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Lucky Jim

Kingsley Amis

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Character Analysis

Chapter 1

Themes

"Luck" as opposed to "entitlement" accounting for one's lot in life

The importance of luck in Lucky Jim is signaled first by the title, and then by the repetition of the concept throughout the text. The novel charts both the bad and good luck of Jim Dixon, but Jim's feelings towards luck become more elaborate as the story proceeds. Dixon's bad luck provides some of the humor of the novel, but when he stops to rue his misfortune, the passages set aside humor for self-pity. At other points in the story, however, such as the incident with Mrs. Welch's sheets, bad luck is used to downplay Dixon's role in his own downfall. Once Dixon learns to trust luck, things turn around for him, and he begins to have a say in his fate.

Dixon's take on luck, is in direct contrast to the philosophy of a character like Bertrand Welch, who does not see discrepancies in class in terms of luck, but rather as the way things should be. Thus, while Dixon considers himself lucky when Christine agrees to come home with him, Bertrand considers Christine to be his "right." Although Dixon's passive surrender to "bad luck" can be pathetic, it is also indicative of his concern for others, while Bertrand's sense of entitlement reveals his self-centeredness.

The value of straightforwardness over pretension and hypocrisy

The main traits for which characters in Lucky Jim are satirized are hypocrisy and pretension. The Welches are mocked for their social pretensions, Margaret for her melodramatic romantic, and Bertrand for his attempts to act the part of an artist. No one explains to Dixon what it is that they really want from him and they usually have ulterior motives. However, Dixon himself is slightly hypocritical when the novel begins, keeping his real emotions from those around him, and faking feelings for Margaret that he does not actually possess. It is not until the end of the novel that Dixon is able to be straightforward himself, although he learns early on to appreciate this trait in others.

The differences between social classes

The theme of the differences between social classes works on a minute level throughout the text, and Dixon, with his eye for social, visual, and linguistic nuances, is often tracing out the divisions between classes. Although these distinctions are supposed to separate the members of the lower, middle and upper class, in Lucky Jim they actually serve to separate the characters into those who attempt to have class and those who genuinely possess refinement. The Welches, with their upwardly mobile social pretension, drag out all the markings of class, such as coffee and cakes for supper, an aesthetic appreciation of amateur art, and useless clothing, but never really possess it. Meanwhile, the characters who are less mindful of social class—usually those from the lower-most class and upper-most classes—display some coarseness and flaws, but are far more admirable and refined that their pretentious counterparts.

Motifs

Facial features as an indicator of personality

The "good" characters in Lucky Jim are fairly easily distinguished from the "bad" characters, and one way this distinction is made is through the relative mobility or immobility of their features. Characters like Professor Welch, Bertrand, and Margaret have almost static faces—if their expressions move, they move slowly, and do not change the general quality of their facial structures. On the other hand, Dixon spends several minutes trying to think back to the many variations of Christine's face. Dixon's own face is mobile and we see that characters that Dixon trusts, such as Atkinson and Gore-Urquhart, have animated faces, or at least several faces that they use to convey emotion. Thus it seems that the characters who have less to hide, and who are more genuine with Dixon, have mobile faces that convey what they're thinking.

A capacity for contempt as a marker of male "soundness"

All three positive male characters—Bill Atkinson, Dixon himself, and Gore- Urquhart—share a decisiveness about what they do and don't like. Bill Atkinson is remarkable perhaps only for the power of his contempt. Dixon, too, is able to get out of his oppressive situation with Professor Welch and Margaret because he sticks to his instincts, dividing the world into people he likes and those he does not. At the end of the novel, Dixon and Gore-Urquhart bond over their shared contempt for social functions, and Dixon's ability to express contempt seems to be what gets him a job as Gore-Urquhart's assistant at the end of the novel.

Symbols

Margaret's green Paisley dress and quasi-velvet shoes

In the first chapter of Lucky Jim, Dixon thinks forward to his upcoming meeting with Margaret, wondering what she will wear. He decides that he can make himself compliment anything but her green Paisley dress and quasi-velvet shoes, which is, of course, what she is wearing that night. Margaret wears the dress again in Chapter 16 when she and Dixon officially break off their relationship. All of Margaret's clothing seems to be unattractive, but this dress is clearly something that Margaret likes a lot and thinks that Dixon will find attractive. The fake quality of the quasi-velvet shoes also seems to be specifically indicative of Margaret's lack of sophistication. Thus, the dress is symbolic of Margaret's unawareness when it comes to Dixon. The comedy of her wearing the one thing Dixon can't stand is also symbolic of the more general comedy of bad luck.

Professor Welch's fishing hat and Bertrand's beret

Mr. Welch's fishing hat and Bertrand's beret are symbolic of their pretentiousness. Mr. Welch fancies himself a man of traditional England, and therefore a man of the people, but the comedy of Professor Welch's hat lies in the implication that he has never fished in his life, or even met a fisherman, but still sees nothing amiss in wearing a fishing hat himself. Bertrand's social pretensions are more ambitious and continental, as signified by his beret. Dixon makes fun of Bertrand's beret specifically for its uselessness. It does not block rain or keep him warm, and is worn only for effect. Bertrand and Professor Welch are wearing each other's hats when Dixon meets them on the street in the final scene, and Dixon's comic enjoyment of this reversal and of the silliness of the hats more generally sums up his contemptuous feelings for the Welches throughout the novel.

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