Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Chapter 16 | Summary



The chapter begins with a prank letter Dixon is writing to Johns, threatening him (via an alias) with bodily harm if he continues his relationship with a woman in the college typing pool. The letter is a procrastination tool for Dixon. What he really needs to do is work on his "Merrie England" lecture—so instead, he daydreams about Christine.

Enter Margaret. Dixon greets her with "a heartiness which originated ... in a guilty conscience." Margaret seems distracted and then furious. She chastises him for leaving her at the dance, for thinking she was enjoying herself talking to Julius Gore-Urquhart, and for so obviously preferring Christine. They argue, and she becomes more distressed.

Then she has what can only be described as a panic attack, shaking and screaming uncontrollably. Luckily, Bill Atkinson is outside the door. "Hysterics, eh?" he asks. He slaps her face several times and sends Dixon upstairs for whiskey.

Margaret gradually returns to herself. Dixon, however, cannot look at her in the same way; he pictures her in the hospital after her overdose. Her "episode" and her general disposition—as well as his feeling of loyalty to her—depress him.

Perhaps Margaret needed this extreme moment to come to her senses. After recovering with the aid of much whiskey, she says, "It's strange that it should end like this, isn't it? In such a very undignified fashion." Dixon agrees. They have "broken up" whatever their odd relationship may have been. She leaves for the Welch house, alone. Dixon mails his prank letter to Johns.


Dixon has pulled off the ultimate passive man trick: he has convinced a woman to break up with him without having to say anything at all. Truly a comic fantasy. However, the reader knows this relationship cannot end so easily. Dixon and Margaret work together and travel in the same social circles. Who else is going to date—if such a word is appropriate for their odd relationship—either of them?

Dixon is depressed by Margaret's "episode," her general disposition, and his loyalty to her. As she recovers from her hysterics, he pictures her in the hospital after her overdose. A life with her would be just this. Any challenge to her needs, any assertion of his, would trigger a fresh onslaught of irrational tears and screaming.

For a modern reader, it is difficult to separate Margaret's emotional health from her social status as a woman. She is the only female instructor in the history department. Presumably she desires what most women of the time desire: marriage and children. Why does Margaret have to be unattractive and dowdy and mentally ill? She's played a very tough hand. It seems so unfair, especially with the appealing Christine as her foil.

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