younger generation, mainly David’s students, and his relationship with and feelings about them. It seems David’s age as opposed to the ages of the others so far in the novel is the root of a lot of his complexity, as we are not given a character close to David’s age thus far. He wonders how young people think and whether or not they still fall in love, but he is not interested in investigating further. Every time David is teaching, his students are silent and he realizes their disconnect from him, calling them “ignorant.” He does not wish to expend the energy drawing answers out of them. Similarly, his attempts to connect with Melanie through literature and an old film are not received well and he has to resort to basically forcing himself upon her. Conflicts arise with all of the younger characters specifically named thus far, including Soraya, Dawn (the secretary), and Melanie. We also know that David’s daughter has “ups and downs” (Coetzee 3). Do you think there is any significance behind the generation gap and repetition of the conflict between old and young?
David only expresses passion for literature. Although he has sex with four women in the first four chapters, he does not describe any of the experiences as necessarily passionate. Though he lacks enthusiasm for his job, he possesses it for some of the things he teaches, specifically Romantic poetry. In Chapter 4, David asks his students to interpret passages from “Lara” by Byron. I found the description of the passages to bear a striking resemblance to David’s character – a character who lives dangerously in a strange world. He acts impulsively whether it’s good or bad (33). The poem discussed is referencing Lucifer and, “Byron will suggest, it will not be possible to love him, not in the deeper, more human sense of the word” (34). It is evident that David has some sort of deep-rooted intimacy issues in that he has been divorced twice, does not want to wake up with someone, and is happy with a woman for 90 minutes a week. He obviously has the ability to be with women sexually, but lacks the interest in knowing them further and also does not want them to know him. David’s inappropriateness and promiscuity are also highlighted by the passage from Byron. Not only does he sleep with a student, but he also has relations with married women and prostitutes. Do you think there is a correlation between his interest in the poets of the Romantic period and his sexual promiscuity?