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Man and society in David Lodge's "Changing places"
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„High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per our.“ (Changing Places, p. 7). This is how David Lodge begins his famous novel about two university professors who exchange their places for one semester. Englishman Phillip Swallow from the University of Rummidge in the West Midlands travels to Euphoria; and vice versa, Morris Zapp from the State University of Euphoria is heading for gloomy England.There is no doubt that Changing Places is a humorous book. The story of two professors is interwoven with many examples of situational humour, which only contributes to its fame. The story can be regarded as a satire of campus life where humour and fun play important roles by means of the characterisation and description of negative factors of the place. David Lodge says: “Changing Places and Small World were generically conceived as “comic novels”- comedy dominates the structure and texture of both, and licences a certain element of caricature in the characterisation and of farce in the action.” (David Lodge interviewed by Lidia Vianu)At the very beginning the two professors do not know that they will not only change their jobs, but also their friends, wives and lives as such. Moreover, each of them will suffer a tremendous culture shock. The reason for this may be that both professors travel to absolutely different cultures and societies where the will certainly face some problems. At this time they are not aware of any positive fact they may come across in their new positions. The reader learns about them that even though they are strong personalities, they both have some worries about their future.To speak the truth, he approaches most of life’s challenges in the same spirit. He is a mimetic man: unconfident, eager to please, infinitely suggestible. (Changing Places, p. 10)It would be natural, but incorrect, to assume that Morris Zapp has suffered no such qualms on his flight. A seasoned veteran of he domestic airways, having flown over most of the states in the Union In his time, bound for conferences, lecture dates and assignations, it has not escaped his notice that airplanes occasionally crash. (Changing Places, p.10)Although the two professors definitely wanted some change, they are still very closely connected to the society and culture they come from.Imagine, if you will, that each of these two professors of English Literature (both, as it happens, aged forty) is connected to his native land, place of employment and domestic hearth by an infinitely elastic umbilical cord of emotions, attitudes and values … (Changing Places, p. 8)Both countries that the professors come from are as different as two sides of a coin too. They differ in climate, in people’s behaviours, in opinions etc.Euphoria, that small but populous state on the Western seaboard of America, situated between Northern and Southern California, with its mountains, lakes and rivers, its redwood forests, its blond beaches and its incomparable Bay, across which the State University at Plotinus faces glittering, glamorous city of Esseph …(Changing Places, p. 13)Rummidge, on the other hand, had never been an institution of more than middling size and reputation and it had lately suffered the mortifying fate of most English universities of its type… (Changing Places, p. 14)Euphoria is shown as a country full of wild emotions and freedom. Throughout the whole novel the reader may observe various examples of this wild feature of the country. The society of Euphoria, people’s opinions and feelings can be compared to its nature. At the beginning of chapter number 2 the reader is acquainted with the origins of Euphoria. We discover that it was created by a huge eruption, Euphoria, whose unique and picturesque landscape was the product of a huge geological fault running through the entire state. (Changing Places, p. 55)and this fact, this restless character of the country, is mirrored in the characters of the people living in Euphoria. There are many instances which prove this fact. We can begin with the bomb that exploded immediately after Phillip’s arrival to Euphoria. At this point he had a chance to become acquainted with the nature of new environment. Quite a lot of students and staff were milling about, and a longhaired youth with a KEEP KROOP button in the lapel of his suede jacket informed Phillip that the building was checked out for a bomb allegedly planted during the night. (Changing Places, p. 59)As another evidence, which proves the wild character of this country, can serve one of the Mabel Lee’s replies to Phillip’s questions about this country.“Does, er, this sort thing … happen often?” he asked.