Cliff Lewis: Character Analysis in Look Back in Anger

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Cliff’s Role In The Play

      Though in terms of length Cliff’s role is not as long as that of Jimmy or Alison or even Helena, yet in terms of significance it is no less important. As far as the development of action in the play is concerned he plays a crucial role. He is a mutual friend of Jimmy and Alison, living with them under the same roof and spectator to the whole drama between the couple. He is close to both of them and is the only person on; whom both Jimmy and Alison agrees. Alison confides her fears to him and he offers his moral support to her in her battle against Jimmy.

Cliff’s Profound Affection For Alison

      Cliff though a common friend of Jimmy and Alison, is more attached to the latter. He does not conceal his affection for her, rather he openly displays his feelings for her by hugging and kissing Alison in Jimmy’s presence to which of course Jimmy does not seem to object. He is so attached and close to Alison that he is the first person to know about her pregnancy. Alison anticipated that her husband might react adversely to her pregnancy and confided her fears to Cliff who advises her to tell him. Cliff does not approve of Jimmy’s harassment of his wife. He opposes Jimmy for hurling abusive comments on Alison. He takes Alison’s side and says: “Leave the poor girl alone I said”. In fact he tries his best to protect Alison against Jimmy’s wrath. He makes best effort to bring peace to the household. He is deeply concerned about Alison’s plight and makes constant effort to protect her. In the beginning, when Alison burns her arm by the hot iron, he applies the soap to soothe her burning sensation. Although there is a deep attachment between Cliff and Alison, and even as they are physically as well as emotionally pretty close, yet neither of them has any sexual desire. Cliff can fondle her, hug and kiss her without embarrassing her or arousing suspicion in Jimmy’s mind. On one occasion Cliff jokingly suggested that he should go to bed with her. When questioned by Helena about their relationship, Alison replies that she and Cliff are truly fond of each other but nothing besides it, no sexual desires.

Cliff A Peace Maker In The Porter’s Home

      Helena once scolds Cliff of being a passive spectator to Jimmy’s harassment of his wife, to which he retorts back that he is not a police. He seems rather hurt by the accusation of Helena. Cliff through his simple kindness and uncomplicated affection has been a source of moral support to Alison in the worst moments of her life with Jimmy. He very bluntly tells Helena that though he objects to Jimmy’s hostility towards his wife, yet he is not on Helena’s side either. He bluntly declares that the situation in the Porter household had worsened since her arrival. Then he goes on to describe his own role in the house: “This has always been a battlefield, but I’m pretty certain that if I hadn’t been here, everything would have been over between these two (Jimmy and Alison) long ago. I’ve been a no-man’s land between them. Sometimes it is still and peaceful, no incidents, and we’ve all been reasonably happy. But most of the time, it is simply a very narrow strip of plain hell. But where I come from, we’re used to brawling and excitement. Perhaps, I even enjoy being in the thick of it. I love these two people very much.”

      In this speech, he makes his position clear to Helena. Perhaps he is right when he claims that his presence is averting the collapse of marriage totally. We cannot help but agree with him. He is well-wisher of both, and indeed the peace maker of the Porter’s household.

His Great Disappointment Due To Alison’s Departure

      Cliff was greatly disturbed and disappointed when he came to know about Alison’s decision to leave Jimmy. He is grieved on account of the break-up. He asks Alison to wait until Jimmy returns from London, but she was determined to leave without delay. When Alison hands over a note to be delivered to Jimmy, he .suggests that she herself should tell him about her decision. Expressing his disappointment and regret, he tells her that the house will lose much of its charm without her: “The place is going to be really cock-eyed now” he laments. Alison urges him to look after Jimmy in her absence, he replies “we’ll keep the old nuthouse going somehow”. His mental state was disturbed and deranged after her departure. He gets irritated when asked by Helena about Jimmy whether he would look for one of his old girlfriend like Madeline. Cliff tells her that Madeline was old enough to be Jimmy’s mother and shouts with irritation: “Why the hell should I know!”. He then gets ready to go out. When Helena suggests that he should be present in the house when Jimmy comes back, he pleads in a sad tone: “I’ve had a hard day, and I don’t think I want to see anyone hurt until I’ve had something to eat first, and perhaps a few drinks as well. I think I might pick up some nice, pleasant little tart in a milk bar and sneak her past old mother Drury. He then gives her Alison’s note and asks her to pass it on to Jimmy: “you give it to him ! He is all yours. And I hope he rams it up your nostril!”,

A Close Bond Between Cliff And Jimmy

      Cliff shares a very close and intimate relationship with Jimmy. He works with Jimmy at the sweet stall and belongs to the working class background just like Jimmy. Cliff perhaps is the only person who is spared of Jimmy’s brutal criticism except occasional abuses. Jimmy’s thought is no match for Jimmy’s verbal duels, yet retaliates without hesitation on some occasion. For instance when Jimmy says to him: “You’re too ignorant”, Cliff retaliates: “Yes and uneducated. Now shut up, will you?”. He calls Jimmy a bloody pig and says that Jimmy is food maniac who will one day be imprisoned for stealing vegetables in order to satisfy his insatiable hunger. Though Cliff disapproves of Jimmy’s rude behavior more particularly his treatment of Alison, yet he has deep sense of solidarity for his friend. He feels so sorry when he learns about Alison’s decision to leave, he pleads with Alison to confront Jimmy herself. After her departure, he tells Helena that he cannot bear to see Jimmy hurt and gets ready to go out.

Cliff’s Humble And Modest Temperament

      Though Cliff and Jimmy are from the same social background yet they are very different in their attitude and approach. Unlike Jimmy, he is uneducated and lacks intellectual depth. He tells Alison the reason why Jimmy spares him from his sharp tongue: “...he gets on with me because I’m common. Common as dirt, that’s me”. It reveals his modesty and humility. When Jimmy calls him ignorant, he readily adds, “yes and uneducated”. On one occasion when he reads a newspaper, he modestly tells Jimmy that he is trying “to better” himself. Cliff by his simple kindness and uncomplicated affection offers moral support to Alison in her worst moment. He modestly admits that he is not match for Jimmy who is intellectual and says that he would like to try his luck at somewhere else other than the sweet stall.

His Sense of Solidarity

      The most admirable quality that is to be found in Cliff is his deep sense of solidarity. A virtue that can be attributed to his working-class origin and which Jimmy finds missing in both Alison and Helena. When Jimmy breaks the news of Mrs. Tanner’s illness and says that he must go to visit the old woman, Cliff readily offers to accompany him to the hospital. On the other hand, when Jimmy asks Alison to go she goes out of the room without any reply. Another example of Cliff’s solidarity is on learning about Alison’s decision to leave Jimmy he is disturbed and feels sorry.

      He requests Alison to confront Jimmy and tells him about her decision herself. Later on he gets ready to go out of the house because he would not be able to see that Jimmy is hurt and his expression when he will come to know about Alison’s departure. In spite of his disapproval Jimmy’s ill-treatment of his wife he cannot help sympathizing with Jimmy.

Conclusion

      Cliff, as we have seen is a very amiable kind of person. He is kind-hearted, friendly, simple and loyal. He is humble and modest and wins over our heart by his deep sense of solidarity He is perfectly frank and candid, with nothing secretive or tricky about him. In comparison with Jimmy, he is very simple natured. Although he is not directly involved with the action of the play and has little influence in the course of events, he serves the purpose of offering a contrast to Jimmy and also emphasizing some of Helena’s characteristics by his unfavorable reaction to them. He even highlights some of Alison’s qualities by his attachment with her.

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