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Professor Ned Welch and Jim Dixon walk together across the campus of a small English college. Welch is in the middle of a tedious story, and Dixon mentally expresses disgust while remaining outwardly interested. Welch is Dixon's direct superior in the Department of History and will affect whether or not Dixon remains a junior lecturer next month.
Dixon shifts the conversation, asking about Margaret, who is convalescing at Welch's house after a suicide attempt. Welch replies that Margaret is recovering quickly and absent-mindedly moves the conversation onto another tangent while Dixon stifles his frustration. Welch goes inside the history department offices to fetch his bag, and Dixon stands outside wondering how Margaret will react when he sees her later in the afternoon. Dixon and Margaret were once natural friends, and, to Dixon's surprise, had reached the status of "going round" together, especially after Margaret's mysterious lover Catchpole dumped her. Dixon thinks bitterly about his interactions with women, and of Margaret's style of asking probing questions and making unexpected confessions.
Dixon proceeds inside the history building to remind Welch that Welch had invited him to tea. On the way to Welch's house, they discuss Dixon's academic article, for which Dixon has been unable to find a publisher. Dixon thinks morosely of his article's "niggling mindlessness." Welch nearly gets into an accident, and Dixon thinks back to all the bad impression he has made on the senior faculty at the college. As they near the Welch residence, Welch invites Dixon to his house the following weekend, and asks Dixon to give the end-of-term College Open lecture on the subject of "Merrie England."
Although Lucky Jim is set on a college campus, in this first chapter we see no students, an attempt on Amis's part to alert us that his campus novel will not be an examination of the follies of students. Instead, it rapidly becomes apparent that the novel is a satire of the habits and practices of the faculty at a provincial English university. Professor Welch, representative of the old-guard faculty, is "cultured" in the ivory tower sense of the word—he passionately enjoys classical music, for example, and the closest he will come to swearing is "my word." But, due to the expansion of the British college system after World War II, Welch and others like him find themselves working at newly-built colleges and teaching a student population that suddenly includes students of different social backgrounds. The incongruity of Welch and others like him in this new learning environment furnishes much of the humor ofLucky Jim.
The first chapter also introduces us to Jim Dixon, whose consciousness will dominate the third-person narration. Our knowledge of Dixon's thoughts opens up another comic incongruity of the novel—the discrepancy between the venomously critical thoughts Dixon has about those around him, and his outwardly meek behavior toward those same people. This discrepancy, however, is also Dixon's underlying predicament, as he is trying to win himself a lifetime position in a social group that he ultimately despises. We see in this chapter that Dixon has little respect for academic work, including his own. And Welch, for all his prestigious standing in the History Department, cannot judge the merit of Dixon's article without outside affirmation, making us question whether Welch really is such a good teacher or scholar.
Dixon is an anti-hero in the sense that everything about him is ordinary—his appearance, his accomplishments, and his talents are all completely unremarkable. The one thing that isn't ordinary about Dixon is the comic strength of his contempt for those around him. Much of the comedy of Dixon's asides to himself is visual—he imagines stuffing Professor Welch into a toilet, he invents horrific faces for himself to express his inner frustration, and he describes Welch's absent-mindedness to himself with vivid metaphors. However, the humor of the novel also extends itself to language, and Dixon is also gifted in his ability to subvert the hackneyed language of others. For example, when Welch exclaims "my word," the narrative continues, "Quickly deciding on his own word, Dixon said it to himself." Thus Welch is made ridiculous as his own language is turned back on him.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Lucky Jim!