Alison Porter: Character Analysis in Look Back in Anger

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External Appearance

      As described by the author John Osborne, Alison Porter is “the most elusive personality”, i.e., one who is difficult to understand. She’s about twenty-five years of age, approximately of the same age as Jimmy and Cliff. She looks elegant even in Jimmy’s red shirt that she wears while ironing the clothes. She looks more striking in the presence of the men. She is tall, slim, and dark. She has long, delicate facial bones. She has a pair of large deep eyes.

Her Feelings For Her Parents

      Alison had married Jimmy against her parent’s wishes. Although Jimmy has not found favor with them, yet she keeps her relationship intact with her parents and continues to love them. Much to Jimmy’s resentment and disapproval she continues to write letters to her mother. In this correspondence no mention is ever made of her husband Jimmy; who feels offended because he feels that his name is a dirty word for Alison and her mother. In spite of Jimmy’s constant criticism of her family members, his resentment over her strong ties after marriage, Alison does not change her attitudes towards her family members.

The Disparity Between Her And Jimmy Regarding Their Views On Life

      In almost every aspect of life, Alison differs from Jimmy. They have come from different social background, had different upbringing, different educational background and different set of social values and morality. Alison belongs to the middle class while he comes from the working class background. As a strong believer in her middle-class morality she remained a virgin till the time of her marriage with Jimmy. This has not only surprised her husband but actually annoyed him. Alison confides in Cliff that Jimmy had used her virginity to taunt her. She. says “He was quite angry about it, as if I have deceived him in some strange way He seemed to think an untouched woman, would defile him”. Jimmy on the other hand had kept a mistress before marriage. After Alison walks out of his life a love affair develops between him and Helena. Helena even becomes his mistress.

      Jimmy and Alison seem to contradict each other at every point. Alison disapproved of Hugh Tanner, Jimmy’s friend, who along with Jimmy used to visit people’s home uninvited for food and drink much to her embarrassment. She disliked him for his crude and unrefined manners. On the other hand Jimmy accuses Alison for her non-attachment a quality which he attributes to her middle class background.

Her Disapproval of Hugh And His Mother

      Alison never liked Jimmy’s chum Hugh or Hugh’s mother Mrs. Tanner. She was repulsed by Hugh’s crudeness and unrefined manners. She had to put up with all these as she had to live in his apartment immediately after marriage. She was disgusted by the fact that Hugh used to invade her relatives and friends homes for food and drink, to which her husband Jimmy was also an accomplice. She still recollects the unpleasant incidents of her brief stay with him. The mere mention of his name is enough to irritate her. Neither does Alison have any feeling for Mrs. Tanner, Hugh’s mother though she knows pretty well that the lady had established Jimmy in her sweet stall. She knows quite well that Mrs. Tanner has a very special place in Jimmy’s heart and he has the highest regard and respect for this lady, yet she does not care. She is least concerned when she comes to know that the elderly lady was on her death bed. When Jimmy asks her to accompany him to London to visit the ailing old woman, she refuses straightway without giving a thought to her husband’s sentiments. Afterward when she comes to know about her passing away, she does not even care to send a bunch of flowers for her funeral.

Her Friendship With Helena

      Alison’s attitude towards Helena greatly differs from her husband’s attitude. Alison is friendly to Helena in spite of her husband’s disapproval of the lady. She does not mind at all on hearing that Helena is coming to stay with them through the same news upsets her husband. She enjoys Helena’s company and gets along well with her. She is grateful to Helena for assisting her in her household chores. Under Helena’s influence, Alison even goes to the Church in spite of her husband's resentment. Alison has strong faith in Helena and depends on her for moral support. Helena believes that Jimmy mentally tortures Alison beyond limit and that he will come to his senses only if she leaves him. She takes the liberty of sending a telegram to Alison’s father to come and take away his daughter. Alison does not contradict her friend’s decision and under her instigation does not hesitate to leave her husband and go away to her parents. Alison’s friendship with Helena is crucial to the development of the play.

Her Affection For Cliff

      Cliff is the only person to whom both Jimmy and Alison develops a liking. He is a common friend who is acceptable to both Alison and Jimmy. Alison is so attached to Cliff that she confides in him. He is the first person to know about her pregnancy. She hesitates to reveal her pregnancy to Jimmy because she fears that he might suspect her motive. Cliff advises her to go ahead and tell Jimmy. They openly show their affection for each other like kissing and hugging in presence of Jimmy. She and Cliff share an excellent relationship and Alison tells Helena that nothing sexual is involved in her relationship: “It’s just a relaxed, cheerful sort of thing, like being warm in bed. You’re too comfortable to bother about moving for the sake of some other pleasure”. Cliff is gentle and affectionate and genuinely tries to be of any help to Alison and Jimmy. He is alarmed by the growing disparity between the couple. He shows his concern for Alison when Jimmy hurls sarcastic comments on her.

