The play, A Look Back in Anger, by John Osborne brings the notion of the “angry man gone mad” to the surface. But what does this play teach us? Or, does this play teach us anything? At the end of this paper it will be evident that this play does teach us something, and that is how some people, as individuals, have their own ways of thinking, and reacting, which are considerably different from the social norms. Of course the character we will be analyzing is Jimmy.
There are 3 stimuli that correspond to radical reactions by Jimmy. The first stimulus is love; Jimmy has ways of expressing his love to the women of his life that are different than the rest of society’s. The second stimulus is the natural aggression towards threats, and most of these threats are small, that Jimmy expresses with Cliff, and also in Allison’s mother, in particular. The final trigger to Jimmy’s radical way of reacting is that of death. It seems to be an image that haunts him throughout the play and he only brings it to the surface after the halfway point. This, last, stimuli can be regarded as an explanation to his radical ways, that give him the image of the “angry man”. However, there is one over-ruling thesis that covers all three stimuli that is the basis of Jimmy’s radical behavior, and that is of women in general; Jimmy, as will be demonstrated in each section, is very insecure with the opposite sex, whether it is will girlfriends, wives, or landlords.
On the topic of love, Jimmy has demonstrated his difficulty to conform to the social norms, in terms of being a gentleman towards women, especially his own wife, Allison. The first major indication of this problem was when Allison and him were showing their first mutual signs of affection, but they were required to result to role playing to fulfill their show of love.
“Jimmy: You’re very beautiful. A beautiful, great-eyed squirrelHow I envy you.
Allison: Well, you’re a jolly super bear, too. A really soooooooooooper,marvelous bear.
Jimmy: Bears and Squirrels are marvelous”
Jimmy and Allison have proven that they must put on disguises to show their affection. Allison as a Squirrels, and Jimmy as a bear also demonstrates the way their perceive each other. A squirrel is small, weak, and helpless, as is contrary to a bear, that has the image of a vicious and barbaric animal. In this point of view, Osborne is showing us an analogy of how he perceives their relationship. Bears and squirrels don’t really get along, mainly because they compete for the same food. In the play we see how Allison and Jimmy are incompatible, and when they speak of how “bears and squirrels are marvelous”, it just proves to show that they are blind to the fact that they don’t belong together. However, it must be made clear that this is not due to Allison that they lock horns often, but it at Jimmy’s fault; he is seen as the instigator to every conflict in this play.
Not only in terms of love, but also in regarding women altogether, Jimmy sees women as the enemy. Jimmy has attacked every woman in this play, physically or verbally, except for one, and that was Hugh’s mother who has dying. (this issue will be addressed in the last portion of this essay). First, we will look at the situation with Helena; as first it is evident that they hate each other, but then they kiss and become lovers. This is not only unusual, but shows the instability and unpredictability of Jimmy’s actions. The issue is that he sees Helena as an enemy that is trying to convince Allison to leave him; and Jimmy seems correct, because in fact, that is what happens in the end, but it’s quite unpredictable. Jimmy shows his disgust towards Helena when he says to her: “What are you plotting?” This is implying that Helena is out to mess his life up, this then leads to a confrontation that almost gets violent.
“Helena: If you come nearer, I will slap your face.
Jimmy: I hope you won’t make the mistake of thinking for one moment that I ama gentleman.
Helena: I’m not very likely to do that.
Jimmy: I’ve no public school scruples about hitting girls. If you slap my face-by God, I’ll lay you out!”
This scene describes many things, which are going through the head of Jimmy; he’s a non-conformist to society’s customs and unwritten rules. He even admits to this fact by stating that women with small arms and physical strength think that they can get away with hitting a man simply because they are at a physical disadvantage. Meanwhile, in the real world, men shouldn’t hit women. Jimmy is out to prove something in this play, and basically what he’s trying to tell society is that society is moving further and further away from what it was naturally meant to be.
This play was written in the 1950’s, which was when the times were changing drastically with respect to women’s roles in society. This is proven because of the two World Wars, which where over by 1945, and women began to gain social status. This time frame was when Jimmy was growing up, therefore he inevitably, saw this change of balance of power, which he definitely opposed for some unknown reason, as many other men did. An important part of Jimmy’s life that is ignored is of his childhood. We do not hear of any relationship with Jimmy’s parents, we hear that his father dies when he was ten, and his mother neglected both of them, which could possibly explain his fear of women, or possibly his father could have been the same way as he is. This is definitely something that the author should have added to the play in order to understand what Jimmy’s motives are.
