Compare and contrast Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis and Room at The Top by John Braine, both products of the Angry Young Man Movement.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most distinct aspects of the Angry Young Man movement is how the social setting that professes to provide unity and a sense of coherency is actually the opposite.  This is seen as an integral part of both Room at the Top and Lucky Jim.  

For Braine, the British vision that seeks to achieve a "room at the top" is fundamentally skewed. The need to secure a "well paying" job and fulfill the caricature of success are elements that drive Joe and help to cause intense hurt.  The way in which Joe is shown at the end helps to illuminate how society and social progress are both skewed standards to guide one's life.  Even though Joe recognizes the wrong in what he has done, the social setting around him does not share the same belief.  Moral and ethical transgressions are not recognized by this vision of English society.  It is for this reason that there is a resentment at the end of the narrative.  Joe has accomplished his place at "the room at the top" and it is strikingly hollow.  The "vigorous realism" that is presented is not a negative judgment.  It is reality.  The realistic condition that Braine shows is one where external or "outer' directed notions of the good are validated and internally driven notions of what is right or honorable is not deemed as important.  The way in which the socially acceptable notions of England are depicted is one that embodies a “true feeling of living in the present."  This uncompromising view of reality is what causes the angry young man movement to take hold, and is a major element of Room at the Top.

This same skepticism regarding social expectations is evident in Amis' Lucky Jim.  The world in which Jim lives is not authentic.  Jim recognizes phoniness and inauthenticity in Professor Welch, who sees himself in a different setting than what reality offers.  Like Joe, Jim understands a chance to improve his standing.  Yet, Jim understands that ascension in the academy is a fairly empty pursuit.  Professor Welch and his son are both insincere, while colleagues like Margaret are not intellectual pillars.  As with Joe, Jim recognizes that the world in which he wishes to ascend is one in which people use one another as a means to an end as opposed to an end in of themselves.  I think that this becomes a critical element in the "Angry Young Man" characterization within Amis's work.  The social setting in which betterment is  far from pure and enriching.  Jim ends up repudiating this realm and finding advancement in a social configuration apart from it.  Jim is "lucky" because he recognizes the fraudulent nature of the world that surrounds him.

In both works, a critical tenet of the "angry young man" movement is displayed.  There is a recognition of social limitations, despite assertions to the contrary.  For both Jim and Joe, social advancement and achieving a form of the opportunity ideology carries implications and consequences that were not originally envisioned.  In both works, protagonists want to find success, while carrying a healthy dislike for the conditions of authority.  Their dislike comes from a reflection of social hypocrisy that professes one reality while advancing another.  This becomes a significant element of the anger present in both protagonists.

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Lucky Jim

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