Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Lucky Jim belongs to the genre of fiction known as the picaresque novel—with its episodic lurchings, its opportunistic hero, and its emphasis on satirizing various English character types. Although resourceful, the picaro is by tradition simple, a naïf who reveals, by his simplicity, the tattered moral fabric of a society based on pretension. It is Amis’s great achievement in Lucky Jim that he has taken the ramshackle form of the traditional picaresque novel, centralized his moral theme (the firm value of being one’s own person), and added the conventional plot element of lovers separated by evil forces.
To develop his moral stance in Lucky Jim, Amis divides his characters into two easily recognizable groups: generally praiseworthy figures, the ones who gain the greatest share of the reader’s sympathy, and evil or at best worldly and corrupt characters who obstruct the fortunes of the good ones. Jim (the awkward outsider), Julius Gore-Urquhart (his benefactor or savior), and Christine Callaghan (the decent girl who accepts Jim despite his faults) are distinguished by moral honesty, personal sincerity, and a lack of pretense. Among the antagonists are Professor Welch (Jim’s principal tormentor), Bertrand Welch (the defeated boaster), and the neurotic Margaret Peel (the thwarted “witch”), all of whom disguise their motives and present a false appearance. Gore-Urquhart functions as a mediator between common sense (Jim) and excess (the Welches), providing the norm by which to judge other frequently unstable personalities.
As the protagonist, Jim Dixon’s character is established immediately with the description of his dual predicaments: He has a job that he does not want but for financial reasons is trying hard to keep, and he has become involved,...
(The entire section is 739 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Jim Dixon’s predicament is twofold: He has a job—as a lecturer in medieval history at a provincial English college—that he does not really want but is trying hard to keep, and, without quite knowing why, he has become involved with Margaret Peel, a younger but better-established colleague. For the renewal of his contract with the college, Jim is dependent on the mercurial opinion of Professor Welch, a seedy, absentminded historian of independent means in whose country house Margaret is recuperating from a suicide attempt, the apparent result of her having been jilted by Catchpole, Jim’s erstwhile but since departed rival.
Jim tries to improve his professional standing by writing an absurd article on medieval shipbuilding techniques, agreeing to give a public lecture at the college’s annual festival, and accepting an invitation to a cultural weekend of madrigal singing and art talk at Welch’s home. There he meets the professor’s son, Bertrand, a London artist, and Bertrand’s extremely attractive girlfriend, Christine Callaghan; he dislikes them both at first sight, especially Bertrand. Despite Jim’s efforts to the contrary, the cultural weekend results in deeper involvement with Margaret and further damage to his job. After an overdose of culture, he sneaks out to a pub, gets drunk, makes an unsuccessful though solicited pass at Margaret, and falls asleep holding a lighted cigarette, leading to the burning of a rug, a table, and the bedclothes in the Welches’ guest room. With the surprising help of Christine, he partially conceals the fire damage, but Margaret finds Jim and Christine...
(The entire section is 662 words.)