For a play like look back in anger, regarding its limited number of characters, the relation or non-relation, the communication or lack of communication of those characters, would be, undeniably, if not the most significant of all its underlying themes, at least one of the most important ones. All through the play itself, the confrontation of the characters and the way they communicate with each other reveals a particular side of the play. In the one hand the interdependence of human beings on each other through their relations and in the other hand The difficulty, absurdity or even impossibility of the real communication between people- let us narrow it regarding the boundaries of the play- between the members of a society, of a group of intimate friends, of the members of a family and specifically, married couples, as the moving motif, is interestingly traceable here in the play look back in anger. In fact this play is a good example of the examination of this philosophy of relationship between toward- new world- running people, since both Sexes, different social ranks, different ages are all involved in the microcosmic world of the play.
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Jimmy is a representative figure, he is ‘spokesmen for his generation’, jimmy is an example of those people who born into the working class, were educated out of it, but were unable to find an acceptable role in the complexities of the English class system. In the world of post war England, these people had no place to go. Jimmy porter sentimentalizes the working class because he is no longer part of it. Cliff is a genuinely working class and has remained it. Alison is the representative of the upper class of society who is mingled with the educating working or middle class through their relationships in the new post war world. Besides, she is a sort of naïve girl who is not able to handle this integration in a way to make it complete and useful for herself. It seems that she is sacrificed for this mingling of classes. And Helena, though apparently seems that belongs to the upper class, through a narrow examination of her characteristics it will be found that she has been from a mid-class family who have been attached to the upper class through their relations and ability to confirm themselves to the norms of that class. Also her profession as an actress, according to the historical and cultural atmosphere of 1950s, reveals that she is from those people who are not born in a high class rank of society but she herself has been the practitioner of climbing the ladder of society through her job and ambitions.
Concerning this brief characterization and acquaintance with the general position of each character, it would be easier to examine the relationship between them as the main aim of the essay.
The relation between Cliff and Alison
The sudden reversal of feeling which follows Alison’s being hurt in the struggle between the two men is one of the most violent shifts in language in the play.
Cliff: (picking himself up) she’s hurt. Are you all right?
Alison: well does it look like it!
Cliff: she’s burnt her arm on the iron.
Jimmy: darling, I am sorry.
Alison: get out.
Jimmy: I’m sorry, believe me. You think I did it on purpose. (p.26)
This is another scene too in which we find more of both Alison and cliff than we have seen.
Cliff: here we are then. Let’s have your arm. (He kneels down beside her, and holds out her arm) I’ve put it under the tap. It’s quiet soft. I’ll do it ever so gently. (Very carefully, he rubs the soap over the burn) all right? (She nods) you’re a brave girl.
Alison: I don’t feel very brave. I really don’t cliff. I don’t think I can take much more.
Cliff: all over now. Would you like me to get you something? (She shakes her head. He sits on the arm of the chair, and puts his arm around her. She leans her head back on to him) don’t upset yourself, lovely. (He massages the back of her neck, and she lets her head fall forward). (p.27)
In a small section like this we see how both Cliff’s and Alison’s dependence on one another is strengthened by the roles they are able to adopt. Alison here slips very easily back into the role of the small girl and cliff assumes the rule of the father. The failure of the roles to sustain the characters is shown in the fact that Alison and cliff immediately reverse their positions. She leans back and closes her eyes again.
Alison: bless you. (He kisses the top of her head)
Cliff reveals his own very strong dependence on both Alison and jimmy in the speech which follows:
Cliff: I don’t think I’d have the courage to live on my own again in spite of everything. I’m pretty rough, and pretty ordinary really, and I’d seem worse on my own. And you get fond of people too, worse luck.
It is this final comment that Alison picks up when she replies, ‘I don’t think I want anything more to do with love any more. I can’t take it on.’
Cliff reverts to the father role in the following speech:
Cliff: you’re too young to start giving up. Too young, and too lovely. Perhaps I’d better put a bandage on that, do you think so? (p.27-28)
But there has been there, at that point in the play, a moment that is never to recur when cliff comes close to revealing a sexual love for Alison but it is the moment that fades with Alison’s denial of that possibility and is not referred to again.
