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Lucky Jim

Lucky Jim (1954) is a comic novel by English author Kingsley Amis (1922-1995). Jim Dixon is a cynical history lecturer struggling to fit into the stuffy atmosphere of an unnamed English university. As Jim hopes for a spell of good luck, misfortunes continue to befall him. This biting satire on the pretensions of class and Britain's strict class system remains widely read and established Kingsley Amis as one of the most important voices in the postwar literary scene.

Lucky Jim: Summary

Jim Dixon is just about to finish his first year working as a lecturer in medieval history at an unnamed English university. Having failed to make a good impression on the department, Jim fears he will lose his job. His personal life is similarly chaotic as he feels trapped in a relationship with another lecturer named Margaret Peel. After her last breakup, Margaret attempted suicide and infers she will try again if Jim breaks off their relationship.

Kingsley Amis was a close friend of the poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985). While writing Lucky Jim, Amis often visited his friend's house on Dixon Street and named the novel's protagonist in its honor.

When the department head, Professor Welch, hosts a weekend get-together for the faculty, Jim sees it as an opportunity to make an impression and secure his position. At the party, he meets Professor Welch's son, Bertrand. The pair briefly argue about politics as Jim proposes a higher tax rate for the rich, which offends Bertrard's conservative beliefs.

Lucky Jim, Graduation cap, StudySmarterJim finds most of his intellectual colleagues to be both boring and false. Pixbay

Jim also meets Bertrand's girlfriend, Christine Callaghan, and senses an immediate connection. The dull conversation and company at the party soon start to bore Jim, and he sneaks off to the pub to get drunk. He returns later and sneaks into bed but falls asleep with a lit cigarette which burns a large hole into the bedsheets.

How does Amis establish Jim's views on luck and life?

The following day Jim desperately tries to spare himself embarrassment by hiding the bedsheet and is helped by Christine. The pair briefly chat, and Jim wonders if she is interested in him. Weeks later, at the University's Summer Ball, they meet again. The couple skips out of the dull affair and walks back to the Welches' house, where they share a brief kiss. Jim tries to arrange another meeting, but Christine feels guilty.

As the end of the semester approaches, Jim feels increasingly pressured to host a lecture that might put him in the department's good graces and secure his job. He battles laziness and apathy to write a talk entitled "Merrie England," which he hopes will appeal to the faculty's romanticized version of medieval times in England.

How are the characters of Jim and Bertrand polar opposites? Do the pair share any similarities?

Just before Jim is due to perform the lecture, Bertrand confronts him. He knows about his secret meetings with Christine. A scuffle ensues, which leaves Jim with a black eye. Anxious about appearing before the department with a black eye, Jim gets drunk to quiet his nerves. He delivers a terrible performance and concludes the lecture by calling out the faculty's pretentiousness and arrogance, after which he collapses on stage. When he awakes, Welch informs Jim that he's fired.

Lucky Jim, Lecture, StudySmarterJim's lecture quickly degrades into a rant against the institution's pretentiousness. Pixabay

The next day, Jim's luck begins to change. Christine contacts him with a job offer from her uncle. The high-paying job in London offers Jim the chance of a more fulfilling life. He also runs into Margaret's ex-boyfriend. After talking, the pair realizes she faked the suicide attempt to manipulate their relationships. Jim finally feels able to break up with Margaret.

Christine asks Jim to meet her at the train station before she leaves for London. At the station, she tells Jim that she is leaving Bertrand and suggests the pair meet in London. As they walk towards the train, the Welch family walks by, and Jim is able to have the last laugh.

What does London represent for Jim? How does he talk about the city throughout the book?

Lucky Jim: Characters

Here is a look at the most important characters from Lucky Jim.

Jim Dixon

The novel's protagonist, Jim Dixon, is an outsider who finds himself unable to play by the rules of the stuffy university. He observes the world of pretentious intellectuals and tedious people with a cutting wit and biting sarcasm. These observations are mostly internal, and he presents himself to the outside world as a meek and unthreatening academic. As Jim comes from a lower middle-class background, he feels out of place and unwelcome around his colleagues, who he finds fake and unrelatable. Kingsley Amis drew on his experiences as a student at Oxford University and time as a lecturer at Swansea University to craft Jim Dixon.

Christine Callaghan

Christine is a young, attractive woman who lives Jim's idealized life in London. She comes from a wealthy family and works in a bookshop. Despite her background, Jim finds her easy-going and nonjudgemental. Unlike Margaret, Christine is shown as confident and self-assured; she represents a happier, more fulfilled life for Jim.

