Look Back in Anger: Act. 3 Scene. 1 & 2 - Summary

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Summary

ACT. III SCENE. I & II

The Same Old Atmosphere

      Several months have passed after Alison’s leaving. Once again a Sunday evening is shown. Alison’s personal belongings such as her makeup articles on the dressing table have been replaced by Helena’s. Jimmy and Cliff as usual are sitting stretched at their respective armchairs absorbed in the Sunday newspapers. The only difference is Helena in place of Alison is busy ironing clothes on the ironing board.

      As the scene opens Cliff complains about Jimmy’s pipe. Jimmy asks him to shut up and says that Cliff himself stinks. Then Jimmy asks if Helena is annoyed by his pipe smoking. Helena replies that she quite likes the smell of the pipe.

Jimmy’s Tirade against Sacrificial Killings

      Jimmy asks Cliff if he has read about the grotesque and evil practices going on the Midlands as reported in the newspaper. Cliff has not gone through the news item. Jimmy explains that some people have been indulging in midnight invocations to the Coptic Goddess of fertility. In a grotesque act, one of the devotees killed a white young cock and drunk its blood as a part of the ceremony. Jimmy sarcastically comments if the other devotees are following the same act, then those in poultry business must be earning a lot of money. He then says that Mrs. Drury perhaps performs this kind of rituals on Sunday evenings and asks Helena if she is also interested in this kind of sacrificial killing. Helena laughs and in the jocular mood replies “not lately”. Continuing his bantering talk, Jimmy says that somebody has been practising to black him and stitching pin to his waxen image for years. Then suddenly as if he had found out says that it must be Alison’s mother who has been trying to torment him. Helena suggests why does he not do the same thing to her. Jimmy teases Cliff and says that for a start, they could roast Cliff over the gas stove provided they can afford to bum so much gas that will be needed for the purpose. It would be a good thing to spend the autumn evening. According to Jimmy the whole point of a sacrifice is that one gives up something he never really wanted in the first place. They give up things which they were incapable of ever really waiting. So their giving up of those things is by no means an act of sacrifice, and they do not deserve any admiration for that. Jimmy turns to Cliff and says that Cliff is most suited for a sacrificial offering. He then again says that Cliff’s blood would not be suitable as it is of the common variety. Helena’s blood would be more suitable to invoke the Coptic Goddess of fertility.

Jimmy’s Contempt For Religious Observances

      Jimmy refers to the absurd news items published in the newspaper. Helena laughs hearing Jimmy talking in a jocular manner about all these news items. Jimmy asks the reason for Helena’s laughing. Helena replies that she is beginning to get used to him. Earlier she never could understand his mood, when he was serious and when not between their light talk Jimmy asks Helena if she will be going to the Church. When Helena replies in negative, he says that he has lately seen an evil look in her eyes. This may be because she is leading a sinful life with him as his mistress. He asks her whether she had been talking to the person the previous day to which Helena gives an affirmative reply. Jimmy then asks her if this kind of spiritual exercise would have some beneficial effect on a man like him. Jimmy says that he has been a liberal, skinny weakling who was scared of revealing his inner self but now everyone can see his true self. Both Cliff and Helena asks him to, change the topic.

