Look Back in Anger: Act. 2 Scene. 2 - Summary & Analysis

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Colonel Redfern’s Arrival

      The next evening receiving Helena’s telegram, Col. Redfern, Alison’s father arrives. While conversing with his daughter about the situation in her marital life he says that he cannot understand the reason for the tension. He admits that Jimmy speaks a different language. On leaving that Jimmy has gone to see the ailing Mrs. Tanner he enquires whether she is the same lady who established him in the sweet stall. On his inquiry what kind of lady Mrs. Tanner is, Alison casually replies that she is a very ordinary woman from the working class. That Mrs. Tanner was a charwoman who married an actor and struggled all her life to support her husband and son. Alison tells her father that Jimmy and Mrs. Tanner are very close. Alison further tells her father that Cliff is looking after the sweet stall in Jimmy’s absence and that he lives in the same house, in a room across the landing. The Colonel then remarks, that it sounds extraordinary that an educated and intelligent young man like Jimmy should run a sweet stall. Alison explains that Jimmy had tried his hand at many things—journalism, advertising, even vacuum cleaner, and that he seems to be happy running the sweet stall.

Col. Redfern Defends Jimmy

      Alison tells her father that Jimmy resented her correspondence with her family. Her writing to her family was considered by Jimmy to be an act of treachery. Bemused, she tells him how she secretly wrote letters and posted them stealthily without Jimmy’s knowledge. The Colonel asks if Jimmy hates him and his family. Alison confirms his doubt and says that he hates them all. The Colonel comments that the situation is unfortunate and feels that Jimmy must have been justified in his attitude to a large extent. Alison was rather surprised by her father. The Colonel admits that he and his wife were not entirely free from blame. They were in a way responsible for Jimmy’s attitude. He recalls that his wife Alison’s mother had gone too far over Jimmy. Obviously, he and his wife were pretty upset at Alison’s decision to marry Jimmy, but he tried to dissuade her from over-reacting to Jimmy and trying by all means to stop the marriage. She seemed to have come to the conclusion that if Jimmy was going to marry their daughter, he must be a criminal. That was the reason why she hired private detectives to enquire about Jimmy. But he did not approve this idea by her mother. Alison takes her mother’s side and says that probably she acted in good faith only to protect her though in a rather objectionable manner. The Colonel confesses that his wife’s conduct had been horrid. He honestly confesses that though he never approved of Jimmy as his son-in-law, yet he should never have, tried to interfere and should have allowed their daughter to do as she wishes. It would have been wiser and more dignified on his and his wife’s part to remain silent instead of preventing the marriage. When Alison tried to assure him that it was not his fault he replies that they were all to blame in one way or the other. Rather surprisingly, the Colonel opines that Jimmy acted in good faith. He says that Jimmy is an honest man, whatever else he may be much to the astonishment of his daughter, the Colonel puts the blame on himself and Alison.

Father Accuses Alison of Sitting on the Fence

      Alison is astonished by her father’s statement blaming himself and her for Jimmy’s objectionable conduct. The Colonel explains that perhaps Alison takes after himself. She likes to sit on the fence because it is more comfortable and peaceful. Alison was all the more surprised by her father’s accusation and asked him how can he accuse her of sitting in the fence of being neutral when she actually married Jimmy. She reminded her father that she married Jimmy inspite of the humiliation and threats she earned from her family. She also reminds him of his and her mother’s accusation of her for letting them down by going against their will.

      The Colonel then says that she should not have written letters to her mother after marriage. Having full knowledge about her family’s disapproval of Jimmy and after everything that had happened she should have refrained from writing letters to them. Looking at her rather uncomfortably he apologizes and says that he is confused at the turn of events, the telegram and driving up there etc. In order to defend herself and justify her action, she tells her father about Jimmy’s verbal assault on her mother, how he used abusive language to criticize her mother.

