Significance of Bears and Squirrels Game in Look Back in Anger

Also Read

The Bears-and-Squirrels Game As a Symbolic Device

      The bears-and-squirrels game is a symbolic device used by the author for dramatic purpose in the play Look Back in Anger. Jimmy and Alison’s marital life is marked by tension. The game of bears-and-squirrels is a brave attempt by Jimmy and Alison to compensate themselves for the failure of their marriage. The game makes them forget the bitterness of their lives and give them momentary happiness. According to a critic, the bears-and-squirrels game seems at first a trivial evasion of the complexities found in any marriage, but towards the end, the game becomes a statement of the nature of human love the willingness to inverse oneself completely in creativeness and to shame the pain and the pleasure of the limited animal. Jimmy thus ultimately reconciles himself to an animal relationship with Alison. In her squirrels' nest, Alison is precisely a worm and a generous animal who will lie by Jimmy’s side every night. Thus, the symbolic device of the bears-and-squirrels game serves to illustrate the theme of marriage and the sexual relationship between Jimmy and Alison.

Alison’s Explanation of The Animal Game

      The “bear” and the “squirrels” are the personifications of Jimmy and Alison respectively. They are the stuffed toys that Alison and Jimmy keep on their dressing table. They are described symbolically in the stage directions at the beginning of the play—“below the bed is a heavy chest of drawers, covered with books, neckties and odds and end, including a large, tattered toy teddy bear and soft, wooly squirrel”. Like a bear Jimmy is restless, he feels isolated. Bears never live in herds, Jimmy is also a misfit in the contemporary social set up. On the other hand, Alison is tender and docile like a squirrel, living on a shady tree and eating nuts. Alison gives an account of her bitter experience after her marriage with Jimmy. She had married Jimmy much against her parents’ wishes. As Jimmy had no accommodation of his own as he was without a job, they had to put up with Hugh, one of Jimmy’s friend. Hugh was a detestable fellow who together with Jimmy used to invade the homes of her relatives and friends for food and drink uninvited. He used to take Alison along with them and humiliate her by their crude behavior. The relationship between Alison and Jimmy are so strained that she is reluctant to reveal her pregnancy to him. Helena is horrified to learn about her condition and firmly tells Alison to tell Jimmy about her pregnancy, “Either her barns to behave like anyone else, and looks after you—” or Alison must get out of “mad house”. At this Alison points out to the toys of a teddy bear and a squirrel on a chest of drowns and says: “Well, that’s him and that’s me”. Alison tells Helena their playing of the game of bears-and-squirrels is “an escape into dumb, uncomplicated affection in a cosy zoo for two a silly symphony for people who could not bear pain of being human beings any longer”. Jimmy and Alison revert to the bears-and-squirrels game, as a refuge from a world which sets ‘cruel steel traps’ for its animals. It seems possible that his basis of warm animal love might lead them to happiness.

The Animal Game—A Way of Escaping Into The World of Fantasy

      The bears-and-squirrels is a kind of “unholy priest hole” of being animals to each other, Alison tells Helena. Jimmy and she imagines themselves as “little furry creatures with little furry brains”. In the role of animals they showered the “dumb uncomplicated affection” for each other. Thus the bears-and-squirrels game is a kind of escape for Alison and Jimmy from the harsh realities of life and their failure to adjust themselves to each other in marital life. Jimmy and Alison’s marriage had failed. Though they had a love marriage and married against Alison’s parents’ wishes, yet they fail to live in total peace. They are always at loggerheads with Jimmy constantly bullying his wife with his severe criticism of her family members and herself. Jimmy criticizes her for being noisy, for remaining silent when he wants her to retaliate. But when they play the game the bitterness and cynicism in their voice disappear and they make sounds like animals expressing their love for each other. They forget the class disparity which is the basis for the tension in their life and all other complexities of life.

      By imagining themselves as animals, Jimmy as a bear, representing masculine strength and Alison as a squirrel representing feminine softness and gentleness.

The Temporary Happiness Provided By The Game

      On rare moments Jimmy and Alison used to imagine themselves as bears-and-squirrels respectively and become oblivious to the pain and suffering of life. Their social prejudice, their rationality and human characters are all forgotten when they escape into the fantasy world. In act I when Cliff goes out of the room for a while, leaving Jimmy and Alison all to themselves, in a moment of mutual tenderness, they play this game. Jimmy affectionately calls Alison a “beautiful, grey-eyed squirrel”, a “Hoarding, nut-munching squirrel”, “with highly polished gleaning fur, and an ostrich feather of a tail: This affectionate description offers great joy to Alison and relieves her from the tension that she experiences as a result of Jimmy’s constant bullying. She is so happy that like a child she produces the sound of a squirrel and calls Jimmy a “jolly super bear”, “A really, marvelous bear”, “Marvelous and beautiful”. Like a little girl she jumps up and down in a state of excitement, making little “paw gestures”. They lovingly embrace each other. To Alison everything seems all right now. In her state of bliss, she is about to tell Jimmy about her pregnancy when Cliff suddenly enters the room. Alison’s dreamworld is shattered. The escape into the world of fantasy had made both Jimmy and Alison forget the stern reality and makes them very happy though momentarily.

