Ending of The Play Look Back in Anger

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Alison’s Return, A Subject of Controversy

      Critics have not approved of the ending of the play Look Back in Anger. One critic is of the view that the ending of the play suggests a cyclic pattern and the whole process of agony and torture will start again from the next day. Unable to tolerate her husband’s constant verbal abuse, Alison leaves home because she needs “peace so desperately”, the audience supports her decision to walk out of Jimmy and cannot accept it easily that the same wife would come back groveling and crawling to her tormentor.

      The final reconciliation have been the target of critics attack. The way the hero has been portrayed is difficult to accept the fact that he would really reside with his wife. Knowing Jimmy’s mood and temperament, it is not easy for anyone to believe that he would take back his wife Alison and forgive her after the way she had deserted him. The ending scene is quite irrelevant to the preceding scenes.

      Helena’s desertion of Jimmy after Alison’s unexpected return also fails to convince us. In the final scene Helena decides to leave Timmy and thus paves the way for reconciliation between Jimmy and Alison. Helena’s sudden leaving of Jimmy, especially after the tender and affectionate moments between, them in the preceding scene seems quite implausible. Sufficient motivation behind her drastic decision has not been provided. No ground for her sudden decision has been provided earlier in the play either. There is no mental conflict in Helena at some point earlier in the play to prepare the audience for this sudden reversal in her attitude towards Jimmy.

Alison’s Abject Surrender To Jimmy

      Alison’s groveling to Jimmy and pleading to take her back is unacceptable to many critics. She suffered silently the mental torments her husband inflicted upon her. Then she decided that she could not tolerate anymore, that she needed peace desperately and leaves Jimmy. She refers to Jimmy as a “spiritual barbarian” and holds him responsible for throwing a challenge and disturbing her uncomplicated tranquil life. She had undergone a lot of suffering on account of Jimmy’s constant bullying her. Jimmy regards her as a “hostage” of the upper class whom he detests and harasses her with his constant verbal attack of her family members. The lack of compatibility is so great between the two that Alison hesitates to reveal her pregnancy to him. She was apprehensive that he might suspect her motive. Jimmy humiliates her in presence of Cliff by comparing her passion to that of a python. He criticizes her for going to the Church, for being indifferent to Mrs. Tanner. Her account to Helena about her life after marriage indicates that she had undergone through a miserable time.

Psychological Basis For Alison’s Return

      Alison’s surrender has been objected by many critics as impossible or even improbable. Despite Jimmy’s constant bullying of his wife one thing is clear that they are very much in love which is symbolized by their bears-and-squirrel’s game. They had a love-marriage and Alison perceived him in romantic light as a knight in shining armor. Though she later on admits to Helena with a bitter note that “his armor didn’t really shine very much” while leaving Jimmy she left a note mentioning that she will “always have a deep loving need” of him.

      This seems to be a genuine expression of her feeling for Jimmy. There are other reasons that explains as well as justify Alison’s action in the ending. Alison has suffered the greatest misfortune that can befall a woman. She has had a miscarriage and has lost her baby. She has lost the only one who could have filled the void in her life in absence of her husband. The loss of her baby has naturally left her distraught and forlorn which consequently leads her to her husband’s home. She repeatedly stresses and assures Helena that she has come back not with an intention to cause a breach between Jimmy and her, that she came out of some forbid curiosity”. Though she did not disturb Helena-Jimmy relationship, yet it can not be denied that perhaps sub-consciously the thought of reconciliation must have crossed her mind.

