First off, I just want to apologize for the late post. If any of you were wondering, never let your roommate try to improve your computer in any way. It won’t work out very well and you’ll end up posting your discussion questions late. Nonetheless, let’s talk about Disgrace. I’m probably going to talk a lot about how sexuality is portrayed, and I’ll do my best to keep it coherent.
After the attacks on Lucy and David, we learn Lucy doesn’t want any law enforcement involved more than what is necessary for insurance. She believes her father to be an egocentric, antiquated man who needs to get with the times and leave her to her own decisions. It is during the three months after the attacks that David’s sexual identity is shaken. He likens his actions with Melanie to the rapists, but quickly sleeps with Bev Shaw. It’s a pretty severe flip-flop in a surprisingly short amount of time. However, his sexual interaction with Bev is void of the passion he prides himself on early on in the book. On page 149, we’re told, “Never did he dream he would sleep with a Bev.” When he first describes Bev he basically just says she’s dirty and unattractive in general. Personally, I find this novel’s portrayal of sexuality unreasonably simple. It really boils down to two main ideas:
- Male sexuality=Dominance
- Female sexuality=Submissive procreation
If this is true, then sex is about something more than attraction and passion for him. On pages 158-159, Lucy asserts that men look for dominance in sex, and that since he is a man, David must feel a similar lust for this dominance as her rapists. He exerted his dominance over Melanie, so it would make sense that he does get a similar rush. However, we must understand that since David says many times that he wasn’t looking for dominance and was just acting out physical desire, that Lucy’s idea does lose some weight. He was attracted to Melanie physically. He wasn’t looking to sleep with her just because she was one of his students. Also, David’s time with Bev doesn’t seem to be about power. As for female sexuality, Lucy and Melanie are really our only examples of sexuality. Melanie submits to her professor, and then later (at least seemingly so) submits to external pressures to report David.
Additionally, while Lucy’s potential homosexuality is talked about before the attack, it is almost completely brushed aside and forgotten about afterwards. After the rape, most of David’s comments shift from her potentially being a lesbian to the disgrace that has been placed on her. Her sexual identity is completely overshadowed by this act of dominance. It is assumed that she submit to being “married” to Petrus and raise her child. David even wonders if she was raped because she is gay. Essentially, heterosexual relations seem to be the only “legitimate” sexual relations, although none of the ones described seem to be what we consider “appropriate.”
There’s a lot more to flesh out here, so please contribute anything you think of. Here are some questions:
- When David moves back to Cape Town he starts to write his piece about Byron and Teresa. It would seem that we are supposed to compare him to someone in his opera, but it is not really that plain to me. Who is he being compared to? Why? If he is supposed to be Byron, is it supposed to symbolic of his sexual life? If he is to be compared to Teresa, is it because he can finally see a woman’s point of view when it comes to his own sexual practices, particularly that of Melanie?
- What impact does race have on a reading of sexuality in this book? Are there clear differences between races in how their sexual acts are portrayed? Are these differences meant to be taken as legitimate differences, or just the lens of David? If these relations were described by Lucy, how would they be different?
I’m sure I’ll think of more, but I’ll bring those up during class.