Changing Places

by David Lodge

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 612

“Travel narrows,” was one of the Zapp proverbs.

Morris Zapp is facing an impending divorce from his disgruntled second wife, Desiree. In his desperate attempt to get her to reconsider, not out of love for her but love for their twins, he is willing to go against his firmly held principle about travel—if only to use it as some kind of leverage to aid his situation now. He recalls how Desiree had always wanted him to take her to Europe, so he uses this to get on her good side. After all, they’ve reached a compromise to delay the divorce proceedings for a good half-year on one condition: that he go away for six months. He mentions traveling to Europe to catch her attention; however, she does not budge, even as he slyly brings up the prospect of taking the trip together as a family. He is later left with no choice but to persuade the Dean of Faculty to put him on the faculty exchange program, propelling our story and placing this protagonist on a plane headed to England, alone.

“Now all is clear,” says the girl. “I figured you couldn’t be needing an abortion.”

The girl is Mary Makepeace, the blonde seated next to Morris Zapp on the plane. They strike up a conversation when she informs him politely that his fly is open. He then vocalizes what he’s observed since first getting on that flight—that he is the only man in a plane full of girls. When Mary asks him how he even ended up on this plane in the first place, he tells her casually it’s because one of his students sold him her ticket. This marks the very moment Morris Zapp realizes he is on a chartered plane full of women who've availed a medical tour package for getting an abortion.

Obviously it is a new literary medium, the lapel button, something between the classical epigram and the imagist lyric.

Our other protagonist, Philip Swallow, is on a plane to America. He has sat through Charles Boon’s long-winded speeches for hours. Philip has unwittingly swallowed all the details about the Euphoric state—its many factions, political groups, issues, faculty subgroups, and whatnot. Lost in the descriptive mess of freedoms, strikes, and arsons, his attention shifts to find amusement in the slogans. He contemplates their collective merit, imagining them progressing into some new form of literary device, and indulges the thought further by picturing some post-graduate student writing something about it somewhere in the near future. Philip wonders more than ever when this flight is going to end.

Frankly, the more I hear about him, the less I like him.

In Philip Swallow’s letter to his wife, Hilary, he expressly tells her of what he thinks of Morris Zapp. He wishes Zapp would not bother them any more than he has, most especially their daughter, Amanda, who is currently at an impressionable age. This follows after having read Hilary’s letter to him in which she describes in detail the unabashed way Zapp overstayed his welcome at their house. Philip has all the reason to distrust Zapp’s conduct around women, largely after hearing Mrs. Zapp recount all the horrible things he’s done and what he's wont to do. Philip makes it clear to Hilary that this man’s presence is one that does not inspire good morals. Ironically, he says this just a few pages shy of him having to openly admit to Hilary that he had slept with Zapp’s daughter, Melanie, in what he describes as “the most difficult letter I have ever had to write.”

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