Her Tolerant Perseverance

      One of the most remarkable qualities that are attributed to Alison is her tolerance. She has a remarkable capacity for tolerance and keeping her cool. “Silence is golden”, she seems to be a strong believer of this phrase. Even after four years of their married life, she finds it difficult to adapt herself to Jimmy’s lifestyle and habits. She gets irritated by his habits. For instance, she feels annoyed when he plays on the trumpet, just as he is annoyed by her endless ironing of clothes. Yet she remains silent and does not give expression to her annoyance. Jimmy tries to provoke her by making sarcastic remarks about her and criticizing her family members using abusive language. Yet she maintains her composure and claims exterior. Her silence annoys him ever irritating husband even more. Jimmy says that Alison can “twist your arm off with her silence”, meaning that her silence is more venomous than his abusive language and is more harmful. Sometimes Jimmy’s verbal attack becomes too unbearable for her. She tells Cliff that she can no longer put up with Jimmy’s callous behavior yet she does not take any concrete step until the arrival of Helena. Only under the instigation of Helena does she react to Jimmy’s harsh criticism. During the four years of their married life, she has been adjusting herself to Jimmy’s moods and whims. By nature, she is not a very demanding woman. Had it not been the discontentment of her marital life, she might have been happy as a wife despite her husband’s low social background.

Her Understanding Of Jimmy’s Temperament

      According to Alison Jimmy demands from others an allegiance not only to himself but also to those who are dear to him, like his father and the other women he loved. She describes this aspect of Jimmy’s nature to Helena: “It isn’t easy to explain. It’s what he would call a question of allegiances, and he expects you to be pretty liberal about them. Not only about himself and all the things he believes in, his present and his future, but his past as well. All the people he admires and loves, and has loved His father, who died years ago, even the other women he’s loved”. Alison makes a shrewd comment on her husband’s nature as she has a great understanding of her husband’s nature and it becomes clear on certain occasions. On one occasion when Helena says that Jimmy seems to have suffered a great deal in life Alison cannot help making the ironical comment: “Don’t take his suffering away from him. He’d be lost without it”. In her conversation with her father, Alison points out that Jimmy had married her to take revenge, not for anything else. According to her, Jimmy as a representative of the working class wanted to take revenge on the middle class by marrying her. He despises the class distinction and the air of superiority with which the middle-class people behave toward people belonging to the working class.

      She further says that Jimmy should have been another Shelly and married a girl like Mary, the daughter of William Godwin. She calls him a "spiritual barbarian” who had challenged her by marrying her. But here she wrongly accuses her husband of being insensitive. That Jimmy is not totally insensitive becomes evident when he grieves over Mrs. Tanner’s death. However, Alison is partly right as Jimmy shows his indifference to people who are socially above him. She aptly expresses her opinion about him to Helena: “He wants something quite different from us. What it is exactly I don’t know—a kind of cross between a mother and a Greek Courtesan, a hench woman, mixture of Cleopatra and Boswell”.

The Sexual Compatibility Between Her And Jimmy

      Apart from their mutual affection for Cliff, the other thing that seems to keep the bond intact between the couple is the sex equation. They are poles apart regarding their temperaments, habits of thought and general outlook of life, but yet there exists a perfect sexual harmony between them. As per his nature, Jimmy does criticize her overwhelming passion rather insultingly in presence of Cliff: “She has the passion of a python. She just devours me whole every time, as if I were some over large rabbit.....She’ll go on sleeping and devouring until there’s nothing left of me.” In spite of this kind of criticism, one thing is clear that he enjoys making love to his wife. Apart from this compatibility, there is no understanding between them. Although they are husband and wife living under the same roof, sharing the same bed, yet they are so alienated from each other that Alison hesitates to reveal her pregnancy to him lest he suspects her motive. It becomes undoubtedly clear that the only thing that was holding the marriage from collapsing was the sexual harmony between Jimmy and Alison.

The Psychological Basis of Her Reconciliation With Jimmy

      A mentally harassed wife, fed up with the ill-treatment of her husband, Alison walks out of Jimmy’s life at the instigation of Helena. She earns our sympathy. Yet she comes back to Jimmy “groveling and crawling”, as she herself puts it. She had suffered deeply. She married Jimmy going against her parents wishes. As a wife she was continuously harassed by her husband’s sharp tongue and the greatest misfortune that befell on her was the loss of her child. After the miscarriage, Alison can no longer endure her loneliness. Had she not lost the child, she might have had a second thought of returning to Jimmy. The child in her womb would have been a matter of great joy to her and would have healed her mental wound. Thus, there is a psychological basis for her reconciliation with Jimmy. And, in any case, she had been in love with him, he was the person for whom she had left the comfort of her parental home. It does not come as a surprise to us, though she tells Helena that she does not want to cause a breach between Helena and Jimmy. She has been atoned by her suffering which accounts for her falling at Jimmy’s feet. Their reconciliation is facilitated by the departure of Helena and the revival of the bears-and-squirrels game which symbolizes their affection for each other.

The Significance Of The Bears-and Squirrel’s Game

      The only moments when Alison found true happiness in Jimmy’s company were those when they played the bears-and-squirrel game, i.e. they imagined themselves to be animals and had gone to the world of fantasy escaping from the harsh world of reality. She describes the game to Helena thus: “It was the way of escaping from everything a sort of unholy priest whole of being animals to one another. We could become little furry creatures with little furry brains. Full of dumb, uncomplicated affection for each other playful, careless creatures, in their own cozy zoo for two”. This game is significant to their relationship. Both Jimmy and Alison enjoy this game and it shows their warmth and affection. At the end, their reconciliation is completed with the revival of this game.

Conclusion

      As a wife Alison was not Very demanding. She maintains her calmness in spite of being mentally harassed by her husbands. Later on she decides to walk out on him at the instigation of Helena. At the end she comes back wiser and more experienced. She has undergone the suffering of losing her baby in a miscarriage. Unable to endure her loneliness she has understood the need of Jimmy. She pleads before him and literally falls at his feet, confessing her mistake. Jimmy accepts her and they play the old game of bears-and-squirrels. Thus they are back to their normal life.

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