Cliff Plans to Start on His Own

      Jimmy in a playful mood says that he has thought a new title for his song. The title is: “My Mother’s in the madhouse —that’s why I am in love with you”. Then they perform a comic act each speaking his lines by turns and Helena too joins them. Both Jimmy and Cliff then gets involved in a mock friendly fight. Eventually, Jimmy pushes Cliff and Cliff’s shirt gets dirty Cliff grumbles and Helena offers to wash it for him. As Helena leaves the room to wash Cliff’s shirt, Jimmy asks Cliff whether it is a fact that he does not care for Helena. Cliff hesitated and replies that at one time Jimmy himself did not approve of her. Cliff then says that he is planning to leave that place and try his luck somewhere else. Cliff says that for a highly educated man like Jimmy, the sweet stall is not a bad proposition, but Cliff needs something better. Jimmy says that Cliff is free to do as he likes. Cliff then adds that there is another reason for his planning to leave. Helena has more work to do with two men living in the house. It would be easier for her if she has to look after Jimmy only. Cliff further says that it was time he should find a girl and settle down. Jimmy humorously agrees and adds that but he can not think of a girl who would be stupid enough to marry Cliff. Perhaps Helena might be able to find a girl who would suit Cliff, a girl with lots of money, but no brains. Cliff does not have any definite plan. Jimmy tells Cliff that he would not be able to survive even for five minutes without Jimmy’s guidance and support. Jimmy then expresses his fear that some domineering woman might marry him and exploit him by living off his earnings. Cliff hackles and agrees that he is stupid enough to fall for that kind of woman. Jimmy is hurt and says to himself that he seems to spend his life saying good bye. Jimmy says that Cliff has been a loyal, generous and good friend but it is funny that he is quite prepared for Cliff’s decision to leave to start a new life. Jimmy then complains that he wants from that girl Helena something which she is incapable of giving him. Jimmy says that Cliff is worth half a dozen Helenas to him and yet he is going to keep Helena and let go his best friend. Perhaps even Cliff in Jimmy’s place would have acted in a similar manner. Then in a long speech he criticizes woman for bleeding men to death. He concludes his speech saying that there is nothing left for man except to let thousands be butchered by the woman. Then Helena returns with Cliff’s shirt. Jimmy tells Helena about Cliff’s decision, she says that she already knows. Both Helena and Jimmy are sorry regarding Cliff’s decision to leave them to start on his own.

A Tender Scene of Love Between Jimmy and Helena

      Jimmy then asks Helena to come closer to him. Helena comes and begins to caress his head and neck. Jimmy appreciated her caress and says that she has always taken initiative to show her affection for him. Moreover, she did not expect anything in return from him. Helena says that she loves him. Jimmy admits that she loves him and sarcastically says that perhaps she is filled with pride that she has won a victory over him and has acquired a hold on him. He, says Jimmy is tired of putting up of any resistance. Then there comes a very intimate scene where both the lovers reciprocated to each other’s love. He pleads to her not to let anything go wrong between them. Helena then moves away promising to change out one of his shirt. Then suddenly the door opens and Alison enters quietly saying “Hello”. Jimmy tells Helena that a friend of hers has come to visit her.

The Identical Setting of the Scene With Act I

      The setting at the beginning of this scene is almost the same as that at the beginning of Act I. Jimmy and Cliff stretches at their respective armchairs reading newspapers and Jimmy complains about the news items. The only difference is Helena has taken Alison’s place and is seen ironing clothes wearing one of Jimmy’s old shirts. Even their talks regarding the pipe smoking reminds us about the beginning of Act I. Though the setting is identical it is marked by irony. Helena who advised Alison to leave Jimmy fearing about her welfare now have replaced her in Jimmy’s heart and mind. She has taken Alison’s place in the household and is seen doing the chores which were previously done by Alison like ironing clothes etc.,

Cliff’s Decision to do Something Independently

      Cliff’s decision to leave Jimmy and Helena to start a new life on his own contributes to the development in the plot. He says that he would like to try his luck on something other than the sweet stall, he needs to do something better. He says that Helena has more work to do with him around in the house. The most plausible reason of his decision is he wants to settle down and get married. Jimmy is sad at the prospect of leaving a loyal friend but approves his decision. Jimmy teases Cliff and says that he cannot think of any woman who would be stupid enough to marry Cliff.

The Mutual Relationship of Love Between Jimmy and Helena

      The stage direction indicates that after a gap of several months of Alison’s departure, Helena has been staying with Jimmy as his mistress. The doubt that arose in our minds in the preceding scene still persists regarding Helena’s motive. Whether she deliberately sent away Alison to have Jimmy for herself or her affair with Jimmy started on purely impulsive note—we are totally clueless to it. But whatever the reason she shared a harmonious relationship with Jimmy. They had wonderfully adapted themselves to each other and the bitterness and hatred that existed between the two have ravished completely. Towards the end, the two are shown in a very intimate posture and the talk between them indicate the extent of their intimacy.

Alison’s Return: An Unexpected Development

      The unexpected and sudden return of Alison gives a new twist to the development of the play. Her sudden entry is surprising and has a tremendously dramatic effect. Just after the intimate scene between Jimmy and Helena when they vow not to let anything go wrong between them, Jimmy goes towards the door. But before he reached the door it opens and Alison enters looking pale with untidy hair wearing a raincoat. There is a stunning pause after which Alison quietly greets him. Jimmy does not reply and after a moment says to Helena that a friend of hers has come to see her. He goes out quickly and the two women are left looking at each other.