The Welches

Professor Ned Welch is the head of the history department and Jim's boss. He is the stereotypical detached university professor. He cares little about the modern world and is obsessed with his subject. He attempts to partake in conversation but often comes across as dull and distant. Amis shows this distance from the real world by making Professor Welch a forgetful and out-of-touch character who cannot have a real conversation with Jim.

Professor Welch's son, Bertrand, is everything Jim despises; conservative, pretentious and bossy. He believes himself to be witty, well-read, and exciting but is shown to be as dull as his father. Jim even thinks his French name is pretentious as the family has no French heritage. To make matters worse, Jim suspects Bertrand is using Christine to get a job with her wealthy uncle. Jim and Bertrand clash at several points during the novel, usually over subjects of politics and class, with Jim representing the more liberal, progressive viewpoint.

Margaret Peel

Margaret works in the same department as Jim but in a slightly higher position. Amis portrays her as unattractive, but she attempts to make herself look pretty using flashy clothes and jewelry. Margaret often treats Jim poorly and manipulates him with vague threats of suicide but is sometimes seen as caring and supportive. Despite the lack of attraction or love, Jim feels a sense of duty to Margaret.

Lucky Jim: Themes

In Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis uses satire to explore themes of social class and the idea of luck versus entitlement.

Social class and pretension

Jim's outlook on the world is formed by his background and class. During the first half of the 20th century, academia in Britain was almost entirely dominated by members of the upper class. This class system viewed those on top as more intelligent and morally upstanding than those below. Amis uses Jim's perspective to expose this idea as shallow and hypocritical.

The individuals Jim rails against judge a person's character on appearance and social standing rather than their actions or intentions. However, these characters are usually presented as conniving and morally bankrupt, whereas the characters they look down on in the lower and working class are upstanding people.

The shallowness of class connects to the theme of pretentiousness. Jim is constantly complaining about the falseness of the university and the faculty. The Welches embody this empty self-importance. Ned and Bertrand Welch claim to enjoy music and art but only enjoy things they understand and never anything that will challenge their value system. They are highly educated in their particular fields yet struggle with basic social interaction with other people. Jim cannot fit into a world where maintaining a specific type of reputation is everything and desperately wants a more authentic and meaningful life.

The class tension which runs throughout Lucky Jim was a serious issue in postwar Britain. In 1944, the government passed the Education Act, which raised the minimum education age and provided stipends for children from the lower and middle classes to attend esteemed universities like Oxford and Cambridge.

After WWII, British society began to reform as left-wing politicians rallied the working class to call for a more equitable society that provided more opportunities. Many British writers from working-class backgrounds emerged from universities and started producing plays and novels about the class limitations and greyness of life in postwar Britain.


Lucky Jim, Oxford, StudySmarterAmis found the hallowed halls of Oxford to be full of entitled bores. Wikicommons

The "Angry Young Men" were a group of novelists and playwrights which included Harold Pinter (1930-2008) and Alan Sillitoe (1928-2010). Works like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) and Look Back in Anger (1956) featured working-class protagonists who were fed up with Britain's class system and dreamt of something better. The works often contained themes of class tension and promoted socialistic messaging about an equal society.

The press declared Kingsley Amis to be a member of the movement. His lower-middle class background had made him stand out at Oxford, where the class divide maintained stuffy Victorian notions of class and gender.

This experience had a formative impact on Amis as he was disgusted by what he saw as entitlement and snobbery.

Luck vs. entitlement

Amis uses the novel to explore the contrasting views of life; luck vs. entitlement. Jim believes in both bad and good luck and feels that a spell of good fortune will allow him to change his life for the better. Throughout the novel, he continually experiences bad luck as he attempts to secure his position in the department but yearns for a better role in London. This bad luck often creates many of the novel's funniest moments.

While Jim blames bad luck for his problems and failure, his actions are often the real cause. This is particularly true when he drinks. However, instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, he chalks it up to bad luck.

On the other hand, Bertrand Welch believes in the idea of entitlement. He believes that as a member of the upper class, he is entitled to good things. He thinks this way about employment, power, and even women. While dating Christine, he conducts an affair with a married woman whom he uses for sex. He still intends to marry Christine but believes he is entitled to sex.

Bertrand feels the strict class system Jim hates is the natural order of the world and reflects a conservative and traditional outlook on ideas of class and gender. However, Bertrand's entitlement ultimately leaves him unfulfilled.

