Helena Charles: Character Analysis in Look Back in Anger

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Her Appearance

      Helena Charles as per description in Look Back in Anger is of medium height, and carefully dressed and would be of the same age as Alison. We are introduced to her, when she is busy preparing tea for the members of the house where she is staying as a guest. She perfectly feels at home and assists Alison in household work. She looks attractive when her expression of alertness softens. She has a sense of matriarchal authority and behaves with everyone with authority. Like Alison she belongs to the middle class. She demands to be treated with due respect. However Jimmy is totally indifferent to her strength and ability.

Her View Of Jimmy

      Just as Jimmy is openly hostile to her, she also does not try to hide her contempt for him. Unlike Alison she does not keep mum in front of Jimmy. She does not hesitate to retort back to his verbal attack. When she speaks to Alison she is quite blunt in her criticism of Jimmy. Getting annoyed with Jimmy’s playing on the trumpet she does not conceal her resentment. She tells Alison that it seems that Jimmy wants to kill someone with the noise of the trumpet. She was quite aware of Jimmy’s disapproval of herself and bluntly remarks: “It’s almost as if he wanted to kill someone with it and me in particular. I’ve never seen such hatred in someone’s eyes before. It’s slightly horrifying”. Then later she described Jimmy as a real savage to Alison.

Her Rift With Jimmy

      Helena is the only person in the play who can match in the battle of words. She does not hesitate to hit back Jimmy verbally. Because of her sharp tongue and ability to hit back, Jimmy becomes all the more hostile to her. She asks Jimmy at the tea-table the reason for his unpleasant and offensive behavior. When Jimmy criticizes Alison’s mother, Helena cannot help but intervene, “Oh for heaven’s sake, don’t be such a bully! You’ve no right to talk about her mother like that !” When Jimmy doesn’t stop she cries out: “I feel rather sick, that’s all sick with contempt and loathing”. A little later when she herself becomes the target of his verbal abuse, she unhesitatingly threatens to slap him. She says: “It’s a pity you’ve been so far away all this time. I’d probably have slapped your face.” When Jimmy threatens to hit back physically, Helena retorts: “She feels irritated by Jimmy’s constant criticism and rebukes Cliff for remaining quite, not doing anything to stop Jimmy from making offensive remarks against others.

Her Power Over Alison

      Helena seems to have a great hold upon Alison. Alison approves of her staying with them and is grateful to her for assisting her in her household work. Under her influence, Alison even agrees to accompany her to the Church despite Jimmy’s resentment. Jimmy is opposed to Church going and Alison’s going there that too with the woman he detests further annoys and angers him. This incident is a mere example of her influence over Alison. Being a spectator to Jimmy’s ill-treatment of Alison, his constant criticism, insults and abuses, Helena tries to work upon Alison’s mind, urging her to settle the relationship between herself and Jimmy. She discusses the situation with Alison and makes her realize that she has been taken for granted by Jimmy. She points out that as she was pregnant and going to have a baby, she cannot go on living in that way under that circumstance. “Before, it was different—there was only yourself at stake. But you can’t go on living in this ‘ay any longer” says Helena. She is of the opinion that either Jimmy first change his approach, and behavior, and look after his wife or Alison must get out of the house which she calls "mad-house” or “menagerie”. She instigates her to fight, oppose Jimmy. She says: “Listen to me you’ve got to fight him. Fight, or get out. Otherwise he’ll kill you”.

Her Prolonged Stay With The Porters

      At first we hear that Helena is coming to stay as a guest to the Porters for a brief time. But later on to our amazement and to the great irritation and annoyance of Jimmy we find that she has been staying there for a relatively long time. The rift between Jimmy and Alison grows bigger and Alison under her instigation leaves the house. Even after her walk out, Helena does not go away. And later on when a love affair between her and Jimmy starts she remains there as his mistress for months. Earlier when Jimmy bluntly asks her the reason for staying longer than proposed, she replies that she has been asked by Alison to stay on.

