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Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Chapter 6 | Summary



This chapter begins with an infamous description of a hangover. Dixon feels as if "his mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night," and "he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police." In short: "He felt bad."

Sometime in the night, Dixon has burned his bedclothes, the blanket, the rug, and the table with a cigarette. He has no memory of this, but in his deteriorated state he panics: "He thought that on the whole he must have done it himself, and wished he hadn't." Worrying Mrs. Welch will discover his destruction and tell her husband, leading Dixon to lose his job, he desperately attempts to hide the damage. For some reason he decides to cut the bedclothes to shreds with a razor blade.

Dixon heads downstairs for breakfast, where he finds "the Callaghan girl" alone, placidly eating an enormous plate of food. She offers to help him with his disaster of a room, and they go upstairs and start giggling and running around with various shreds of bedclothes and pieces of furniture. Margaret notices, naturally, and throws open her door, saying, "What do you imagine you're up to, James?"


The hangover description is arguably Amis's best-known paragraph. As his son, Martin, explained in his own memoir, Experience (2000), his father was "the laureate of the hangover." An entire chapter of the elder Amis's On Drink is called "The Hangover." What makes that condition so essential to Amis's oeuvre? If drunkenness represents freedom, then the hangover is the tax on such liberty. It is the moment when man—and it is always a man, in Amis's world—is closest to his essential, animal state. He is both at his least British—unable to put on a graceful social face—and most British—suffering, embarrassed. Since Amis was an alcoholic, it's hardly surprising he wrote about hangovers, quite possibly while he had one.

Regarding the burned bedsheets, blanket, rug, and tabletop, poor Margaret is once again the only grownup in the room. When she asks Dixon what he is up to, she is referring both to his crazed antics with the burned items, but also, more generally, what is he up to with this young woman? Why does she, Margaret, have to be the one to stop his sexual advances and then deal with him giggling around the house with another woman? It's so patently unfair from Margaret's perspective. In Dixon's eyes, she should take the blame for rejecting his sloppy pass of the night before. Whether or not she wants to have sex with him is not apparent. However, Dixon wants something from her, and, like the mean mommy, she denies him. Then he goes and almost burns the house down.

Because Christine doesn't know about the botched pass, she also doesn't know why Margaret is so angry. Therefore, Christine can look as if she's charming and fun and Margaret seems like a prig. It's almost the perfect crime for Dixon. He gets a pretty young woman to help him, and he punishes the older and more familiar woman for reasonably rejecting him. Welcome to the patriarchy, 1950s British style.

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