Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Chapter 24 | Summary

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Summary

It is finally time for lunch with Catchpole, who turns out to be a nice-looking, innocuous young man. Immediately, he tells Dixon he wants to give him "the true facts of this business." Then he asks a few general questions about Margaret, especially her state of mental and physical health. Dixon answers, noting he and Margaret are in a relationship of sorts.

Catchpole talks bluntly. He and Margaret were never lovers. They were involved, but before they really got to know each other he realized she was "one of these people—they're usually women—who feed on emotional tension." He says he was "perpetually being accused of hurting her, ignoring her, trying to humiliate her." He asks if Dixon has also had such experiences with Margaret, and Dixon says he has.

Catchpole explains what happened on the day of Margaret's overdose. He was supposed to visit her that evening, but he couldn't face the thought. Dixon recalls he also promised to visit Margaret that night. As the two men talk, they realize Margaret bought sleeping pills with both of them. That means she had two full bottles and wanted both men to show up after she'd taken her overdose. "I knew she was neurotic, but not as neurotic as that," Catchpole says. They both decide Margaret probably did not really overdose, or she intentionally took less than a fatal dose of pills.

Dixon returns to his lodgings in a daze. Atkinson greets him and says his "poopsy"—by whom he means Christine—just called. Her train to London leaves at 1:50, and Dixon will have to meet her at the station if he wants to see her again. The station is near Welch's house, and Dixon has about half an hour to catch the bus and make it there.

What follows is pure comic torture: Dixon narrowly catches the bus by running in a "frenzied, lung-igniting sprint." He feels he must see Christine. This is his chance to tell her he doesn't want to be with Margaret. His obligation to her is now in the past. He decides, "It was all very bad luck on Margaret," and probably stemmed from her "anterior bad luck of being sexually unattractive." Dixon realizes he's lucky Catchpole showed up when he did.

Meanwhile, the bus seems to crawl along. Old women board as slowly as possible, a lorry (truck) blocks its way for some minutes, and a tractor appears. Dixon is in a frenzy, thinking he might have to "run downstairs and knife the drivers of both vehicles; what next? What next?" The railway station is now visible; he has three minutes. Finally running off the bus, Dixon demands a ticket, only to be told by the station master that the next train is at 8:17, six hours from now. He must have got the time wrong. As Dixon stands in the shade, bemoaning his lost chance with Christine, he sees a car wheeze up. It stops with a "spine-tingling snort of cogs," and a "tallish blonde girl" with suitcases gets out. The Welch vehicle! Christine!

Analysis

Poor Margaret. She has the worst fate of all the wrongdoers in Dixon's pantheon. Welch has his job and his family; he's happy playing his recorders and acting a fool. Michie's trousers are elegant, and he will surely achieve academic success. Johns will fade into the woodwork whence he came. Margaret, however, is not only "unattractive" but also "neurotic," a faker of suicide attempts, sexually unavailable, a bad dresser, and a hysteric. Her fate, Amis implies, will be spinsterhood and a long decline. From a contemporary perspective, it is difficult not to wonder why Margaret is the way she is. What happened to her along the way? It also seems deeply unfair to compare her to Christine, who is younger, has more money, and has an easy job at a London bookshop. Margaret has to teach at the college. She's ambitious and intelligent, and she has the spectacles to prove it.

In contrast, the scene of Dixon running for the bus and then waiting for it to finally reach the train station is yet another brilliant comic set piece. Amis's writing is fresh, and Dixon is sympathetic in his sweaty eagerness and despair. The phrase "there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones" is almost enough to be a life philosophy, especially in postwar England. They've just had years of rationing. No Brit has eaten real butter or eggs in almost a decade. Nice things, real things, not "quasi velvet" or fake medieval handicrafts, are ... nice.

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