      Yet another most vital psychological explanation for Alison’s abject surrender. After Helena’s desertion of Jimmy, Alison also get ready to leave. She about to leave when Jimmy’s voice stopped her. Jimmy makes a speech almost in the nature of a pathetic appeal to her. He begins his speech by complaining to her for not sending any flowers to Mrs. Tanner’s funeral. He then speaks of his loveliness comparing himself to an old bear which follows his own breath in the dark forest, with no warm pack, no herd to comfort him. Then he becomes reminiscent and speaks of recalls how he had watched her all the evening. He recalls how he was fascinated with her as she “seemed to have a wonderful relaxation of spirit.” Then he makes a statement which melts Alison’s tender heart. “I may be a Jost cause, but I thought if you loved me, it needn’t matter.” Alison who is already in a chastened frame could hardly ignore his appeal. She weeps and admits, “I was wrong!” She then recalls the misfortune of her miscarriage and the pain and agony she had been through. She at last says “Don’t you see! I am in the mud at last! I am groveling! I am crawling!”, and she collapses at his feet.

Jimmy’s Change of Attitude Towards Alison

      Jimmy cannot forgive Alison for leaving him in his absence. At the end of Act III Scene I, after the tender moment with Helena, he opens the door only to find a pale and sickly Alison standing there. She greets him and says “Hello”. He does not respond to her and turning to Helena says that a friend of her has come to see her. He displays his annoyance at Alison’s arrival by playing on the trumpet. When Helena calls out to him to come to the room he cynically asks. “Is your friend still with you?” He makes no attempt to conceal his contempt for her. He is rather rude in his attitude and says to Helena: “What are you looking so solemn about? What’s she doing here!” When Helena tells him about her decision to leave him he is distressed. Helena having left him is in deep anguish. After Alison left him at the end of Act II, he found solace in Helena’s arm. In the final scene, he finds himself in a similar situation, Helena having left him and Alison about to leave. He feels lost in the world. He faces the greatest crisis of his life. The fear of loneliness grips him as Cliff has also decided to start on his own and Mrs. Tanner no more in this world. At this moment he is scared to lose Alison. At a crucial moment when he feels all alone and lost, he finds Alison at his feet. So his softening of attitude towards her is nothing but spontaneous.

Helena’s Decision to Leave Jimmy

      Helena’s sudden decision to leave Jimmy after Alison’s unexpected arrival, her sudden realization of guilt for having stayed with Jimmy as his mistress are often objected to by critics. The sudden and drastic change in attitude in Helena just immediately after the close affectionate scene between Jimmy and her are the target of criticism. But a closer microscopic observance of the situation will reveal that the ending is no less genuine than the other scenes. The human mind is very complex and it does not follow any set of prescribed norms. So complex is the working of a human mind that it often functions in a most unpredictable manner. In the light of such psychological analysis, Helena’s decision to leave Jimmy does not seem improbable. Helena declares that, even though she has been living with Jimmy has been conscious all along about her wrong doing. But she has been surprising her conscience with Alison’s coming the surpasses conscience comes to the fore with greater strength. Helena takes the miscarriage of Alison as a divine judgment on all of them. So Helena’s desertion of Jimmy is not implausible.

The Relevance of The Animal Game

      One important fact makes the reconciliation more convincing—the bears-and-squirrels game. Jimmy and Alison earlier played this game to escape the pain and agony of the real life. At the end when after an emotional scene they reconcile they again play this game. But they are playing the game ironically and playing it for the last time. They have grown mature and can face the reality with greater maturity and greater faith in each other.


      Though apparently the pattern of play seems like a circle, the ending is quite credible. Alison had suffered just as Jimmy once wished and through her suffering had become hastened. And Jimmy too had learned from his own experience. The fantasy of the bears-and-squirrels game has been added as a realization of the need for mutual adjustment in the context of the realities of life. Without reconciliation, the play would have ended in a note of despair and we would have got a pessimistic view of life.

      The play ends in a solemn note with a ray of hope for the future and a feeling of relief in the present.

University Questions

The ending of the play Look Back in Anger is rather drastic and unacceptable. Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer.
Some critics regard the ending of Look Back in Anger as ambiguous. Give your own opinion.
Give your own view about the ending of the play. Is it satisfactory? Give a reasoned answer.

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