Review of Amis's Lucky Jim
Amis’s first novel, the one that shot him to fame is, Lucky Jim. The novel was hailed on a variety of grounds: as an entertaining academic farce or a bleat from below against the stultifying narrowness of British academic life and indeed of 1950s British provincial life in general. It is regarded as campus novel. One of the features of a campus novel is to possess dystopian novel’s characteristics. As it can be traced in J. A. Cuddon’s dictionary of literary terms and literary theory , the utopia and it’s offshoot, the dystopia, are genres of literature that explore social and political structures.
Utopian fiction is the creation of an ideal world, or utopia, as the setting for a novel. Dystopian fiction is the opposite: creation of a nightmare world. It can be assumed that dystopias usually extrapolate elements of contemporary society and function as a warning against some modern trends and this feature can be observed in Lucky Jim. The enclosed, boring and dishonest atmosphere of history department which is expressed through the novel can be an evidence for this. Various kinds of displaced persons are highlighted.
From the beginning of the story, Jim Dixon knows himself apart from the class of the bore condition of the academic society and his superior, Professor Welch, and begins to mock, despite the fact that he has to suffer because he is in need of keeping the job. He extremely suffers from unconfessed abnormalities. There is a deep contrast between his external behavior and internal thoughts, a contrast between Jim’s need to present a respectable and capable lecture to hold his job in history department and the loathing and contempt he seems to feel for just about everyone and everything around him.
In fact he has to wear a mask in order to please his superior and keep the job. ( even when he finds about burnt bed sheets, tries to conceal the burnt by cutting the sheets nervously because this burn could take his balance of mind under question). Regard that if Dixon dared to wear an outward label, it would read “Warning: Contents under Pressure! ” And as Chekhov stipulated, no gun that is onstage in the first act will be undischarged by the end. In other words, from the beginning, we are swiftly possessed by the sense of anticipation.
As a campus novel, Lucky Jim is a witty satire of both modernism, a satire of a school of thought and the Second World War. The novel is the description of the attempts of England’s postwar generation to break from the country’s traditional class structure. Lucky Jim’s satire has two sides. First it can be said that Dixon is uncomfortable and out of place in an academic atmosphere, since he can not subscribe to its norms, preferring pub to drawing rooms, pop to Mozart, and totally non-academic job to academic one.
On the other hand Dixon’s tricks and intellectual pretensions can symbolize as an endemic to the academic culture at large. University is dystopia for him, since surprisingly the characters are not qualified enough for being labeled intellectuals because the highbrows in this novel are bearing sorts of instabilities. Margaret is suffering emotional instabilities and hysteria, Bertrand is a dishonest, pretentious figure who just pretends to be an artist, and Professor Welch is expressed as a bore and an exploiter character.
So university is like a cage for Jim, where he has to forget his interests and values to join hypocrisy and pretension. In fact, Dixon’s a “howl of laugh” at the very end of the story is a reaction to modernism which Professor Welch and his children are represented of. In addition, most men in the book have seen military service, but their experiences in the war (never made explicit) are used to bathetic effect: Dixon’s eager student, Mr. Michie, was a moustached ex-service student who had commanded a tank troop at Anzio while Dixon was an R. A. F. orporal in western Scotland, his friend Bill Atkinson is not just an “ex-Army major”, he is an insurance salesman and ex-Army major. Dixon’s theatre of command ends up being his Bertrand campaign where his efforts to win the beautiful Christine from his effeminate rival can only be conceived in terms of combat: This was clearly the moment for a burst of accurate shelling from Dixon in his Bertrand-war but, Amis tells us with a barely concealed innuendo of impotence, “he found himself reluctant to fire”. Elsewhere their jousting is referred to as a “cold war”.
The most interesting portrait from this point of view is Christine herself, who looks “like a soldier standing easy” at Dixon’s very first sight of her. Later, in Dixon’s imagination of her over the phone she appears “like an airman-clerk told to “carry on” during an inspection by the Air Vice-Marshal”. So in this way through subtle manner Amis comments on and satirizes the World War II. Lucky Jim is also a wonderful and thoroughly modern comedy of the absurd. It is about misunderstandings, mismatches and manipulations.
Throughout the novel the characters strive in different ways to construe or control one other. Jim’s appalling superior Professor Welch and Jim’s neurotic colleague, Margaret, exploit Jim. Welch’s son, Bertrand, tries to exploit his girlfriend Christine, as he does the wife of a colleague, Carol Goldsmith, with whom he had been simultaneously conducting another affair. Jim himself plays games of procrastination and favoritism with his students and completely misreads Julius’s intentions. Even Jim and Christine seem largely to be mysteries to one another.
Reality never matches appearance or reactions their stimuli. There are three main voices in the novel: Jim’s internal voice of defiance, Amis’s own authorial voice (the two are closely related) and the outer voices of assumed deference and hostile mimicry that Jim adopts in his struggles with the external world. Jim is unable at first to articulate or express his own voice, and the whole movement of the novel is towards bringing these three voices into alignment. Initially Jim is trapped within his own exquisitely enraged perceptions.
He consoles himself with the thought that “the one indispensable answer to an environment bristling with people and things one thought were bad was to go on finding new ways in which one could think they were bad. ” The sentence is circularity itself perfectly mirrors the larger loop in which Jim is caught. The turning point for Jim is, as Lodge points out, his fight with Bertrand, oddly not so much in the release of violence but in Jim’s gaining the ability to say what he has bottled up inside. The novel’s climax comes in the lecture on “Merrie England” that Welch imposes on Jim.
Drunk, he finds himself literally possessed by the voices of his oppressors and tormentors before, in a final cathartic purgation, he blurts out what he really thinks. The novel ends with Jim and Christine walking away hand-in-hand leaving the Welches frozen in a tableau of terminal unreality:The whinnying and clanging of Welch’s self-starter began behind them, growing fainter and fainter as they walked on until it was altogether overlaid by the other noises of the town and by their own voices. External reality (“the other noises of the town”) and the personal reality of finding “their own voices” have triumphed.
In this sense Amis’s novel is about struggling with an unreadable reality, an unfathomable self, communication that is a series of language games, and a society that throughout all its sub-units and cells is repressive and inimical to the individual. Throughout it the tone and landscape progressively darken, and escape and love are options that are increasingly blocked off. ** “Merrie England”, refers to an English autostereotype, a utopian conception of English society and culture.
Bibliography of Lucky Jim Shaffer, W. Brain. Reading Novel in English 1950-2000 USA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006 Hale, J. Dorothy. An Anthology of Criticism and Theory 1900-2000 USA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006 Gavin Keulks. Father and Son: Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis, and the British Novel since 1950, University of Wisconsin Press Publishing Kenneth Womack. Postwar Academic Fiction: Satire, Ethics, Community, Palgrave Macmillan Publishing Marina MacKay and Lyndsey Store bridge. British Fiction After Modernism Palgrave Macmillan Publishing Greg Londe. Reconsidering Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis and The Conditions of England Palgrave Macmillan Publishing Bradbury Malcolm, The Modern World, Ten Great Writers. London, Secker and Warburg, 1988