Characterisation in The Play Look Back in Anger

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Diagnosis of a Complex Personality

      In spite of certain drawbacks Look Back in Anger is a real drama about real events and characterisation of real people. It is considered to be a study of a highly complex personality at odds with the society Osborne has managed to give a convincing dramatic representation of a complex human being. Jimmy symbolized the disillusionment of a number of people from the post-war generation who felt that the world of their time was not treating them according to merit.

      Jimmy represents the self-tormented lone person in a self-inflicted exile from the world, drawing strength from his own weakness and joy from his own misery. A university graduate and an enormous cultural jazz, reads only good book and “posh” Sunday paper but he lives in a squalid attic flat in a drab Midland town and even his livelihood by running a sweet stall.

      “An angry man,” as he is projected, Jimmy is dissatisfied with everything in life and rages at the world. He feels like a victim of some social injustice and lashes out at people and institution by his scathing remarks. He is a misfit in a group of reasonably normal and well-disposed people. During the action we observe a number of characters acting; interacting, discussing one another critically, making and withdrawing choices and throwing further light to Jimmy’s character.

Jimmy in Relation to the Contemporary Society

      The depiction of the contemporary scene by the another is really authentic. The hydrogen bomb which is mentioned twice only is quite important in this context. Though mentioned only twice, its effect on the moral imagination of a generation can be felt throughout. We are subtly aware of the psychological impact of the bomb on men of Jimmy’s temperament. The newspapers have published news item relating to people’s protests against insensitivity and hypocrisy of the church and the state. Through Jimmy, the author makes some scathing remarks at the contemporary scene. The disillusionment and frustration of the post-war generation finds expression through Jimmy’s bitter and cynical comments. He reads as article written by the bishop of Bromely and ridicules him and asks his wife sarcastically, if the Bishop of Bromely is her father’s “non de plume”. The reference to social evils are made in Act III Sc. I. Jimmy asks Cliff: “Have you read about the grotesque and evil practices going on in the Midlands?”. He criticizes the practice of sacrificing animals in the name of religion.

      The play brings to light the class distinction that is existent in Britain. Jimmy despite his good education is denied of a suitable job. He feels that the upper-class people have conspired against him as he was from low origin. He feels victimized by social injustice and hence wages a battle against the upper middle class and holds his wife Alison as a hostess. Through the characters, the author throws enough light on the contemporary society.

Duality in Jimmy’s Character

      Jimmy a dissatisfied youth suffers, is frustrated and makes terribly wrong choices. In Jimmy Porter, we are confronted with a man whose anger starts in human idealism and the desire that men should be more honest more alive and more humane than they normally are. Jimmy’s outrage is very little controlled by the mind. His motives are hopelessly mixed. We are clueless as to whether his anger with Alison centers in a genuine desire to save her, or in an ugly type of possessiveness heavily disguised. His attack on his friend and wife are inconsistent. He criticizes Cliff both for not reading the New Statesman and also for reading it. He taunts his wife for being well educated at the same time taunts Cliff for being ignorant. There seems to be a duality in his character. He suffers on account of Hugh’s mother but is totally unsympathetic to Alison’s mother whom he calls an “old bitch” and wishes her to die. He claims to know at an early age more about love-betrayal and death than others would know all their life. He suffered at the bedside of his dying father, and sympathized with the woman who according to a news item got injured in a mass-meeting of an American Evangelist, but when it comes to his own wife, he hardly shows any emotion. He casually dismisses Alison’s miscarriage by saying that it was not the first misfortune in his life. In Act II Sc. I, enraged with his wife’s defiance, he curses her and wishes that she should have a child that dies and says that only this kind of misfortune will teach her about suffering.

      He feels that he is the only one who really knows what suffering is, and that he has the right to criticize severely those who feel less agitated by seeing other’s suffering. He constantly bullies his wife to the point of humiliating her in presence of others. He cares little about his wife’s sensitiveness and attacks her family members in the most abusive language with intention to hurt her feeling yet at the same time he himself is very sensitive to all kinds of shock. He can accept neither life nor death with ease.

The Reason Behind Jimmy’s Violent Outbursts

      Jimmy criticizes everyone, ram and rants at everyone, his anger is not without a valid reason. He believes that he is the victim of some social injustice. His feeling that life has been pretty unfair to him leads him to cast a venomous eye at everyone, more particularly the people of the upper classes whom he holds responsible for denying him his rights. It is noteworthy that Cliff, Alison and later even Helena accept that Jimmy is basically worthwhile. They never accept his ideas or agree with his beliefs yet they do not dismiss him as worthless. Alison at one stage even believed that her sanity depends upon going away from him. But nevertheless, they believed that beneath the rough exterior and harsh language lies a good and honest person, a frustrated reformer who unable to change the world desires to destroy it. They perceive that his anger has elements of honesty and courage Helena makes a correct appraisal of Jimmy when she says. “I have discovered what is wrong with Jimmy” and adds “He was born out of his time”. Alison agrees with Helena’s view. Helena further says that—“when I listen to him, I feel he thinks he’s still in the middle of the French revolution. And that’s where he ought to be”.

