Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Readers of this story immediately realize they are not in the usual world of polite English narratives. The characters here are from the lowest levels of society, their speech is often illiterate and usually obscene, and their actions are violent. Although Amis’s style is brilliantly effective, it is not what many readers expect from a British novelist. His style is hip and colloquial and filled with sentence fragments. It is extraordinarily energetic, even frantic. To use a term employed by British critics, Amis’s style is not British or American, but “Mid-Atlantic.” It is worth noting that this story was first published in The New Yorker.

The narrative of the story of the sports day moves forward in a logical progression, but it does not read smoothly because it is broken into seven short sections, and living in Big Mal’s mind leads to many somewhat confusing flashbacks. One important question is not answered until a flashback in section six. However, although the ending leaves readers uncertain about what the future holds for any of the characters, “State of England” ultimately holds together.

One thing that gives the story cohesion is its serious themes. These themes are expressed in many ways, through numerous techniques, including symbolism. Many items that function normally in the story also resonate symbolically. Big Mal’s facial wound parallels the wound in his heart. The mobile phones that are everywhere suggest the mobility of society. The fathers’ race at the end is an obvious version of a symbol to be found everywhere: the literal race suggests the race to get ahead in the competitive world of the 1990’s.

What gives force to Amis’s story is also its range. Although the people in it are for the most part disgusting, Big Mal’s efforts are touching, especially as he tries to help his son. Also, Amis creates humor, as in his story’s inflated, self-important title. Big Mal’s mini-essay on what the profession of bouncer involves is eye-opening and hilarious. So is the fate of Fat Lol, who must sell his mobile phone (thus giving up his social mobility) because his own car has been booted.