Lucky Jim

Siobhan Devlin

So today in class we talk about Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (Penguin), which I looked forward to because it’s a book with two interesting female characters, for a change. But old Muzzleface brings out his thesis: poor Jim is emasculated by these two women. Oh, no. Poor Jim. “How is Jim emasculated by the women?” I ask. Muzzleface tells me to look on page whatever, and asks, “Who has the power in that situation?” Me: “Well, Jim wants to have sex with her and she doesn’t want to, so I guess she does. How is that emasculating?” Muzzleface quotes Camille Paglia, something about women being sure of their femininity because they have periods and can have babies, but men need to do something—to take action—to feel like they are men. He goes off on a vague tangent about “woman power” and how it subjugates men. I refrain from blurting out that few feminists can read Paglia without laughing nowadays, and just say, “If the women have power because they are attractive, what about unattractive women? Where does their power come from?” and he says, “What about Margaret Thatcher?” At this I am dumbfounded.

In one passage in the book, Jim is described as “unmanned.” Muzzleface must read “unmanned” as “emasculated,” but I think the author meant Jim is startled by something and doesn’t know what to make of it. The girl in question is a nineteen-year-old. Jim has the hots for her, and she blows hot and cold because she already has a boyfriend but is kind of interested in Jim. I try again: “Women emasculate men by not having sex with them?”

Apparently they do. Me: “So they should have sex with him so as not to bruise his manhood?” Muzzleface: “No, I don’t think they should have sex with him.” Someone else in the class says, “He could have sex with her, if he wanted to force it.” Muzzleface: “But that would be rape, and that isn’t manly.”

Are the women in the story responsible for Jim’s manhood? Is there no other way for him to be a man? I mean, couldn’t he find some form of creative expression instead? There are other men in the novel who aren’t emasculated: Bertrand, for one. Christine isn’t having sex with him either, but he’s not emasculated because he’s having sex with the married lady but hanging onto Christine because he sees her as good marriage material. He doesn’t seem to need the married lady to feel like a man, and he is quite arrogant, so presumably his manhood would be intact even if he didn’t have a woman. Could that be because he is an artist and already “doing something”? Really what I want to know is why Jim Dixon isn’t responsible for his own life and his own manhood. I think of all the men I know who are confident and fully, um, masculated. All of them would laugh at the notion that their masculinity is tied to their ability to take up with any woman they choose.

Muzzleface says that the title Lucky Jim is ironic because Jim has terrible luck. He has no power. He is subjugated by the women, by the don at the school where he teaches, by the don’s wife, by just about everyone. However, in spite of his spectacular fuckups throughout the book, such as knocking back too many pints at the pub while staying at the don’s house for a weekend, then passing out with a cigarette in his hand and setting the bed on fire, Jim Dixon comes out on top. He gets the girl, he gets the plum job that his competitor was after, he humiliates the don and so on—all because he has a stroke of good fortune, thanks to the women who keep covering his ass: Margaret, the older and far less attractive woman Jim is carrying on with, and Christine, who helps dispose of the evidence after he nearly burns down the don’s house. And yet, these evil women emasculate him. And yet, he goes off with one of them at the end. And yet, left to himself, with no women to trouble him, he probably would have lost his job a lot earlier in the term, because he is irresponsible, drunk and incompetent in his work.

Jim cannot be held accountable. Not when there are diabolical and sadistic women around. Not when they have such tempting breasts and big brown eyes to distract him and then they reject him. Jim is not a “man” (note: we do not have a working definition of manhood or masculinity so I’m just winging it here), not because he is a childish, irresponsible drunkard, but because he has been emasculated. Poor, unlucky Jim.

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