Jimmy Throws The Teddy Bear

      On learning about Mrs. Tanner’s illness, Jimmy gets emotional and very disturbed. He gets ready to pay a visit to meet the sick lady for whom he had the highest regards. He asks Alison to accompany him, but she ignores his request and goes out to the Church with Helena as previously planned. Jimmy is hurt at Alison’s attitude. He picks up the teddy bear gently, looks at it and throws it on the floor. It hits the floor with a thud and makes a rattling groaning sound. This action of Jimmy shows his disappointment with his wife. He looks about disbelievingly, he finds it hard to take that Alison should act in such a callous manner. At this time he feels lonely and isolated, he feels forsaken. He badly needs Alison’s company at this time, but she had let him down. He is so distressed he throws the teddy bear which symbolizes him. He feels it is of no use to him now and discards it. His gesture in throwing the toy bear on the floor shows that the fantasy world of animals can no longer provide any comfort to him.

Alison’s Disillusionment With The Toy-Squirrel

      When she feels that she can bear no more of Jimmy’s rude behaviour Alison decides to leave him when he is away in London to visit Mrs. Tanner. When she packs her things to go with her father to her parental home, she picks up the toy squirrel from the chest of drawers and is about to put it in her suitcase, then changes her mind and puts it back. This has also a symbolic significance. The toy squirrel is dear to her as it symbolizes her in the animal game she plays with Jimmy and she would like to carry it on.

      But with the sudden turn of events, change in her relationship with Jimmy whom she has decided to leave, the squirrel loses its meaning. For her, too, the world of fantasy has ceased to exist. Her picking up the toy squirrel suggests her feeling of nostalgia and putting it back shows her disillusionment and disappointment.

The Reconciliation and The Bears-and-Squirrels Game

       Towards the end when a repentant Alison literally falls at Jimmy’s feet groveling, he takes her in his arms and consoles her saying that he and she will be together again in their bears cave and squirrels’ nest and will live on lovely and on lots of nuts. Both of them had suffered. Alison through her miscarriage and Jimmy through desertion once by Alison herself, second time by Helena: So both are in a chastened mood on account of the suffering that they have gone through. In this mood of renewed tenderness, Jimmy’s mind at once goes to the bears-and-squirrels game. He affectionately tells her as animals they will sing song about themselves, about warm trees and cosy caves, and will bask in sunshine. He further says that Alison, as the squirrels will take care of his fur and help him to keep his claws in order because he is a rough and untidy bear. He will also see to it that she keeps “that sleek, bushy tail glistering as it should: as she is a “beautiful squirrel”. At this point Jimmy cautious her, “we’ve got to be careful. There are steel traps lying about everywhere”. He warns her that for innocent animal cruel steel traps are lying everywhere. He says in a pathetic voice: “Poor squirrels!”, and Alison replies”. Poor bears!” oh, poor, poor bears Thus the reconciliation is made more effective by the animal game. It may be possible that they are playing the game for the last time as both of them have become matured through the process of suffering and can face the realities of life with ease.

The Use of Other Symbols

      Ironing: Alison’s ceaseless ironing symbolizes a kind of routine, with which Jimmy is fed up. The ironing adds to Jimmy’s boredom and becomes a symbol of monotony. In Act I, Jimmy complains: “Always the same ritual. Reading the papers, drinking tea, ironing”. He hates ironing and criticizes Alison for being noisy while ironing clothes. It is ironical that, after Alison goes away and Helena takes her place, Helena continues ironing clothes like Alison which suggests that there is least change in Jimmy’s life.

      The Church-bells As a Symbol: Jimmy is totally an atheist. He is annoyed when he hears the sounds of the Church-bells. He is opposed to Church-going, opposes to religious practices and rituals, and particularly the Church-bells, being symbolic of the Church annoys him. In Act I, when he criticizes women in general for being noisy, he hears the ringing of the Church-bells and says: “Oh, hell! Now the bloody bells have started”. The sound of the Church-bells irritates him because they suggest in a vague manner of the existence of the spiritual world in which he has no faith.

      The Trumpet: Playing on the trumpet is a hobby for Jimmy yet it also serves as a symbolic purpose in the play. It offers Jimmy an escape from the world of routine activity and hence is a source of some comfort to him. He says that those who cannot appreciate jazz can have no feeling either for music or for human beings. The sound of the trumpet also suggests an atmosphere for breaking nerves. The trumpet may be an escape for Jimmy, but is the cause of annoyance for others. Alison and Helena cannot bear the sound of the trumpet. Alison reacts: “God, I wish he’d lose that damned trumpet”. Alison says she is afraid that the landlady would turn them out one day because of Jimmy’s trumpet. Helena says that Jimmy wants to kill someone, herself in particular with the sound of his trumpet. Unable to bear the sound Cliff calls out to him: “Hey you horrible man ! stop that bloody noise, and come and get your tea!” Thus the sound of the trumpet reinforces the points of view of Jimmy and other inmates of the house.

      All these symbols sum up the nature and character of Jimmy—angry, restless, suspicious, domineering, dissatisfied and frustrated.

University Questions

Write about the significance of the bears-and-squirrels game in Look Back in Anger.
“Look Back in Anger ends with Jimmy and Alison resolving to play the game of bears-and-squirrels”. Comment on the significance of the bears-and-squirrels game in the light of the above statement.
What symbolic devices does Osborne use in Look Back in Anger and with what effect?
Give your views on Osborne’s use of symbolism and its dramatic value in Look Back in Anger.

Previous Post Next Post