At the end of act 1, Alison reveals for the first time to cliff that she has realized that she is pregnant. Cliff acts out the role that is normally assumed to the lover in such situations. In a peculiar way, cliff, at this point in the play, has become a means of showing that tenderness and love for Alison which Jimmy so clearly possesses and is yet unable to express to her in a direct way.
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Alison’s past relationship with jimmy
When Helena asks Alison why she married him, she gives a description of jimmy which recaptures the fascination, and the complexity of her original response to him. The language which Alison uses when she talks of jimmy illustrates very clearly her confused responses to the situation she finds herself in. the imagery of barbarian hordes, raiding the polite partiers, ‘plundering them, wolfing their food and drinks, and smoking their cigars like ruffians’, Modulates into a vision of jimmy as a knight in armor ‘with his axe swinging round his head_ frail and so full of fire’. Alison is aware that her fascination is potentially self-destructive from the start, and she is aware of the impossibility of reconciling her real perception of jimmy with the dream image she retains. Alison understands clearly that jimmy cannot really ever become part of her world, nor even really accept her, without betraying the past to which he looks back in frustrated anger. She is able to explain to Helena much of the inside workings of jimmy. We as readers find that how much Alison really does understand of the impossibility of her situation, and the sources for this in jimmy’s personality. Alison here shows a depth of understanding that Helena will never be able to achieve.
Alison shows that she is well aware of the escapist nature of the fantasy world of bears and squirrels and the way in which it serves to allow them to express a love for each other which they cannot express when their social, intellectual and personal differences are visible to each other. Alison shows that she is aware of that no woman can ever satisfy jimmy, because as the fantasy shows, he is searching for a womb-like retreat, and yet is driven to anger by the woman who offers it him. All Alison can offer jimmy is sexual love and an image of comfort, and he will hate her for smothering him even while he self-destructively demands the security for her love. Finally she finds that jimmy needs some amalgam of mother, lover, and intellectual companion, or as Alison herself puts it, ‘A kind of cross between a mother and a Greek courtesan, a henchwoman, a mixture of Cleopatra and Boswell’.
Jimmy’s relationship with Helena
With Helena the process is always only partial. A ritual which does not touch her deeply. The sudden, passionate outburst of feeling with which the act ends shows how jimmy’s anguish erodes secure, unquestioned values, and illustrates how even Helena must pick up the gauntlet of the challenge he embodies, though of course on her own terms. Helena is the self-destructive jimmy seeks writ large, as he knows only too well. There is no tenderness in their relationship, not even the possible false escape of squirrels and bears. Their passion is only an aspect of their enmity, a mutually inescapable challenge. Helena is a realist, and as such can live with the eroded values of the post-war world, while jimmy, like colonel Redfern, is still looking back in anger to the time when idealism and moral passion were capable of shaping a whole life and a whole generation. Helena, who is not stupid, but whose vision is very narrow, gets half the truth when she tells Alison that:
There is 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 doesn’t know where he is or where he’s going…. (p.90)
Helena performs an important function here in that she combines both stances in one figure. She is modern, intellectual to some degree, but not dispossessed of her identity. She stands in a secure place, symbolized by her unquestioning acceptance of the moral categories of religion, even when she does not act on them. Yet her strength lies in her essential hypocrisy. Jimmy’s attack on her sentimental Christianity is also very self-revealing, since the things of which he accuses Helena are very close to his own habit of idealizing the past.
Actually the examination of relations and subsequently the dramatization of the characters’ response to each other in different contexts can be extended but here in this essay the major characters and their reciprocal relations to each other have been regarded. So through these brief explanations of relations the various sorts of communication as dependence, for instance of jimmy to women, Alison to cliff and jimmy and vice versa and on the other hand, difficulty of real and satisfactory relationship between all characters, have been examined and explained. This examination of relationships helps the reader to find the underlying theme of communication as an important and significant one all through the play.
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