In a very real sense, Changing Places is a situation comedy chronicling the clash of several different cultures, clashes which are set in motion by the faculty exchange program between the University of Rummidge and the State University of Euphoria. Set in fictional equivalents of San Francisco, California, and Birmingham, England, the story revolves around several prominent cultural oppositions involving British and American culture, the generation gap, men and women, and, ultimately, the age of the book and the age of film. Set in 1969, the novel embraces the height of the student protest movement in the United States and the beginning of a similar movement in Great Britain, the early days of the women’s liberation movement, and the end of the so-called golden age of academe, before the glut of Ph.D.’s changed the dynamics of being a university professor. In this highly charged atmosphere, the faculty exchange of Morris Zapp and Philip Swallow sets off a chain of complications that address most of the practical dilemmas of modern existence.
For Philip, the exchange means a spring semester in Plotinus, the university town across the bay from idyllic Esseph. The situation that greets him at Euphoric State, however, is in stark contrast to the image he had had of the easygoing city on the bay. Competitiveness seems to dominate every facet of life. From the social snobbery of cocktail parties, to the mysterious machinations of tenure committees, to the conflict between students and the authorities, to the bedroom, the urge to exceed dominates every aspect of American culture. This orientation toward conspicuous achievement is in direct contrast to the comfortable, stodgy dignity of Rummidge, and Philip is at first repelled but then attracted to this wide-open, fast-paced style of living. He has a one-night stand with Melanie Byrd, who turns out be Morris Zapp’s daughter by a previous marriage; he becomes involved in the student protest movements, and his arrest, by mistake, for stealing...
(The entire section is 824 words.)