Chapters Twenty–Twenty-Two

Summary: Chapter Twenty

After three months away, David returns to Cape Town. His house has been raided and his finances are in chaos. A new professor occupies his office at the University and neighbors pretend not to notice him. David phones Lucy to see if she needs him to return, but the call is only a pretense: Given his own current state, he’s hoping she’ll say yes. Lucy declines David’s offer, though, so he begins to work on his opera about Byron, but soon shifts the focus to Byron’s lover, Teresa. He portrays her not in her youth, though, but in middle-age, where she’s heavier, appears ordinary, and is burdened by the memory that Byron sailed off to Greece to escape her. David also writes his own accompanying music for the opera, first on piano, and then a banjo, finding the humbling instrument more appropriate. 

Summary: Chapter Twenty-One 

David and Rosalind meet for coffee and Rosalind says she heard David was too defensive at his hearing. David argues that he was standing up for a principle, namely freedom of speech and to remain silent, but Rosalind tells him he was always a “great deceiver and a great self-deceiver.” She then criticizes David for his affair, asking him if he still thinks it was worth it, and says he has thrown his life away because of it. 

Later, David visits the Dock Theatre to secretly watch Melanie perform in the play Sunset at the Globe Salon. There, he is flooded with memories of all the women he has had sex with over the years and feels enriched by each of them. Spitballs hit David from behind and he hears a “sss” sound being repeated at him. It’s Ryan, Melanie’s boyfriend, who follows David into the parking lot and tells him to stay away. After, David has sex with a prostitute, who is either drunk or on drugs, while parked in his car on Signal Hill. The encounter leaves him feeling drowsy, contented, and no longer trembling after his encounter with Ryan.

Summary: Chapter Twenty-Two 

David returns to the farm and sees that Petrus’s house is now complete and learns that Lucy is pregnant from her rape. Despite David’s arguments, Lucy tells him that she won’t have an abortion and that the decision is hers to make. Lucy also tells David that the youth who raped her now lives with Petrus, that his name is Pollux, and that he and Petrus are relatives. David again implores Lucy to leave the farm, but she tells him she won’t give up. 

Of the attack, Petrus tells David that the matter is finished and when David alludes to the pregnancy, insisting the matter isn’t over, Petrus says Pollux would marry Lucy but he’s too young. Petrus then tells David he will marry Lucy. David says that Lucy wouldn’t want to marry a man, knowing she’s a lesbian but not stating it outright. Petrus seems to understand but insists that to be safe in this region, a woman must marry. Lucy later tells David she knows Petrus is really offering an alliance whereby he’d acquire her farm. David tells Lucy that as an alternative, he is prepared to send her to Holland to be with family. When Lucy eventually accepts Petrus’s proposal, demanding only that she keep her house, David tells Lucy it is humiliating for her to end up like this. Lucy agrees, knowing she will be starting from ground zero, without property, rights, or dignity, but wonders if this is what she must accept.

Analysis: Chapters Twenty–Twenty-Two

Following his three-month exile at Lucy’s farm, David returns to Cape Town as a fully fallen man. Without Lucy’s life to focus on and try to fix, he must also fully face himself and reckon with the scope of his disgrace. His career is lost and his life, much like his house that has been broken into and ransacked, lies in ruins. What’s more, some of his greatest fears have materialized: David has become invisible (neighbors and shopkeepers he once knew ignore him or pretend not to see him) and irrelevant (he’s been replaced by a new professor who occupies his old office at the University). What’s more, his one occupation, which is working on an obscure opera about the life of the poet Byron and his mistress, Teresa, seems destined to be as inconsequential as his previous three scholarly works. When Rosalind clearly shows him how he has ruined his life because of the affair and for being difficult at his hearing, though, David remains defiant, deceptive, and blind, even to himself. 

Teresa’s portrayal helps shed light on David’s feelings about sex. Distilling the sex act down simply to its animal and biological urges again allows David to justify his past actions and excuse his behavior. In David’s world, desire, instinct, and the right to satisfy urges reign. Later, when David solicits sex from another prostitute after leaving Melanie’s play, he feels a related sense of biological relief and contentment, thinking this is all it takes to feel whole again. For David, any sense of morals is removed from the equation. He solicits sex from an inebriated prostitute to satisfy his needs and doesn’t occupy himself with whether the act is right or wrong, or how difficult her life must be. The narrator describes David is neither a bad nor good man, which recalls David’s classroom lesson on Lucifer (as does Ryan’s hissing sounds during the play), who merely follows his impulses. The line also sums up the frustrating complexities of David’s character. Ultimately, whether David is good, or bad, or both, is something each reader needs to decide.

Petrus’s proposal to marry Lucy, which she knows is more of a move to acquire her land, strengthens David’s conviction that Petrus plotted the attack. It also speaks to the level of sexism and gender-based hierarchy that define many male-female dynamics in Disgrace. It’s especially ironic that a woman as strong, capable, and brave as Lucy knows she needs to rely on Petrus for protection and “patronage” and that her only alternative is for David to send her to Holland. Petrus knows this, too, and whether he was behind the attack or not, uses the fear of future sexual violence as leverage to take over Lucy’s land. Sadly, Lucy knows she must agree to Petrus’s deal to continue living on the farm. Unlike David, Lucy’s state of disgrace—as one “with no property, no rights, no dignity”—stems simply from being a woman, whereas David’s disgrace stems from his own actions.