Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


David views sex as a means for preserving his younger, more potent self, and he views his penis as a proxy for his manhood. Nevertheless, despite David’s resistance to aging, he’s aware of the pitfalls that such perceptions bring. In Chapter One, after David has unfulfilling sex with his secretary, David considers Origen, a Christian theologian who castrated himself to prove his devotion to God, rather than women, and to prevent accusations of inappropriate behavior. That David seriously considers castrating himself is a stretch, but his thought process is significant: If he can stop clinging to sex, perhaps he can preserve his dignity and prevent desperate, even dangerous, outcomes. Still, for David, change is difficult. He later has an affair with his twenty-year-old student, Melanie, and after his hearing, lends insight into why he remained defiant. “The truth is, they wanted me castrated,” he tells Lucy in Chapter Seven, believing the committee wanted to take away his manhood.


After David’s affair with Melanie and resulting dismissal from the University, he lives in exile on Lucy’s farm in the Eastern Cape. David’s situation mirrors that of the religious and literary characters he invokes in his classroom lessons and scholarly works. In Chapter Four, David’s lesson on Byron’s poem “Lara” speaks of the fallen angel Lucifer and his exile from heaven into hell. Later, David also considers Cain, another figure of the Old Testament, whom God exiled into the Land of Nod after Cain killed his brother. As David ponders his opera about Byron, readers also learn that Byron lived in exile in Greece during the last years of his life following his scandals in Italy. This exile motif lends insight into how dramatically, and irrevocably, David’s life has changed following his own scandal, which becomes even more apparent when he returns to Cape Town to find his former life in ruins.


In Chapter Ten, David perfectly articulates the state of his life when he tells Bev Shaw he’s not merely in trouble but in disgrace. It isn’t just David who can see this, of course. Much earlier, in Chapter Five, David’s ex-wife Rosalind uses the word “disgraceful” while speaking about his affair and perhaps much of his life. The word “disgrace” summons thoughts of dishonor and shame, both of which David has brought upon himself, but can also be defined as a state of falling out of favor, and throughout this aptly named novel, David does exactly that with so many in his life: two wives, Soraya, Melanie, his students and colleagues, Lucy at times, perhaps even himself. Like Lucifer and Cain, David can also be seen to have fallen out of favor with God. “So . . . how are the mighty fallen!” Mr. Isaacs, a Christian, says to David in Chapter Nineteen, alluding to Lucifer’s fall from heaven before challenging David, a non-believer, to look within and consider what God wants from him.