Jimmy’s Venomous Assault

      In this scene, Jimmy seems to be having a good time with Helena though his venomous onslaught have not stopped altogether. He does not stop criticizing people and their practices. He criticizes the evil practice of making sacrifices to invoke goddesses at midnight. Jimmy mocks that his landlady must be performing such absurd rituals every Sunday evening. Jimmy even brings his favorite subject of criticism—i.e. Alison’s mother and says that the old lady must have been sticking pins to his wax image to torture him. In a jocular mood, he teasingly says that both Cliff and Helena would make a great sacrificial offering.

Alison Regrets her Coming Back

      A few minutes after Alison’s return Jimmy is heard playing on his trumpet in landing. Helena and Alison are talking about Jimmy’s pipe smoking. Helena offers Alison a cup of tea. Alison then apologizes for coming back and says that it was an act of madness on her part to come back like this. She regrets for her act of coming back and says that it was cruel and unfair on her part to do so. She wanted to come on so many occasions but every time at the last moment she desisted from taking such a step. In the past few months, she has thought of the evenings she used to spend here in the room. On seeing how repentant Alison was Helena assures her and says that she had taken the right step by coming there. She as Jimmy’s legitimate wife has more right to be there than Helena herself. Alison does not agree and asks Helena not to read out the code of conduct from “the book of rules”. But Helena insists that as Jimmy’s wife Alison had every right to be here. At this point, Alison interrupts Helena saying that she had given up believing in the sanctity of marriage long time ago. According to her, a marriage can last only if the two partners can adjust themselves to each other. If one starts bullying her husband she is sure to be thrown out like herself. She pleads to Helena not take her as a blackmailer. She has acted foolishly by coming here and detests herself for it. She makes it clear that she has not come there to gain anything.

Helena Feels Guilty

      Alison persuades Helena that she has come only out of some morbid curiosity or some similar feeling and not with an intention to separate Jimmy and Helena. Helena replies that she believes Alison but the whole things, her relationship with Jimmy, their living together seems more wrong and terrible than ever. Alison had every right to reproach her, to be outraged with Helena, but since she did neither reproach her nor is angry with her, it makes her feel all the more guilty. Alison to lighten Helena’s guilt says that Helena is talking as if Helena fiercely hits back at Alison and says that a husband is not like a book or some object which a woman can pass around to anyone who wants it for a little while. Helena asserts that she still believes in right and wrong. Although she has spent several months in the “mad house” she never forgot the difference between right and wrong.

Helena Decides to End her Relationship with Jimmy

      Helena makes an interesting comment on Jimmy. She says that she has found out what was wrong with Jimmy. According to her, Jimmy was born out of his time and there is no place for people like him any longer either in sex, politics or anything else. That is why he is so futile. Helena feels that Jimmy thinks he is still in the middle of the French Revolution. He is not sure about his own position, where he is or where he is heading to. Helena says that he will never achieve anything. Helena then announces that her affair with Jimmy is over. She says that as soon as she saw Alison, she realized her mistake and knew that she had to get out. She repents her doing and says that neither Jimmy nor anyone else in the world can convince her that she had been right.

      She admits that she and Jimmy belonged to two different world completely opposite to each other and going to bed together would not change the situation. Helena says that she believes in good and evil. And she has committed a crime by her own belief. In reply to Alison’s question, Helena tells her that she is going to leave him. She tells Alison that she is leaving Jimmy not as an act of sacrifice to restore their marital life, but only because she feels guilty. Whether Alison comes back to Jimmy or not is her personal matter. She concludes saying that she had already given Alison enough advice regarding this. Alison exclaims that Jimmy will have no one. To this Helena replies that Jimmy would find someone. But as for herself, she knew everything was over between herself and Jimmy the moment she saw Alison standing at the door looking ill and tired. She interprets the loss of Alison’s baby in miscarriage as a divine judgment on them all. Alison disagrees and says the loss of the child is a simple fact, not a divine judgment. By this time the sound of the trumpet gets louder than before. Alison urges Helena not to leave Jimmy as he needs her. Helena asks Alison if she really thinks so. Alison replies that perhaps none of them were the right kind of women. Jimmy wants a different kind of woman, perhaps “a kind to cross” between a mother and a Greek Courtesan, a hench woman, a mixture of Cleopatra and Boswell. Helena feels irritated by the sound of the trumpet. Opens the door and shouts at Jimmy to stop the noise. She calls him inside but he is reluctant to come as Alison was present. Alison rises to leave, but Helena stops her.