Jimmy’s Relationship with Helena

      Helena’s name is introduced in the end of the very first act though physically she is introduced in the next act. The news that Helena is coming to stay at their place as a guest is enough to infuriate Jimmy. He considers her as one of his “natural enemies” and does not spare her from his vicious and blunt attacks. Helena, with her air of being the gracious representative of visiting royalty, soon makes the situation intolerable by her presence. She is middle class not only by birth, but by instinct and convictions. Jimmy hated her and took pleasure in insulting her. Irritated with Jimmy’s constant criticism she threatens to slap him. She interferes with Jimmy and Alison’s married life and instigates Alison to leave Jimmy.

      After Alison’s departure she in an impulsive reaction kisses Jimmy after slapping him savagely. After that she lives with Jimmy as his mistress. She strictly follows the middle-class convention. On seeing Alison after her unexpected return the Church going Helena’s conscience is awakened. She confesses to Helena that her affair with Jimmy is terribly wrong and sinful. Jimmy is at constant war with the conventions and believes that sincerity alone can govern human relationship. And Helena contradicts him by believing that the “book of rules” is necessary to consult and says “I still believe in right and wrong: Not even the months in this mad house have Stopped me doing that. Even though everything I have done is wrong, at least I have known it was wrong.” She gives priority to ethics than relationships. Her loyalty to people gets a back seat in comparison to her loyalty to convention. Jimmy is aware of this fact and knows that they are opposite as far as ideals and conventions are concerned, so when she leaves him, he is resigned rather than angry and hurt at personal level but not at the level of his ideals.

Jimmy’s Demand of Complete Allegiance

      The irony in Jimmy and Alison’s marital life was, Jimmy demanded completed allegiance and Alison’s failure to meet his demand. Jimmy demands complete devotion, and unquestioning love from Alison. When he married her he wanted her to cut off completely from her background to which she belongs and adapt herself to his working-class conventions. Her correspondence with her family despite his disliking is considered by him as an act of defiance and betrayal. He feels that Alison has betrayed him by marrying him while she remained mentally and spiritually in the world of her parents. Alison confesses that she has tried to understand Jimmy and tells Helena: “I’ve tried to. But I still can’t bring myself to feel the way he does about things. I can’t believe that he’s right some how”. Jimmy expects everybody to be loyal not only to him but to all the things he believes in, not only to his present and future, but to his past as well. In Alison’s word Jimmy expects her to be loyal to, “All the people he admires and loves, and has loved. The friends he used to know, people I’ve never even known—and probably wouldn’t have liked”. He expects Alison to react like him in certain situations failing which he is offended. On learning the news of Mrs. Tanner’s impending death he is upset. He gets ready to visit the ailing lady and expects his wife to accompany him. When he asks her if she would go with him she tracks his question and gets ready to go with Helena to the Church.

The End of the Play

      Osborne has artistically ended the play. Jimmy is a angry person. Helena started living with him but Alison returns unexpectedly after losing her baby through miscarriage. It is a very painful situation when somebody loses the child. At this time her outbursts is addressed to Helena in the following words: “It’s no good trying to fool yourself about love, you can’t fall into it like a soft job; without dirtying up your hands.....It’s either this world or the next.” Osborne artistically infuses some humility into the pride of Jimmy. Jimmy is a living character full of life and vitality and from the first act to the last scene of the last act we notice a slight development in his character. The proud and egoistic Jimmy who takes delight in tormenting his wife, bullying her by making offensive remark against her family members discards his pride and humbly says to her: “was I really wrong to believe that there’s a—a kind of—burning virility of mind and spirit that looks for something as powerful as itself? The heaviest, strongest creatures in this world seem to be the loneliest. Like the old bear, following his own breath in the dark forest. There’s no warm pack, no herd to comfort him. That voice that cries out-doesn’t have to be weakling’s does it?”. He unmasks his feelings and lets out the fear that haunts him—the fear of loneliness. After Helena’s desertion, he makes a desperate attempt to patch up with Alison and pleads to her “I may be a lost cause, but I thought if you loved me it wouldn’t matter.” So Jimmy at last compromises with the situation by humbling himself. His pleads have a tremendous effect on Alison who despite her deserting him loves him dearly. She answers, “It does not matter! I was wrong, I was wrong! I don’t want to be neutral, I don’t’ want to be a saint. I want to be a lost cause. I want to be corrupt and futile!” Then faced at last with a really effective example of his own handiwork, Jimmy quails and the setting becomes perfect for a reconciliation.

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