Revenge - A Plausible Reason Behind Jimmy Marrying Alison

      The Colonel asks Alison about Jimmy’s remark on him. Alison replies that he does not say much against him, rather he seems to like him. Jimmy likes him because he can feel sorry for him. Jimmy refers to him as “Poor Old Daddy” and describes him as “just one of those sturdy old plants left over from the Edwardian Wilderness that cannot understand why the sun is not shining anymore”. The Colonel cannot help but agree and admits that Jimmy makes effective use of language. Then he simply asks Alison why did she even have to meet a young man like Jimmy. Alison requests him not to put her to trial again by asking such a question because she has been on trial every day and night for nearly four years. The Colonel then asks her why did Jimmy marry her if he felt the way he feels about everything. Alison replies that it is an unanswerable question. Perhaps Jimmy married her as an act of revenge. She explains that some people actually marry for revenge, people like Jimmy. Perhaps Jimmy should have been another Shelly who married Mary, the daughter of the social philosopher William Godwin. Jimmy has again for love and friendship only on his own terms. Alison repeatedly says that for twenty years she had lived a happy, uncomplicated life, and suddenly thereafter this spiritual barbarian had stormed into her life and threw a challenge at her. Alison further adds that even Helena is puzzled by Jimmy’s behavior and his attitude towards her. The Colonel says that he is justified. He says that Jimmy has taught Alison a great deal whether she realizes it or not. He says that what the whole thing means is beyond his understanding. He had always believed that people marry because they were in love. But that has become too simple for young people now a days. He cannot believe that love between a man and a woman has anything to do with challenges and revenges. Correcting her father Alison says that it is applicable not to all but to some men and women. The Colonel asks why his own daughter should have got changed in such a situation. He admits that Jimmy perhaps was right in describing him as “an old plant left over from the Edwardian Wilderness”. He says that he really cannot understand why the sun is not shining anymore.

The Colonel’s Reminiscence of his Past Life

      The Colonel then explains the reason of his feeling as he does. It was March 1914 when he has left England for India and did not see much of his own country till he came back in 1947. During the years of his absence, things have greatly changed. During his stay in India, he had memories of England that he uses to know before 1914 and. had gone bn remembering his country in that way. Besides, he held a prestigious position as a commander of the Maharajalis army. That was his world and he loved it. It seemed that his life would go on forever like that. But now when he thinks about his life in India, it seems to have vanished like a dream!. He wanted that life to continue forever. He can never forget those cool evenings they spent up in the hills, everything purple and golden. Both he and his wife were happy then. It seemed that they had everything they wished for. But everything came to a standstill after they departed from the Indian state. It was as if the sun had stopped shining for them. Everything came to an end that day when the army band played at an Indian railway station to bid them farewell.

      Alison, after leaving her father’s account remarks that he feels sad because everything has changed while Jimmy is hurt because everything is same. Neither he nor Jimmy can face the reality and accepts the truth. She comments that something has gone wrong somewhere. The Colonel agrees to his daughter’s view.

Alison Prepares to Leave Jimmy

      Alison gets ready to go away with her father and packs her things. She picks up; the toy squirrel and is about to put it in her suit case, then changes her mind and puts it back. Suddenly she leaves against her father and begins to weep softly. Her father softly warns her that it is big step on her part and asks her if she has really made up her mind to come back with him and is that really what she wants. At that moment Helena enters and asks Alison if she could help her to pack. Alison replies that she has finished and in case something is left behind Cliff can defend them later on. Her father picks up the suitcase to put that in the car. He says that they must hurry now otherwise Alison’s mother will be worried. Helena asks if her telegram had upset him and his wife. The Colonel says that they are grateful to her for sending the telegram. He asks if he should put her luggage in the car too. But much to the surprise of Alison Helena replies that she would not be going with them. Alison thought that Helena would accompany her to her parent’s home.

Alison Leaver a Note for Jimmy

      Cliff now returns from the sweet stall. Helena offering explanation says that she has an appointment on the following day in Birmingham regarding a job. Since it is an important appointment that she cannot miss, she would therefore have to stay here for the night. Alison introduces Cliff to her father, and both the men greets each other. The Colonel bids goodbye to Helena and Cliff. Cliff asks Alison if she is really going and if she would not wait for Jimmy’s return who is expected very soon. Alison replies that she is leaving Jimmy and that she would not wait for him Helena offers to tell Jimmy about Alison’s departure but Cliff suggests that Alison should herself tell Jimmy about her decision. Alison hands over an envelope with a note inside and asks Cliff to pass it on to Jimmy. Cliff sadly remarks that after she is gone, the place will lose much of its charm. Alison kisses Cliff good bye and promises to write to him. She asks Cliff to look after Jimmy. Cliff replies with a tone of sadness that he would keep the old mad house going on somehow.

Cliff Leaves Helena to Face Jimmy

      After Alison’s departure Helena and Cliff are left alone in the apartment. For the first time in the play, Cliff’s good humor seems to have deserted him. He unwillingly replies to Helena’s inquiry regarding Jimmy. He then gets ready to go out. He tells Helena that it is possible that Jimmy might have come back by the latest train that has arrived and is going out because he would not like to be present in the house when Jimmy returns. He further says that he would not be able to see Jimmy getting hurt when he leaves about Alison’s departure. He would like to go out and enjoy himself with food and drink.

      He then gives Alison’s note to Helena and asks her to pass it on to Jimmy expressing the desire that he will ram it up her nostril.