Jimmy Criticises Helena’s Nature

      Jimmy enters and Helena tries to explain about Alison’s condition. Jimmy replies that he can see for himself what has happened. Helena asks him if Alison’s miscarriage does not mean anything to him. He replies that it was his child too and says that it was not the first misfortune in his life. Jimmy then asks Helena what Alison was doing there. Helena reprimands him for being rude, especially in view of Alison’s wretched condition. Then Helena announces about her decision to leave Jimmy. She tries to convince Jimmy that her decision is entirely hers and Alison has nothing to do with it. Helena explains that she had suddenly realized what she had known all along that it was wrong on her part to live with Jimmy. She however assures Jimmy that she loved him and will never love anyone else as she has loved him. But she adds that she cannot go on living here anymore and suffer like Alison has suffered. Turning to Alison then she says that if Alison wants to go back, she can arrange for her stay in a hotel as she was not in condition to make another journey. Helena herself would be leaving in about half an hour. She turns towards the door but Jimmy’s voice stops her. Jimmy in a low and resigned voice says that every body wants to escape from the. harsh reality, from the pain of being alive and even more from love. He says that he always anticipated some problem like this would turn up someday—like an ill wife Helena with her delicate feelings will not be able to face the situation. He tells Helena not to deceive herself about love. He accuses her of being feeble and weak and says that loving is beyond her fickle nature. Love he says demands strength and courage which Helena lacks. He tells her sarcastically to abandon her worldly life and become a saint if she cannot bear the thought of messing up her soul by her conscience. He accusingly says that Helena can never live like a human being in this world. Helena looks at him for a moment and determined as she goes out quickly.

Jimmy’s Grievance Against Alison

      After leaving Jimmy Helena looks shaken. He avoids Alison’s eyes, crosses to the window and bangs his fists against the frame. Alison breaks the silence by saying that she was sorry. She was about to go when Jimmy’s voice stops her. He accuses her of being callous and hurting him by not sending flowers to Mrs. Tanner’s funeral. He says that there is too much injustice in the world; the wrong people go hungry, the wrong people are loved and the wrong people are dying. He turns to face Alison and continues his anguish. He says that he has always believed that a man with a tremendous energy of mind and spirit looks for a companion with a similar energy, but one rarely finds, such a companion. A man of this kind unusually finds himself lovely like the old bear which goes his own way in the dark forest, without other to give him company or comfort him. The voice that eves out in pain does not necessarily belong to a weak creature. Jimmy then recalls the first night he saw her a party. He had kept watching her all the time as she seemed to be someone with “a wonderful relaxation of spirit”. On seeing her he felt as if he had found the person he had been looking for. It was only after the marriage he discovered that she actually lacked the quality of “relaxation of spirit?’. He says that in order to have relaxation of spirit, one has to be really strong. First one has to undergo the pain of suffering only then one can achieve the power to relax. And as far as Alison was concerned she never has had any experience of misfortune, she has never suffered so did not possess the strength for relaxation of spirit. He sadly says that he may be a lost cause but if she had really loved him it would not have mattered.

The Reconciliation

      Jimmy’s moving spectre bring tears to Alison’s eyes and she cries silently. She confesses that she was wrong. She had adopted a wrong attitude towards life, to be neutral, not taking a side. She now says that she does not want to be neutral and does not want to be a saint either. She now wants to be “a lost cause” like him and be “corrupt and futile”. She reminds him that the child that was inside her was gone. She thought that it was safe and secure inside her and that nothing would happen to it. When she was in pain after losing the child and suffered, she had wished that Jimmy should see her in that condition when she looked stupid, ugly and ridiculous. She had recalled how Jimmy always longed to see her suffering from some misfortune. Her misfortune has costed him of his fatherhood, but at least he can have the satisfaction that she had gone through tremendous suffering. She is so overcome with emotion and facing Jimmy says that does not see that she is in the mud, groveling and crawling. She then collapses at his feet. For a moment Jimmy stood frozen, then be bonds and takes her trembling body. He soothes her asking her not to cry and tells her that he cannot bear to see her in that condition. He reminds her of their old game of bears and squirrels like a bear and a squirrel they will live on honey and nuts. They will sing songs about themselves, about warm trees and cozy caves, about sunlight. She will keep her big eyes on his fur, and keep his claws in proper order because he is a careless bear. And he will see to it that she was a squirrel keeps her soft and bushy tail shining as brightly as it should. He lovingly calls her a beautiful squirrel and jokingly says that they have to be careful about their movement as the world is full of steel traps lying everywhere. He asks her if he is right and she nods in agreement. He says in a pitying voice “Poor squirrels!” she laughs and looks at him tenderly. With this reconciliation, the play ends on a happy note.

