Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The main theme of Jill can be seen in John’s rejection of the world of his parents and of Whitbread, and his beginning to find a place in the larger world. After his return from Huddlesford, he feels at home for the first time: “It felt nice to be back.” Yet this movement into the larger world is both incomplete and subjected to the usual Larkin irony. For example, although John burns the letters and the story he has created about Jill, he becomes a romantic hero when he attempts to “rescue” Jill from Christopher. He has left behind forever his parents’ world and his childhood, but his parents come to Oxford to visit him in his sickbed.

A related theme is expressed in the moment of revelation in which John perceives that there are no differences between “any pair of opposites.” This revelation may be an example of what the Romantic poet John Keats described as “negative capability,” the ability to accept mysteries or unreconciled opposites intuitively rather than attempt to resolve them analytically. John, who has been the center of every scene in the novel, suddenly disappears from it; he is left with his revelation, while the perspective shifts to the opposites his parents and Christopher that have figuratively pulled his life from one side to the other. While they go about their business, Christopher to London and his parents to Oxford, John seems somehow beyond both of them.