Helena Behind Alison’s Decision To Leave Jimmy

      One cannot but agree to the fact that none but Helena is directly responsible for Alison’s decision to leave Jimmy. Before Helena’s arrival Alison reacted passively to Jimmy’s harsh treatment. She turned a deaf ear to his constant grumbling and very patiently bore with him. Although she was hurt inwardly by Jimmy’s behavior, Alison never bothered to retort back but always maintained her calmness. It was Helena who made her more conscious of Jimmy’s brutal treatment of her. She is in a way guilty of interfering in the personal life of the married couple. Without Alison’s permission, Helena takes the liberty of sending a telegram to Alison’s father asking him to take away his daughter as she is unhappy. She later on reveals about this to Alison. She convinces Alison that unless she leaves Jimmy, he will never come to his senses and will continue to ill-treat her life long. Alison, as she is pregnant can not go on living like this under this kind of circumstances, Helena convinces her. She says that Alison must leave the “mad house” in order to protect herself and her unborn baby. She makes Alison realize that it would be dangerous for her under that condition to live with Jimmy and obtains a promise that she would go away with her father. Although she advises thus out of apparent good will, yet she is the cause of Alison’s and Jimmy’s separation.

The Reason For Her Slapping And Then Kissing Jimmy

      After Alison leaves Jimmy’s flat with her father, Helena stays back although it was apparent that she would go with Alison. She says that she has an appointment in Birmingham the next day regarding a job and that she would stay there for one more night. After Alison’s departure, Jimmy returns home from his visit to London. As usual, he continues his offensive and hostile behavior towards Helena. Provoked Helena slaps him hard and to everyone’s surprise the very next moment she kisses him passionately and then draws him down beside her. Helena’s action thus in making love to Jimmy catches us off guard and arouses our suspicion that she was in love with Jimmy from the very beginning and her advice to Alison to leave Jimmy was a part of her scheme to get Jimmy for herself as her lover. However, this is only a suspicion as no clear mention of this has been made in the play. It is possible that Helena acted out of good will in advising Alison to leave Jimmy, that she had no earlier intention to acquire Jimmy as her lover. Most probably on Helena’s part her kissing him, after having slapped him is a spontaneous and impulsive action which leads to a love-affair between the two.

As Jimmy’s Mistress

      After the incident when Helena kisses Jimmy passionately after having slapped him a love affair develops between the two. Helena then lives with Jimmy as his mistress for several months and both of them seem to share a good relationship and be happy. By now Helena has been able to adapt herself wonderfully to Jimmy’s life-style, his habit of talking critically and offensively about people and things. Helena has taken Alison’s place in the house, and is ironing the clothes as Alison earlier used to do. Like Alison, she also even wears a shirt of Jimmy’s while ironing the clothes. However, Helena has not stopped going to the Church to please Jimmy. She even admits to Jimmy the fact that she was chatting with a priest the previous day. When Jimmy criticizes people’s concern with religious and spiritual matters, she asks him whether it is not possible for him to refrain from talking about religion and politics even for a single day. Although Helena has adapted herself to Jimmy’s mood of dissatisfaction and resentment, yet she has not entirely given up her own views and ideas. In spite of her reconciliation with Jimmy, she has not given up her individuality. A little later we find her exchanging loving and sentimental remarks with Jimmy. She is seen fondling and caressing his ear and neck and murmuring: “I love you...Oh, my darling....I’ve always wanted you-always !” When Jimmy tells her that he will give up the sweet stall and start a new life with her, she exclaims with joy: “I say that’s Wonderful”. Helena indeed have undergone a drastic change as regards her relationship with Jimmy. She has entered into a steady relationship with him, which is based on feelings of mutual regard, appreciation and love.

