Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Symbols



Alcohol and intoxication are both symbol and subject of much of Lucky Jim. Amis's lavish descriptions of Dixon's drunkenness and its aftereffects are more deliciously rendered than the protagonist's human love interests. Drunkenness—how to achieve it, maintain it, and recover from it—is Dixon's chief preoccupation. For Dixon, alcohol signifies the opposite of restraint. It is an escape, a release, a literal and figurative abandonment of his responsibilities and obligations.

The major scenes in which alcohol play a key role include Dixon's drunkenness at the Welches' house party. He sneaks off to the pub, returns to their house, and proceeds to make an unsuccessful sexual overture to Margaret. Then, during a blackout, he burns his sheets, blanket, the rug by his bed, and even the bedside table. Waking up with the worst hangover in history, he cannot imagine how he destroyed so much. His drunkenness in this case allows him to exercise his true resentment of the prevailing sexual and behavioral mores—as well as his dislike of the Welch family. Alcohol is a weapon for him here, but it also comes to symbolize his freedom. The more he drinks the less responsible he is for his own commitments and societal constraints.

The next major occasion of Dixon's inebriation is when he gives his "Merrie England" speech. By the time he reaches the lectern he is almost literally legless. Unable to control his speech or diction, he imitates Welch and then the president of the college. In this way he effectively tenders his own resignation. Here alcohol again symbolizes truth, honesty, and a means of escape.

"Merrie England"

"Merrie England" is the topic of Dixon's year-end lecture. Supposedly "Merrie England" represents the romance of Britain's past and history. However, to Dixon and his fellow realists, Alfred Beesley and Julius Gore-Urquhart, it was the worst of times, when plague and filth were rendered even more unbearable by the multitudes of citizens singing madrigals, playing recorders, and doing handicrafts. Representing all Dixon hates about the college and Professor Welch, Merrie England comes to symbolize hypocrisy, boredom, and false conventions.

The question of fantasy versus reality is one of Amis's ongoing preoccupations throughout Lucky Jim. Merrie England is a fantasy. In reality it never existed. Medieval England was, like Dixon's current situation, a place of indentured servitude to an idea. In that case the bond was excused by Christianity and loyalty to the monarchy. In the world of the novel, Dixon's loyalty is maintained by the promise of a "real" job (a heavenlike fantasy), as well as his willingness to submit to the hierarchy of the academic system.


Dixon thinks of London as the Promised Land. Though it's only a train ride away, the city seems unattainable to him. People with money, with family money, with better looks, better fabrics, better bodies, better lives—these people are "London" to him. London also represents sex. Christine Callaghan lives there, along with various women Bertrand Welch presumably beds without any sense of guilt or responsibility.

Cities often represent freedom or debauchery. InLucky JimLondon is almost more the former than the latter. Dixon sometimes recalls one afternoon he spent in London, on leave during the war. He didn't do anything exotic—ate in a café, felt deliciously anonymous. He longs for all of London's freedoms, and one of those is being a small cog in a big machine.

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