The second stimuli we will analyze are that of the aggression towards any competition. This aggression is closely related to the women of his life, mainly Allison. Cliff, Helena, and especially Allison’s mother are all trying to steal Allison from him, in his own eyes. This sparks the raging bear attitude in him and actually causes him to loose his own wife.
Primarily, on the situation with the mother-in-law, Jimmy is the most vicious; this is well demonstrated in his speech at the dinner table in front of Helena, Cliff, and Alison.
“There is no limit to what the middle-aged mummy will do in the holy crusade against ruffians like me. Mummy and I took one quick look at each other, and, from then on, the age of chivalry was deadshe’d bellow like a rhinoceros in labor-enough to make every male rhino for miles turn white, and pledge himself to celibacy(later on in the speech) I said she’s an old bitch, and should be dead!”
On the issue of conforming to social rules, Jimmy doesn’t score too high on table etiquette. This attack on Allison’s mother can be seen as the turning point of the play, because after this scene, Helena and Allison make the decision that she had better go home with her Father; the telegram is sent and within a day, she is gone. It is normal for men and their in-laws to have some conflicts; Jimmy takes this situation to a horrible level in wishing death to her. However, he even mentions that he didn’t mind Allison’s father. This just goes to prove that Jimmy is insecure with women in general, otherwise he would hate his father-in-law too. Women are obviously not compatible with Jimmy at all, even the landlord, Miss Drury, provides Jimmy with another threat. The issue in this case is she has control over them, in the fact that she owns the apartment; Jimmy finds this difficult because he’s “outranked” by the opposite sex.
The second person we can look at is Cliff; this is a different type of aggression that arises. Primarily because this is the only other male character that Jimmy comes in contact with in the play, and they have never stopped arguing throughout the play. A few times they even resulted in wrestling, in once case injuring Allison. This key in this situation is the communication problem, they ask one question to each other, and it is not answered until a dozen other questions are asked. The shocking portion of this relationship between them both is that Jimmy actually trusts Cliff. In countless scenes, it seems as if Cliff is actually Allison’s husband, and Jimmy only reacts in a very minor fashion; and again, this just fortifies the notion that Jimmy is insecure when women are regarded, because the only person he trusts is Cliff.
The Third and final stimuli is that of the notion of death, in many of Jimmy’s dialogs, he speaks of death and its’ implications. He is obviously emotionally scarred by his father’s death, from when Jimmy was only ten years old. He testifies that nobody else cared for his father but him; his mother didn’t do much but tend to his physical needs. “I learnt at an early age what it was to be angry-angry and helpless. And I can never forget it.” It seems as though the anger was towards his mother, and women in general’ this thought in his mind is a recurrent in his speech and we see that he blames everyone for not caring for the dying.
Later on Jimmy’s friend, Hugh’s mother, is in a hospital dying, and again we get the same events happen again. This is special, not only because it involves death, that really triggers Jimmy’s emotions, but because this lady is the only one who he shows any direct affection for. He declares that he’s the only one who loves Hugh’s mother, and he’ll be the only one walking behind the coffin on the day of the funeral. The main significance that must be surfaced from this idea is that when it comes to death, gender does not matter to Jimmy. The reaction of his father’s death, and Hugh’s mother’s death are parallel in every single aspect. Therefore, it can be said that Jimmy’s only vehicle to bring him in terms with women is death, and after the death of Hugh’s mother, we see a different Jimmy. He returns to the home, where Helena tells him that Allison left, and tries to remain the old self by threatening Helena, but he breaks down; she kisses him and they fall for each other.
At this point in the novel we have hope for Jimmy that he has “seen the light”, but this is not the case. We can see that the author has easily illustrated this out for us by recreating the same scene as the beginning with Helena at Allison’s initial place. Jimmy and Cliff argue over the same issues, and Helena is still at the ironing board. This goes to show that people like Jimmy do not change their ways of thinking overnight, this will take a long time before Jimmy accepts the social rules. By the end of the play we don’t see any difference because when he returns with Allison, they still resolve to bears and squirrels to show their affection.
In conclusion, the three stimuli have shown spark anger and passion from within Jimmy. However, the overruling trigger that sparks anger in Jimmy is the idea of women in general. He is obviously threatened by women’s advancement in society and this is the main problem that he must overcome in order to become an acceptable person to society as a whole.