The Awakening of Her Conscience

      Just as we had come to accept that Helena and Jimmy had found in each other permanent life partners outside the bond of marriage, a big surprise awaits us - the unexpected return of Alison. Alison assures Helena that she has come out of her morbid curiosity, she does not have intention of disrupting their relationship. The fact that Alison did not reproach her for taking her place and on the contrary her regret for coming there makes Helena feel all the more guilty. She had her pricks of conscience and says to Alison: “Alison—it’s all over between Jimmy and me. I can see it now. I’ve got to get out....when I saw you standing there tonight, I know that it was all utterly wrong.....I believe in good and evil, and I don’t have to apologize for that. It’s quite a modern, scientific belief now so they tell me. And, by everything I have ever believed in or wanted, what I’ve been doing is wrong and evil”. Her conscience has awakened now and is overcome by a sense of guilt of wrong doing. She realizes that she has committed a sin and cannot continue to live with Jimmy any longer. Her religious sense overcomes her physical and emotional desire for Jimmy. She says that even through the entire period of her stay with Jimmy, she had been experiencing a sense of wrong doing, of guilt. She says that she even believes that Alison’s miscarriage was a divine judgment on them all.

      Helena at this stage claims that she has diagnosed what is wrong in Jimmy’s personality. Perhaps she makes the correct appraisal of Jimmy when she says that he was born out of his time. “There’s no place for people like that any longer—in sex, or politics, or anything. That’s why he’s so futile. Sometimes, 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, of course. He does not know where he is, or where he’s going. He’ll never do anything, and he’ll never amount to anything”—thus Helena says about Jimmy.

Our Final Impression About Helena

      We become suspicious of Helena when she instigates Alison to leave Jimmy. Our suspicions are intensified though not proved when after loving him slapped Jimmy for his offensive abuses. She ends up kissing him and later on she becomes his mistress. In spite of our doubts and suspicion, towards the end, we cannot help admiring her because of her strong will power, her ability to judge between right and wrong. After Alison’s return, she is overcome with strong sense of guilt, of doing wrong to her friend and decides to leave Jimmy for Alison’s sake. Now we are convinced that she purposely did not cause the separation between Jimmy and Alison to serve her own lust but sent Alison only out of her goodwill. She realizes her mistake and is ready to sacrifice her love for Jimmy to undo the wrong she had done to Alison.

Critical Appraisal of Helena Charle’s Character

      According to A. E. Dyson, Helena is an entirely honest character. She is in a world poles apart from Jimmy’s character. She belongs to the middle class not only by birth but by instinct and conviction. Alison, his wife and she may essentially hurt Jimmy but she never can. She interferes with his marriage for she wishes to free her friend from the ‘madhouse’ from the abuses of her husband. She expresses her willingness to remain with Jimmy to give relief to her friend Alison. At no stage however, she allows Jimmy to think that she has come over into his camp or be hurt by any sense of betrayal when she leaves. She always believes that she is terribly wrong in her affair with Jimmy and tells Alison so; she knows that in the end Alison has “all the rights” to stay with Jimmy. To quote Helena “At least, I still believe in right or wrong ! Not even in the month in the mad house have stopped me doing that. Even though everything I have done is wrong, at least I have known it was wrong”.

      The affairs between Helena and Jimmy has never touched her deeply. She is loyal to the conventions—whether through conviction or fear. When she leaves, he has resigned rather than getting annoyed and angry and hurt personally. She realizes that this experiment with Jimmy was momentary and leaves Jimmy. She understands it would not be a success.

      She enters in the play in the guise of a friend of Alison and supports her in her battle against Jimmy. She also engineers Alison’s departures from Jimmy’s life. She takes the initiative and sends a telegram to Alison’s father asking him to take his daughter home. In this way she is free in Jimmy’s arms. However at the end of the play Alison having lost her baby returns to the flat, and Helena without the slightest hesitation leaves. Jimmy and Alison come together again playing out some fantasy; he, in the role of a bear and she of a squirrel and finding in this illusion a measure of warmth and security.

      This Helena is instrumental in bringing Jimmy and Alison together. Had Alison not left her husband for some time and experienced the pain of suffering she would have never realized her true worth and the need of Jimmy. As soon as Helena’s mission for which she engineered Alison’s departure is over, she leaves.

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