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Dixon and Margaret have a drink at the Oak Lounge down the road from the Welch residence. Margaret is in the middle of explaining to Dixon her emotions during her suicide attempt. The suicide attempt was unsuccessful because Margaret's neighbor, Wilson, came in to complain about the high volume of her wireless radio, and found her still conscious. Margaret describes the kindness of the hospital staff and of Mrs. Welch. Dixon tentatively probes Margaret to see if she would try committing suicide again. Margaret asserts that she would not, as she no longer cares for Catchpole, who has not contacted her at all.
Margaret demands another beer and Dixon pays for it, even though Margaret's salary is higher than Dixon's. Dixon remembers the morning of the day Margaret attempted suicide, when they went for coffee and Margaret stopped at a drugstore to buy sleeping pills. Margaret had invited Dixon over for tea that evening, but he had stayed home to write a lecture. Dixon has since learned from Margaret that Catchpole broke up with Margaret, and that she swallowed the pills around the time that he should have been there for tea.
Dixon arrives back with their drinks, and Margaret thanks him for giving her space during her recovery. Dixon suspects that the comment is supposed to reproach him for visiting her only once in hospital, but finally decides that Margaret seems "genuine." Dixon probes Margaret about the upcoming "arty get- together" at Ned Welch's house. Margaret recites the planned activities and part of the guest list, including a camera team from Picture Post Magazine and Welch's son and his girlfriend, whom Margaret describes as a ballet student named Sonia Loosmore. Dixon confides to Margaret that he has no musical talent and suspects that Welch merely wants to test him.
Margaret asks to change the subject to themselves, gives Dixon "intimate glances," and asks if they can move from the bar to a more private corner. Dixon, frustrated by this sudden change, lights up cigarettes for them both and then excuses himself to go to the bathroom. In the bathroom, Dixon fantasizes about walking out of the bar and out of his job. He has visions of London, and wonders about their significance. Leaving the bathroom, Dixon again feels the urge to run away, but "economic necessity and the call of pity," combined with fear, force him back into the Oak Lounge.
The second chapter opens in the middle of a conversation, the same way that Chapter 1 did, but this time it is Margaret Peel who is bothering Dixon. These abrupt entries into conversation alert us that there will be no slow transitional passages in Lucky Jim. The narrative moves quickly from episode to episode, in a narrative form reminiscent of the 18th century "picaresque" novel, in which a main outsider figure traveled through various comic episodes without achieving much character growth. While the form seems similar, we cannot yet tell whether Dixon will have grown by the end of the novel. The fact that Margaret and Welch both open one of the first two chapters sets them up as Dixon's two main predicaments. Just as Dixon doesn't reveal his contempt for academia to Welch out of fear of losing his job, Dixon cannot reveal his frustrations with Margaret for fear of hurting her already-sensitive feelings.
Just as Welch holds fast to traditional scholarly hierarchies, Margaret holds fast to a traditional gender hierarchy. Although Margaret holds a higher position at the college, and therefore a higher salary, she still insists that he pay for all of their drinks. Margaret spends a fair amount of time consciously acting as she thinks women should, with expressions of timid bravery and tinkly laughter.
In this second chapter we begin to realize that while Dixon is very perceptive about the outward appearances and actions of others, the inner workings of their minds are mysterious to him. Therefore, Dixon's conversation with Margaret is described in terms of strategic warfare. He cannot guess what Margaret will say next, or what she covertly means by what she does say, and associates this deceptive language with all women. It is difficult to determine in this chapter whether it is Margaret herself, or Dixon's own pity and good-natured concern for her, that renders him almost incapable of changing anything about the direction this part of his life is moving in.
The chapter ends with Dixon's longing for an imaginary London skyscape, which introduces geography to the novel. We have been told in Chapter 1 that Dixon's accent is northern English, and the college town and country around it seem to be located in the south of England. London is introduced as a symbol of everything that Dixon's life at the provincial college and at home is not.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Lucky Jim!