“Hmm? Oh, yeah. Well, I guess it’s the first bomb we’ve had in Dealer.” (Changing Places, p. 64)Another quotation does not need any further comments. It very clearly and precisely describes the society of Euphoria. All about the political situation in Euphoria in general and on the Euphoric State campus in particular. The factions, the issues, the confrontations; Governor Duck, Chancellor Binde, Mayor Holmes, Sheriff O’Keene; the Third World, the Hippies, the Black Panthers, the Faculty Liberals; pot, Black Studies, sexual freedom, ecology, free speech, police violence, ghettoes, fair housing, school busing, Viet Nam; strikes, arson, marches, sit-ins, teach-ins, love-ins, happenings. (Changing Places, p. 48-49)Absolutely different is the picture of Rummidge. Rummidge is presented as a calm and quiet city, which lives its own everyday stereotype. Lodge made Rummidge the representative of typical conservative features of the English society. Here in this book, we may come across various statements that describe Rummidge as a calm city, with its own life. The tolerance of people here is enough to turn your stomach. (Changing Places, p.126)This calmness has, on one side, a positive effect on people not temporary living there, but on the other side it causes too stereotyped lives for the citizens of Rummidge. And then when they are exposed to different living conditions, they act utterly differently. But this feature can be seen in both characters. Both Phillip and Morris, under the influence of new environment react differently and do things they would never do at home.One would say that Rummidge has remained the same for hundreds of years and is not influenced by new inventions or thoughts. It follows the traditions of its ancestors and stays in its old-fashion shell protected from all “newers”. The end of Gutenberg era was evidently not an issue here: they were still living in a manuscript culture. (Changing Places, p. 59)Quite interesting are professors’ opinions on the countries they visit. Due to the fact that they knew very little about the countries in which they were going to spend one semester, they consider them as something unpleasant and Morris even feels that his visit is not a reward but a punishment for him. This negative prejudice is mirrored in his views about Britain. He had neither affection nor respect for British. The ones he had met – expatriates and visiting professors – mostly acted like fags and then turned out not to be, which he found unsettling. (Changing Places, p. 47)Similarly Désirée, Morris’s wife, speaks about the British only according to her meeting with Phillip. Again she is not in favour of them.Jesus, if all the British are like him I don’t know how you’re going to survive. (Changing Places, p. 121)In another example Désirée again mentions British nature, but here we can notice that Morris already adopted this feature, mainly due to the influence of the environment in which Morris occurs.I’ve head about the hypocrisy of the English, but I didn’t know it was contagious. (Changing Places, p. 147)Another element of the novel that can be directly perceived is the influence of the society and new environment on the personalities of the characters. This influence can be seen when we speak about both professors. Both of them do things they would not do at home, in their home environment. They act and behave as if they were utterly new people. And all this happens under the influence of new society and probably because everybody has some inner desire for doing uncommon thing, which reveals at some new, unknown place where nobody knows you. As it has been already mentioned this influence and the following change can be seen in professors’ opinions as well as in their behaviour. As an example can serve Morris’s change after having spent some time in the house of Dr. O’Shea, a very conservative character full of goodness, when he begins to make “acts of goodness”. This new feature is so strange that even Morris himself is embarrassed by his behaviour. But it was good of him, uncharacteristically good of Morris Zapp. The truth of the sentiment struck him more and more forcibly as he sat in the cold and cheerless parlour of the Reilly house waiting for O’Shea to finish his ministrations, … (Changing Places, p. 93)A slightly different kind of change in thinking can be observed in Phillip’s behaviour when he experienced the so called party with Melanie and her roommates. Probably because of the society in which he suddenly appeared, he feels embarrassed and tries to find the best solution. He does not know what to do. Either to remain the “old” Phillip or to act as a “ new person”, the new Phillip Swallow, the visiting professor at the State University of Euphoria. He hesitated at the threshold, then moved on, out of the apartment, up the staircase to his own empty rooms, one part of himself saying ruefully, “You’re to old for that sort of thing, Swallow, you’d only feel embarrassed and make fool of yourself and what about Hillary?” and another part of himself saying, “Shit!” (a word he was surprised to hear himself using, even mentally) “Shit, Swallow, when were you ever young enough for that sort of thing?” (Changing Places, p. 101)A great example of the change in thinking and behaving because of the influence of new society is the situation where the two professors had to cope with their “strip affairs”. None of them visited any strip-bar at home, even though, for different reasons. Morris lacked this kind of experience because of his reputation at home. It would be unsuitable for a university professor of his name to visit such a place. Phillip has always wanted to visit a strip-bar, but he never dared to do so at home. Here, however, in the countries where nobody knew them, both professors experienced something new – strip-bars. … that