Awakening of Helena’s Conscience

      A dramatic and unexpected turn of events occurs in the last scene of the last act. Alison’s return makes the Church going Helena conscious of her guilt. Seeing Alison she feels the pricks of conscience that her relationship with Jimmy is purely illegitimate and unethical. She decides to leave Jimmy as a strong sense of wrong doing overcomes her. She feels guilty of unscrupulously usurping Alison’s place in the house. She frankly tells Alison that she is not sacrificing for Alison’s sake, and it would be foolish on Alison’s part to come back to Jimmy. In spite of her great love for Jimmy she is determined to go away from him.

Irony in Alison’s Return

      This scene marks a definite development in the character of Alison. She returns looking ill and haggard. She repeatedly tries to convince Helena that her intention of returning was not to interfere in their relationship. She finds herself in an awkward position and regrets for having come there. Though she regrets and apologizes to Helena, for her unexpected return yet her longing for a reunion with Jimmy cannot be overruled. Towards the end she even admits her past mistakes: “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”. After telling Jimmy about her tragic miscarriage she says to him: “Don’t you see! I’ am in the mud at last! I’ am groveling! I’ am crawling!” and she collapses at his feet. She surrenders herself completely to Jimmy. A few month of separation had brought a great change in Alison. She had suffered the tragic loss of her child through miscarriage and her suffering had made her humble.

The Development in Jimmy’s Character

      Through the whole play Jimmy with a few exceptional scenes is projected as an angry young man dissatisfied with everything around him. He wages a constant battle of criticism against everybody. Seeing Alison return he refuses to talk to her and plays on his trumpet to show his disapproval and annoyance. On learning about Helena’s decision to leave him on moral ground he becomes distressed. He accuses Helena escaping from the “pain of being alive”. After Helena’s departure he turns to Alison and complains to her for not sending (lower, for Mrs. Tanner’s funeral and adds that she loves to hurt him. Helena’s realization of her wrong doing and her desertion of Jimmy paves the way for reconciliation between Jimmy and Alison.

      Giving an account of her tragic miscarriage and the consequent suffering Alison breaks down and weeps. The sensitive and emotional side of Jimmy comes to the fore. He consoles her and pleads her not to cry for he cannot bear to see her suffer. He accepts her and they go back to their dreamworld about bears and squirrels and relieve themselves from the pain of suffering.

The Happy Ending

      The ending of the play is quite dramatic until Alison’s arrival everything was smoothly going on between Jimmy and Helena. The identical setting of the scene where the two men Cliff and Jimmy are reading newspaper criticizing, having mock fight, Helena like Alison ironing clothes—all these suggests the smooth sailing of life. Alison’s being replaced by Helena’s life in the Porter apartment seemed quite complete and normal. The tender scene between Helena and Jimmy just before the arrival of Alison shows the compatibility of the two. But the sudden and unexpected return of Alison gives a blow to our anticipation about the ending of the play.

      On seeing Alison, Helena’s conscience gets a severe jolt and the feeling of wrong doing overwhelms the Church going Helena with her strong middle-class conviction. She likes a drastic step and leaves Jimmy not to reconcile Jimmy and Alison as she points out, but only out of her moral conscience. Though even after her desertion we are not sure about the reconciliation, yet Helena’s departure surely paves the way for the happy ending. Jimmy becomes desperate and accuses Alison of being callous for not sending any flowers to Mrs. Tanner’s funeral as a mark of respect. The rude and ever criticizing Jimmy makes a last attempt to retral Alison who after Helena’s leaving was getting ready to go. Like a weak and feeble man, he complains and says that even a big and strong animal like the bear cannot survive alone. Alison who in spite of her insistence that she had returned just out of some morbid curiosity, had longed to reconcile with her husband. After a tearful account of her tragic miscarriage, they reconcile. The returning to the world of fantasy, imagining themselves as bears and squirrels make the reconciliation complete.

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