Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of this story indicates that it belongs to a recognizable group of narratives, ones that deal broadly with the “state of England” rather than narrowly with the lives of a few individuals, such as George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-1872) and Margaret Drabble’s The Radiant Way (1987). To call a short story “State of England” is a bold move by Amis, one that asks readers to understand not just the degradation, pathos, and dark comedy of Big Mal’s story but also what the story says about England in the 1990’s.

Big Mal recognizes that things have changed since he was a boy. Unlike Fat Lol, who is slovenly, gluttonous, and on the dole, and his wife, Yvonne, who looks like a bank robber, Big Mal has moved on. He has worked as a bouncer in high-class clubs. He has worked in California for a big-time mobster. He has moved out of the East End neighborhood where he and Fat Lol were born. He eats with more restraint than Fat Lol (especially since he became very sick on an airplane after gorging himself on hamburgers). Big Mal dresses well enough and uses a mobile phone.

He knows that the changes are part of a larger pattern. In the England of the 1990’s, class, age, race, gender, and even accent and education are not supposed to matter. Everyone is supposed to be equal. At the school Jet attends, there appears to be racial equality: For example, the other families are Japanese and Pakistani.


(The entire section is 484 words.)