was strictly for hicks, tourists and businessmen. Morris Zapp’s reputation as a sophisticate would have been destroyed the moment he was seen by a colleague or student patronizing one of the South Strand strip-bars. (Changing Places, p. 111)And “Why not?” thought Phillip Swallow. “It’s something I’ve never seen and always wanted to and what’s the harm and who’s to know and anyway it’s a phenomenon of cultural and sociological interest.” (Changing Places, p. 112)Phillip’s decision was supported by the fact that he had never seen so much sex around him as he did during his stay in Euphoria. Not since he was at school, probably, had he taken a good look at another male organ until he came to Euphoria. Since then penises had been flaunted at him from all sides. (Changing Places, p. 168)The following example of the sexist society is in a passage where Phillip describes a demonstration of young people. The sex is not directly mentioned there but the reader may find it when reading between the lines.… and girls, girls of every shape and size and description, girls with long straight hair to their waists, girls in plaits, girls in curls, girls in short skirts, girls in long skirts, girls in jeans, girls in flared trousers, girls in Bermuda shorts, girls without bras, girls very probably without panties, … (Changing Places, p. 194)One of the last aspects of the relationship between a man and society is how the professors realised their change. When reaching the end of the novel we may observe that these characters feel they had changed. They feel that they are no more the men they used to be. Phillip begins to have a feeling of no more being an Englishman, but still not being an American. The fact that he lives in a different society has influenced him so much that he has almost forgotten his British roots. “But I don’t feel British any more. Not as much as I used to, anyway. Nor American, for that matter. Wandering between two worlds, one lost, the other powerless to be born.” (Changing Places, p. 174)In one of the letters to his wife Hillary he realizes his change and confesses it. He is no more the man he used to be. But his change seems to be convenient to him because he does not regret it.Because I’ve changed, Hillary, changed more than I should have thought possible. (Changing Places, p. 195)The change happened on the other side too. But this change is a little bit different from the previous one. Now the object of the change is not only Morris, but Rummidge too. Morris has changed under the influence of the environment; however, the environment has changed too under the Morris’ influence. Here we can see something like a mutual influence. It seems as if Morris had brought with him the wilderness of Euphoria. He appears as if he had planted the roots of this unrest and now it grows by itself. The reader may see it in the last chapter in a scene where both couples meet in a hotel and attempt to solve their “problem”. Phillip discovers there that Rummidge experienced a march last year and that after his leaving Rummidge became a city similar to Euphoria.DÉSIRÉE: What?PHILLIP: D’you realize what day this is… The day of the march!DÉSIRÉE: The march? Oh, yeah, the March. (Changing Places, p. 246)VOICE OF COMMENTATOR: A lot of people feared blood would run in the streets of Plotinus today, but so far the vibrations are good… (Changing Places, p. 248)Changing Places (1975) was Lodge’s first book in a trilogy of campus novels, where he introduced the main story line. The second book in a trilogy is Small World (1984) where Lodge further develops the story of two university professors, while Nice Work (1988) completes the trilogy. Lodge in his satire about Phillip Swallow and Morris Zapp attempted to create a magnificent picture of the mutual relationship between the man and the society in which he lives. It is said that Changing Places was inspired by Lodge’s teaching experience in California, USA. Some even claim that his novel has strong autobiographical features, to which he strongly oppose: “Each of my novels corresponds to a particular phase or aspect of my own life: for example, going to the university of California at the height of the Student Revolution, being an English Catholic at a period of great change in the Church, getting on to the international academic conference circuit; but this does not mean they are autobiographical in any simple, straightforward sense.” (David Lodge, adopted from The British Council Home Page)Changing Places is a book which, without any doubts, will interest every reader. That is not only because of the use of humour, but also due to the fact that it is a very surprising story where the reader is not able to predict any action and it keeps him in constant tension. And, as David Lodge says, this is it what makes any story a good story: “I think any good story should surprise the reader. If its development is totally predictable, there’s no much point in reading it (unless it’s a true story).” (David Lodge interviewed by Lidia Vianu)BibliographyLodge, David. Hosťujíci profesoři. Trans. Mirek Čejka, Praha: Odeon, 1980.Lodge, David. Changing Places. Great Britain: Penguin Books Ltd., 1978.British Council Home Page, Contemporary Writers – David Lodge, 31 March 2004 Vianu, Lidia. Desperado Literature. 31 March 2004