Disgrace Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-6


Instead of making up the test, Melanie withdraws from Lurie's class. That same morning, Lurie receives a telephone call from Melanie's father. Unaware of the true nature of Lurie's and Melanie's relationship, Mr. Isaacs asks Lurie to encourage Melanie to stay in school. Reluctanctly, Lurie agrees to talk to Melanie and attempts to phone her at her cousin Pauline's apartment. Pauline does not allow Lurie to talk to her. Attendance in his class that week is poor, and Lurie figures the story must have spread. Melanie's father, a small, thin man from the rural province of George, comes to Lurie's office and says in front of the staff and students,

We put our children in the hands of you people because we think we can trust you. If we can't trust the university. Who can we trust? We never thought we were sending our daughter into a nest of vipers. No, Professor Lurie, you may be high and mighty and have all kinds of degrees, but if I was you I'd be very ashamed of myself(38).

Lurie is visibly embarrassed and rushes out of the office.

The next morning the Student Affairs offece (Vice-Rector's) contacts Lurie informing him a sexual harassment complaint has been filed against him and includes a copy of the corresponding section of the Code of Conduct he has been accused of violating, Article 3.1: the victimazation or harassment of students by teachers. Lurie is shocked by the notification and refuses to believe that Melanie filed the complaint out of her own will. He imagines a scene in which Pauline forces Melanie to file the complaint. Lurie, after going to the office and signing the complaint, notes, "The deed is done. Two names on the page, his and hers, side by side. Two in a bed, lovers no longer but foes (40)."

When Lurie arrives for his appointment at Aram Hakim's office (the Vice-Rector), his department chair, Elaine Winter, and the university chair, Farodia Rassool, are present. They inform Lurie of the harassment charge and further accuse him of falsifying Melanie's attendance records. Hakim, who unlike Elaine is somewhat sympatheric, advises Lurie to seek legal counsel.

Lurie quickly becomes a pariah. Only two students enroll in Lurie's Baudelaire class the next term. Lurie seeks advice from a lawyer who recommends that Lurie temporarily leave school and enter counseling in exchange for dropped charges. However, Lurie rejects counseling, refusing to exhibit shame for his desires. During a dinner with his ex-wife of eight years, Rosalind, Lurie reveals that he plans to visit his daughter, Lucy, on the Eastern Cape once the term is over. Rosalind brings up the scandal at the university and openly expresses her disapproval. The next day Rosalind informs Lurie of an article that has been written in the local paper, Argus regarding the affair.

The date of the hearing arrives. Melanie, who has submitted her statement to the committee the day before, is not present. Manas Mathabane, Professor of Religious Studies, chairs the hearing. Hakim is the secretary. The remainder of the committee is composed of Farodia Rassool, Desmond Swarts (Dean of Engineering), and a professor from the Business School whom Lurie does not know. Lurie is defiant throughout. When informed of the charges, Lurie says:

I am sure the members of this committee have better things to do with their time than rehash a story over which there will be no dispute. I plead guilty to both charges. Pass sentence, and let us get on with our lives (48).

The committee insists upon a confession of wrongdoing, but the closest Lurie allows himself to come is when he says, "I was not myself. I was no longer a fifty-year-old divorce at a loose end. I became a servant of Eros (52)." This half-hearted confession does not appease the committee. Lurie leaves to meet a hostile press corps, to whom he is also condescending, saying that he was enriched by the experience. In return, they publish a scathing article. Mathabane contacts Lurie to discuss the terms of the settlement. In exchange for his statement, they offer Lurie a leave of absence and a return to teaching conditioned upon the consent of the Dean and the head of the Department. Lurie refuses.


The chapters detailing the investigation of the sexual harassment charges are rich ground for critical discourse. Taken as generic trial, the account of the investigation suggests that the underlying motive of a public trial is not to enact justice, but rather to instill guilt and shame in the accused. Also, one can draw parallels between University's sexual harassment investigation and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation hearings.

Though the committee repeatedly denies that they are running a trial, both Coetzee and Lurie reject this claim. Lurie, indeed, refuses as a matter of principle to play along with their attempts to couch the hearing in language other than that of trial and judgment. No matter how carefully or skillfully the committee plays the game of semantics, Lurie is able to cut through the pretense and discern what they are truly seeking: a confession. His approach culminates when he says:

What goes on in my mind is my business, not yours, Farodia. Frankly, what you want from me is not a response but a confession. Well, I make no confession. I put forward a plea. As is my right. Guilty as charged. That is my plea. That is as far as I am willing to go (51).

Lurie understands that the committee wishes to make him confess to the inappropriate nature of his desires and refuses to do so. He refuses to conflate the committee's judgment of guilt with a public shaming.

Lurie's insight into the nature of his trial, however, does not absolve him from disgrace. The committee offers him a chance to control his disgrace by admitting it; when he refuses, he is disgraced anyway. More importantly, Lurie's insight into the psychology of shame does not mean that he is innocent of the crime he's accused of. He clearly acted with reckless and cruel selfishness in his manipulation of Melanie. He is, plainly, a rapist. So though he has subtle insight into the language games of the committee, refusing to shame himself, he is not above using similar language games to justify his lust for and abuse of Melanie. Lurie sees that the committee requires shame and refuses to compromise himself. However, Lurie clearly should be ashamed. That he isn't emphasizes his hubristic, cavalier attitude toward the world as much as his cultural insight.

On a second level, Lurie's trial alludes allegorically to events in South African history. In 1995, A Truth and Reconciliation Committee was formed by the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act. South Africa was a country devastated by the atrocities of apartheid. During the hearings, thousands of witnesses came forth and gave their testimonies. The accused were given amnesty as long as they told the entire truth. Approximately a third of these trials were heard in public. Similarly, the trial of David Lurie takes on a greater cultural significance. The manner in which he haughtily uses his status and gender to get what he wants-Melanie-is analogous to white South Africans' attitude during apartheid. Lurie, like an embodiment of the white supremacist element in South Africa, refuses to apologize for his abuse of power. This does not stop him, just as it did not stop the Truth and Reconciliation Committee from rooting out vestiges of apartheid, from being removed from power.