Disgrace: Chapter 5

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Summary – Chapter Five
Melanie does not appear for her test on Monday and David finds her official withdrawal card in his mailbox. An hour later he takes a call from her father and he tells David how Melanie has said she wants to give it all up after three years of studying. He wants David to talk some sense into her. Her father also says how she ‘always takes things to heart’, and David thinks how he had not guessed this about her. He says he does not know if he is the right person to speak to her and her father says he is as she respects him. He says he will see what he can do, rather than admitting what has happened, and knows her father will not forget this conversation.
 
David rings Melanie’s flat and her cousin Pauline answers and says she does not want to speak to him. During the week he thinks ‘the story’ must be out (about him and Melanie) as Wednesday’s class goes badly and Friday’s is even worse.
 
He is in the department office when a man asks to speak to him. It is Melanie’s father and he tells him (David) that what he has done is not right. He also says that if he were he, he would be very ashamed of himself. He adds that he and his wife never thought they were sending their daughter into a nest of vipers. David whispers his excuse to leave and thinks that he cannot deny being compared to a viper. Her father shouts after him that he has not heard the last of this, and the readers are told that this is how ‘it’ begins.
 
The next morning David receives a memorandum from the Vice-Rector of Student Affairs telling him that a complaint has been lodged against him under the article 3.1 of the university’s Code of Conduct. This article ‘addresses victimization or harassment of students by teachers’. He thinks Melanie’s cousin and father must have talked her into doing this and worn her down. He then imagines her filling in the complaint form.
 
As required, he makes an appointment with the Vice-Rector’s office. Three members of staff are there at the designated time and David notes the presence of Elaine Winter, who is the chair of his department, and thinks she sees him as ‘a hangover from the past’. Irregularities such as Melanie being recorded when she was present (although she admits to having a poor attendance) and being marked as passing the test when she did not take it are referred to.
 
Aram Hakim explains how their names will be protected and a committee will be set up to establish whether he should be disciplined. David must have no contact with Melanie and Hakim also advises him to get legal advice and David tells him not to speak to him like a child. He leaves in anger, but the building is locked and he has to wait for Hakim to let him out.
 
Even though this matter is supposed to be confidential, David knows people are talking about him and he is snubbed by a younger female colleague he has previously been quite friendly with. He also thinks this is the reason that only two students turn up for the class on Baudelaire.
 
He visits a lawyer and he is advised to engage a woman to represent him and to aim for a private settlement. He is also told he could minimize the damage by negotiating to take counselling.
 
It is Rape Awareness Week on campus and Women Against Rape announce a 24-hour vigil for ‘“recent victims”’. A pamphlet entitled ‘Women Speak Out’ is slid under David’s door and a message has been scrawled on it: it says ‘Your days are over, Casanova’.
 
David has dinner with his ex-wife Rosalind and he says how he is thinking of taking a trip to see Lucy (his daughter who lives on a farm on the East Cape). Rosalind asks if this has anything to do with the problems he is having and she says she knows because people are talking about it. She tells him not to expect any sympathy from her and on being asked he informs her that Melanie is 20. She says there is a story that she took sleeping pills and he says he knows nothing about this. She goes on to say that he should have expected the worst (in terms of his job) and he says she should not blame Melanie. She replies that she blames both of them and says, ‘the whole thing is disgraceful from beginning to end. Disgraceful and vulgar’.
 
Rosalind rings him the next day to warn him that his story is in the newspaper. The report mentions him by name and says how he has been charged with sexual harassment.
 
Analysis – Chapter Five
Rosalind’s reaction to David’s sexual liaison with, or harassment of, Melanie echoes the title as she refers to it as ‘disgraceful and vulgar’. His disgrace begins from the time that Melanie signs the form to accuse him of sexual harassment and is reiterated when he is given the pamphlet telling him his days are over.
 
His general level of ignorance about contemporary social mores is also referred to when he is seen to believe that the poor attendance for his class on Baudelaire is related to the news about his ‘disgrace’ rather than a lack of interest on the part of students.
 
 
 

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