Lucky Jim: Analysis

Kingsley Amis uses a range of literary devices in Lucky Jim to critique academics and the class system. Jim Dixon's story is an early example of a genre known as the campus novel.

Campus novels, also knowns as academic novels, are works based on a university campus dealing with interactions between faculty members and/or students. Famous examples of campus novels include Micheal Chabon's (1963-Present) Wonder Boys (1995) and The Rules of Attraction (1987) by Bret Easton Ellis (1964-Present).

Literary devices

Through Jim Dixon's thoughts, Amis uses sarcasm and satire to highlight the hypocrisies of higher learning institutes. Many faculty members are a broad caricature of academics who are obsessed with their subjects and care little about the real world. While the staff members take themselves very seriously, Jim views them as pathetic figures with an inflated sense of ego.

The novel is written in third-person narrative and uses complex prose to display Jim's intelligence and dark wit. He is often upset or complaining about something in a humorous fashion.

Symbols

Amis uses a wide range of symbols to reflect each character's view of the world. With Bertrand and Professor Welch, Amis uses clothes to symbolize their retention. Bertrand wears a beret which Jim finds both impractical and incredibly pretentious, while his father often wears a fishing hat he believes connects him with ordinary people. The problem is he's never been fishing in his life.

Lucky Jim, Pouring beer into a glass, StudySmarterWhile alcohol offers Jim a brief respite, it also causes many of his problems. Pixabay

Alcohol is used to symbolize Jim's escape from the boredom and limitations of life at the university. He's often recovering from a hangover or waiting until his next drink to soothe his nerves. Ultimately, Jim's abuse of alcohol leads to many of his failures.

The lecture Jim plans to give is entitled "Merrie England" and is supposed to focus on the greatness of medieval Britain. This symbolizes the false view of the past many professors hold; they idealize a time full of problems and are completely disengaged from the present. By getting drunk and ruining the lecture, Jim is rejecting their values.

Lucky Jim: Quotes

Lucky Jim uses humor to highlight the sanctimonious faculty of Jim's department. Here is a look at some meaningful quotes from the novel.

"No other professor in Great Britain, he thought, set such store by being called Professor." (Ch.1)

As Jim tries to get along with Professor Welch and secure his position in the department, his inner voice constantly reminds him of the pretentious pettiness that dominates life at the university. Throughout the novel, Jim uses humor to cope with self-important people obsessed with position and power.

"If one man's got ten buns and another's got two, and a bun has got to be given up by one of them, then surely you take it from the man with the ten buns." (Ch. 4)

Jim and Bertrand debate the merits of a higher tax on the rich to create a more just society. Like Amis, Jim had to work for his opportunities, whereas Bertrand sees the current social order as natural and necessary. Amis was amongst a group of emerging British writers who sought to challenge the class system and argue for a more equitable society.

Lucky Jim - Key takeaways

  • Lucky Jim is a satirical novel written by Kingsley Amis.
  • The book follows history lecturer Jim Dixon as he attempts to secure his job and win over the department head.
  • The novel follows Jim's darkly comic thoughts as he rails against the stuffy, pretentious people at the university.
  • Amis based much of the book on his experiences as a student at Oxford. Having been raised in a lower-middle class background, Amis felt out of place and distrusted the rich, elitist student body.
  • The book is an example of the campus novel genre.

Frequently Asked Questions about Lucky Jim

Lucky Jim was written by Kingsley Amis. 

Lucky Jim belongs in the campus novel genre.

Lucky Jim was written in 1954.

Margaret Peel is Jim Dixon's unstable girlfriend. She is presented as emotionally manipulative and controlling of their relationship. 

Lucky Jim is a campus novel because it is set on a university campus and deals with relationships between faculty members. 

Final Lucky Jim Quiz

Question

Who wrote Lucky Jim

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Answer

Kingsley Amis

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Question

Which character is the protagonist of Lucky Jim

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Answer

Jim Dixon

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Question

 Jim Dixon lectures in ________. 

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Answer

History

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Question

One of the major themes in Lucky Jim is the British class system.

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Answer

True

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Question

Kingsley Amis based some of the novel on his experience at __________ University. 

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Answer

Oxford

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Question

Lucky Jim is an example of the campus novel genre.

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Answer

True

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Question

Lucky Jim is written in the ____________ perspective.

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Answer

Third-person

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Question

What is the title of Jim's lecture?

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Answer

"Merrie England"

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Question

In the end, Jim is able to secure his position in the history department. 

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Answer

False

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Question

The novel's humor comes from Jim's failures and bad luck. 

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Answer

True

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