Jimmy Reads Alison’s Letter

      A little after Cliff goes out, Jimmy enters in a furious mood. He says that he was almost run over by a car in which ironically enough his wife had been a passenger. And a little later Cliff practically walked into him while going out. Instead of greeting him, he pretended not to see him at all. He asks Helena if she is the only one who is not afraid to stay. Helena gives him the letter. He reads a few lines and sorts out with disbelief. Alison writes that she is going away because she desperately needs peace and in order to get peace she is willing to sacrifice everything at this time. She asks him to be a little patient with her.

      She also writes that she will always have “a deep, loving need of Jimmy”. After reading the letter aloud Jimmy mocks at the content. He wonders why did not she writes bluntly that she was getting out of the house in the hope that Jimmy will rot there. As for her “deep loving need” of him, her refuses to believe it. He sarcastically asks Helena if she is the one who has dictated the letter to Alison. Enraged by Alison’s decision he brings out his wrath on Helena. He asks her what she was doing there and warns her to keep away from him if she does not wished to be knocked down by him.

      At this point Helena calmly tells him that Alison is going to have a baby. Contrary to Helena expectation Jimmy was not excited. He does not feel overwhelmed by emotion to collapse on his feet with remorse. He becomes ruthless and says that he does not care if his wife has a baby, or a monster with two heads. He warns her that if she slaps him, she should be ready to get one in return.

Helena’s Reaction to Jimmy’s Physical Threat

      Jimmy tells Helena that for eleven hours, while he was in London he had watched Mrs. Tanner dying and that he was the only one by her side at that time. He would again be alone walking behind the coffin when Mrs. Tanner’s body will be taken to the graveyard for burial. As for Alison she would not even send a bunch of flower as a mark of respect for the old lady. Alison rejected Mrs. Tanner as an ignorant woman who could not be taken seriously. He could not overcome with awe because “that heartless and foolish woman” as he calls her angrily is going to have a baby. He then turns violent and seizing Helena by her shoulder asks her to get out of the house. At this Helena slaps his face savagely. An expression of horror and disbelief appears on his face and next moment is that of pain. His hand goes up to his head and a muffled cry of despair escapes him. Helena further surprises him by kissing him passionately and drawing him down beside her.

Critical Analysis


Colonel Redfern’s Arrival

      There are some important developments in this scene. In the first place, Alison’s father arrives and after a good deal of hesitation takes her away with him. Alison leaves a note for Jimmy, a very touching letter which infuriates him rather than console. Helena instead of going away with Alison as expected stays on at the Porter’s flat on the pretext of some important appointment. The most important dramatic development being the shocking incident in which reacting to Jimmy’s physical threat, she savagely slaps him and seeing the expression of pain and anguish and much to everyone’s astonishment kisses him passionately and draws him down beside her.

Dramatic and Suspenseful Moments in this Scene

      This scene is full of dramatic and suspenseful moments. A feeling of uncertainty prevails when Alison’s father brings to justify Jimmy’s attitude towards himself and his wife. He believes that there, is sufficient ground for Jimmy to show hostility towards them. He confesses that he and his wife are responsible for Jimmy’s hostile attitude because they not only opposed but tried their best to prevent Jimmy and Alison’s marriage by any means. Like a wise father concerned with the welfare of his daughter Col. Redfern warns Alison softly that she is taking a big step.

      We encounter a very moving scene between Cliff and. Alison at the time of her departure. Cliff requests her to tell Jimmy about her decision herself and unbelievingly asks her if she really is going away. Another dramatic moment comes when Cliff for the first time in the play loses his balance, temperament and speaks somewhat rudely to Helena. But the most intriguing scene is when Helena in retaliation to Jimmy’s threat slaps Jimmy savagely and then the very next moment kisses him passionately drawing him beside her. It arouses awe and doubts as to the motives of Helena Cliff, a sincere and true friend.

Cliff’s Concern for Alison and Jimmy

      In this scene the real and genuine friend in Cliff comes to the fore. His genuine concern for Jimmy and Alison becomes apparent in the scene where Alison is about to leave with her father. He unbelievingly asks her if she really was going away. On getting an affirmative reply he suggests that she should wait till Jimmy returns and tells him about her decision herself. When Alison declines to stay on, he rather sadly says that the place would lose much of its charm without her. He is really upset after Alison’s departure. For the first time in the play we find him getting irritated. Helena’s question on Jimmy irks him and he shouts at her, “why the hell should I know!”. He is in a despair, he is unwilling to face Jimmy for he cannot bear to see his friend hurt. He in a way holds her responsible for Alison’s decision to go away. He plans to go out in order to avoid confronting Jimmy. He says “I’ve had a hard day, and I don’t think I want to see anyone hurt.....”. He tosses Alison’s note to Helena and says “Here! You give it to him! He’s all yours”. And vehemently adds “And I hope he rams it up your nostrils!”. He is loyal to both Jimmy and Alison, is concerned about their welfare and would always like to see them live happily together. The fact that Alison is going to separate herself from Jimmy greatly upsets him and unable to accept the reality that he loses his temperament even.

