Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 574
The central action of “State of England” takes place on the grounds of a private school not far from London. Big Mal is first seen talking on a mobile phone to his wife, from whom he is separated. He and his wife, Sheilagh, are both at the school for a sports day; their son Jet is to run in several races. Big Mal’s face is disfigured by a horrible cut, which he received when he and his friend Fat Lol fought with some people in a central London parking lot the night before.
Big Mal’s marriage is in trouble, and he is short of money. He married his son’s mother just the previous year, but five months ago, he left his wife and son to move in with Linzi across the street. Big Mal and Linzi (whose real name is “Shinsala”) spend much of their time watching Indian pornographic films.
Big Mal is unhappy. Not long ago, he lived in Los Angeles for a few years. Although he liked the city, he found he could not make it there on his own. He knows he is an uneducated, lower-class thug and that his associates are, if anything, even more illiterate and pitiful. He reflects on what it is to be a nightclub bouncer: A bouncer mainly keeps people out; if you have to bounce too many people, that means you have been a bad bouncer. By that test, he has been only moderately good at his trade. At the sports day, he is embarrassed by his own appearance.
Although Big Mal is not virtuous, he knows what virtue is. His parents represent some kind of ideal because they stayed married, and Big Mal feels guilty about leaving his wife. He loves his son. He worries about him and tries hard to help him and please him. He takes Jet to films, coaches him on running the race, and somehow finds money to pay Jet’s very high tuition. He tells Jet he will eat a burger, even though even the word “burger” makes him sick. The only thing he will not do, although Jet begs him to, is enter the fathers’ race.
Big Mal wants his son to be exceptional but realizes that he is not. Jet’s academic performance is very poor, and he comes in last in his first race. The one way in which his son stands out among the other boys, Big Mal eventually realizes, is that his skin is whiter.
Toward the end of the story, Martin Amis reveals what happened the previous night. Big Mal had asked Fat Lol to include him in some petty money-making scheme. The scheme consisted of going to a multistoried parking structure in central London and placing boots on the tires of cars that were parked the least bit irregularly. The idea was that car owners would pay them 70 pounds to remove the boots rather than go through what they assume would be a time-consuming procedure to settle their tickets. After installing several boots, they were assaulted by a horde of people returning for their cars—assaulted and beaten badly.
However, things begin to look up for Big Mal. Jet finishes respectably in his last race, and his wife seems to want to take him back. Although that reunion is not assured, Big Mal makes the ultimate effort: He is last seen running with great pain in the fathers’ race.
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