Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In almost every case, method overshadows message in Changing Places, an unusual fact in a comedy of manners. Yet one can easily see this process at work in two of the major themes, marriage and order versus chaos.

The marriage of Morris and Desiree Zapp is beset with problems. Morris is routinely unfaithful, inattentive (except in bed), and inconsiderate, and Desiree’s awakening sense of self-worth leads her to loathe her life with him. Though she has been disenchanted for some time, her request for a divorce comes as a surprise to Morris, and he puts her off by proposing a trial separation and arranging to be Euphoric State’s representative in the Rummidge exchange. The thought of the divorce hurts his pride, while Desiree is happy to get him out of the house for any reason. For both characters, the situation is anything but healthy.

Equally unhealthy, though for different reasons, is the staid, highly conventional marriage of Philip and Hilary Swallow. These two have settled unthinkingly into a routine. They are the strictly conventional husband and wife who have become strictly conventional parents of strictly conventional children. They are as average as Morris and Desiree are exceptional, and their relationship is no better for their conventionality. In fact, their reactions to Philip’s being selected for the exchange, except for the possibility of a divorce, are virtually identical to the Zapps’. Philip views the semester as a blessed relief from his home life, and Hilary is glad, deep down, to have Philip out from underfoot for a while.

Lodge juxtaposes the mixed couples to generate the message that...

(The entire section is 677 words.)