Helena’s Designs—Doubtful

      This scene throws some further light on the character of Helena. Alison had been a very tolerant wife who silently bears all the tantrums of her husband. But after Helena’s arrival, we notice some change in her character. As accused by Jimmy Helena’s influence over Alison cannot be overlooked. Helena is to great extent responsible for Alison’s departure. She constantly reminds her that she would never survive under, that condition and that she should go away to teach Jimmy a lesson. She even takes an upper hand and sends a telegram to Alison’s father asking him to take away his daughter. At first it was understood that Helena would accompany Alison to her parent’s home, but at the last moment, she announces that she would stay for one more night as she had an important appointment. Her decision astonishes even Alison who could not conceal her surprise “Aren’t you coming with us?” she asks. We are clueless as to what prompted her to stay on even for one night in the apartment of the man whom she detests and that too in the absence of his wife. The incident when reacting violently to Jimmy’s threat she first slaps and then kisses him passionately naturally justifies our doubt regarding Helena’s motive. But it is difficult to pin point her motive. Whether she has been in love with Jimmy all the time right from the beginning and was masking her feeling and intentionally separated the couple to have Jimmy for herself or after slapping him, seeing his expression of pain she felt sorry and, kissed him on impulse to make up for her act it is difficult to judge. This incident gives rise to the suspicion that perhaps Helena had sent Alison away deliberately to start her affair with Jimmy. Or perhaps there had been a mingled feeling of love and hatred in her attitude towards Jimmy and with Alison gone, the feeling of love comes to the fore pushing back the feeling of hatred. Helena unlike Alison is a woman of complex nature. After Alison’s departure, she asks Cliff what Jimmy would do, whether he would look for one of his girlfriends. This certainly provides sufficient ground to our doubts about her intentions.

Alison—her decision to leave and her concern for Jimmy

      This scene also throws considerable light on Alison’s character. Fed up with her husband’s torturous behavior and provoked by Helena she decided to walk out of Jimmy’s life, but at the same time she is extremely upset at the thought of her separation with her husband. While giving her father an account of their torrid marital life she pours her heart out and tells him that probably Jimmy had married her only to take revenge on the middle class. She calls Jimmy a barbarian who stormed into her peaceful life and threw a challenge at her. In spite of her father’s warning that she is taking a big step, she is determined to go away. But she is extremely sad and unable to control her feeling leans against her father and weeps. She takes hold of the toy squirrel, the symbol of her love for Jimmy is about to put it in her suitcase, and again changes her mind. She is so concerned with Jimmy that her last thought while leaving the house is about him. She says to Cliff, “Look after him”. Provoked by Jimmy’s constant criticism and Helena’s interference she decides to walk out on him. Left to herself alone perhaps she would have gone on living with Jimmy forever tolerating everything in silence. While leaving, she leaves a note for Jimmy where she mentions her desperate need of peace and explains the reason of her leaving. When Cliff asks her if it would be better if she herself should tell her husband about her decisions she replies, “I’m a conventional girl”.

Col. Redfern—A Wise and Concerned Father

      This scene introduces us to Col. Redfern, Alison’s father. A retired army officer, he is a large, handsome man about sixty. As an army commander, he exercised immense authority and received great respect he realizes that he no longer has the authority and feels somewhat uneasy. He is an intelligent man who is never puzzled by the realities of life. He is nostalgic about his past life of comfort and finds it difficult to accept the facts that life has changed for him. During his conversation with his daughter Alison, he regrets his wife and his opposition to her marriage with Jimmy. He feels that he and his wife were in a way responsible for the disturbance in their marital life. He admits that it would have been dignified on their part if they would not have interfered with Alison and Jimmy. Surprisingly he defends Jimmy by saying that he had some amount of right in his side. Impartially judging the situation he even accuses Alison of sitting on the fence, of being neutral. He tells his daughter that knowing about Jimmy’s disapproval, she should have refrained from writing to her family members. On learning that Jimmy had described him as “just one of those sturdy old plants left over from the Edwardian wilderness,” he agrees saying that: “he has quite a turn of phrase”. He reprimands Alison, when she tells him that perhaps Jimmy married her only to take revenge. Expressing shock he says that he always believed that people married because they were in love. Like a wise and loving father he advises Alison to think over her decision again and softly warns her that she is taking a big risk. We cannot help but admire him for his wise advice, for his polite manners.

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