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The fifty-two-year-old, white, twice-divorced protagonist of Disgrace. David lives in Cape Town, South Africa, where he works as an adjunct professor of Communications at Cape Technical University. He also teaches a class on Romantic poets and formerly served as a tenured professor in Classics and Modern Languages before the University closed that department. David is vain, selfish, resistant to change, and has spent much of his adult life as a womanizer.
Read an in-depth analysis of David Lurie.
David’s adult daughter who lives on a farm in the Eastern Cape. Lucy earns her living by growing and selling flowers and produce and by kenneling dogs. She’s earthy, capable, independent, and lives alone on her farm and former commune after its other members, including her girlfriend, Helen, moved away. Lucy cares deeply about living with compassion and being a good person. Her life changes forever after three men rape her in her farmhouse.
Read and in-depth analysis of Lucy.
A twenty-year-old student in David’s Romantic poets course. Melanie is interested in stagecraft and design and works toward a degree in theater. David sees her as beautiful and clever, but not engaged in her studies. Melanie reluctantly acquiesces to David’s pressures to have sex but later finds her voice when she speaks out and lodges a complaint against him with the University’s Vice-Rector.
Read and in-depth analysis of Melaine Iaaacs.
Lucy’s former assistant and “dog-man” who tended to the farm’s kenneled dogs. Petrus, who is Black, purchases a portion of Lucy’s land, where he builds a new house and establishes his own farm. After three men, including one youth, rape Lucy on her farm, Petrus, who is already married to two women, offers to marry her, a move that Lucy knows is only a pretext for Petrus to take over her land in exchange for offering protection.
Read and in-depth analysis of Petrus.
Director of the Animal Welfare League near Lucy’s farm. Bev is described as short and unattractive but has a huge heart. She embodies compassion and selflessness, devoting her time to unwanted animals. Bev is instrumental in caring for Lucy after her rape and provides emotional support for David as he comes to terms with the attack and the changes in his life.
Read and in-depth analysis of Bev Shaw.
Bev’s husband and a man whom David sees as simple. Like Bev, though, Bill is kind, welcoming, and generous with his support for Lucy and David following their attack. Bill’s kindness forces David to question whether he would extend the same goodwill to others.
One of Lucy’s neighbors and a fellow landowner. White, widowed, old, and surly, Ettinger is originally from Germany and operates with a colonialist’s approach in the Eastern Cape. His home is heavily fortified, he never travels without his firearm, and he readily reveals his racist attitudes.
Melanie’s boyfriend. Cocky and menacing, Ryan confronts and threatens David for having sex with Melanie. While intruding in David’s class, Ryan provides insight on Lucifer’s character that mirror David’s.
The youngest of the three Black men and the novel’s three antagonists who rape Lucy. Pollux is combative when David confronts him at Petrus’s party, questioning David’s right as a white person to be in the Eastern Cape. Later, he’s described as being mentally deficient when David sees him peeping on Lucy.
Melanie’s father. Mr. Isaacs confronts David at the University, where he refers to him as a “viper” upon hearing of his affair with Melanie. Later, when David travels to Melanie’s home in George, Mr. Isaacs, a Christian, speaks of God and questions whether David is truly repentant for his wrongdoing.
David’s second ex-wife and Lucy’s former stepmother. Rosalind is a tell-it-like-it-is type who lets David know he was wrong to have sex with a young student and that, as a result, he has destroyed his life.
A young, Black prostitute whose services David has solicited every Thursday for more than a year. Although Soraya appears to play only a minor role in Disgrace, appearing only at the book’s beginning, she is essential for understanding David’s character and attitudes about women and sex.
Vice-Rector of Cape Technical University. Aram, who has known David for a long time, ultimately hopes to help David save his career when his scandal breaks. He makes this hope clear in private and later at David’s hearing.
The University’s Dean of Engineering. Another male committee member at David’s hearing, Desmond echoes Aram’s sentiments that he would like to help David find a reasonable way out of the situation.
Professor of Religious Studies. Manas chairs the committee at David’s hearing and later calls David to tell him he can save his career if he subscribes to a statement of wrongdoing.
Social Studies professor and chair of the University’s committee on discrimination. Farodia is the most vocal committee member at David’s hearing. For Farodia, it is important that David truly accept responsibility for his actions and that they’re viewed against a backdrop of historical abuse and exploitation against women.
Chair of the Communications department. Elaine, who David feels has never liked him, is present when David first visits the Vice-Rector’s office after being accused of sexual harassment.
An abandoned bulldog living on Lucy’s farm. Katy is the sole canine after Lucy’s three rapists shoot every other dog kenneled there. In the weeks that follow, David forms a friendship with Katy and often walks her.
An early-nineteenth-century English poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement. Byron is the focus of David’s opera and Byron’s life of following desires and falling into scandals mirrors David’s.
Byron’s young mistress in Italy. As David’s work on his Byron opera progresses, an overweight, middle-aged, love-sick Teresa becomes its protagonist.