Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Mind and Character of Alison Porter

Physical Description
Alison is described by the author as "the most elusive personality", that is, one who is difficult to understand. She looks quite elegant in the red shirt which she is wearing (when she is ironing the clothes) and which actually is Jimmy's. She is approximately the same age as Jimmy and Cliff. (In other words, she is about twenty-five.) By contrast with the men, her beauty appears to be more striking than it really is. She is tall, slim, and dark. The bones of her face are long and delicate. She has eyes which are large and deep.

The Difference between her
Outlook upon Life and Jimmy's Outlook
In almost every respect, Alison offers a contrast to Jimmy. She comes from the middle-class, while Jimmy belongs to the working class. As a believer in the middle-class morality she kept herself a virgin till the time of her marriage, but the discovery of her virginity by Jimmy, when he married her, proved to be not only surprising to him but actually annoying. As Alison reveals to Cliff, Jimmy had taunted her with her virginity. In this connection she also tells Cliff: "He was quite angry about it, as if I had deceived him in some strange way. He seemed to think an untouched woman would defile him."
Her Attitude to Her Parents
Alison continues to love her parents even after her marriage to Jimmy who had not found favour with them. In spite of Jimmy's hatred for her parents, she continues to write letters to her mother. In this correspondence between her and her mother, no reference is ever made to Jimmy who feels considerably offended by this fact because it makes him feel that his name is a dirty word in the eyes of both Alison and her mother. Although Jimmy has many nasty things to say about Alison's family, she does not change her attitude towards them.
Her Attitude to Helena
Alison differs greatly from her husband in her attitude to Helena. While Jimmy refers to Helena as his natural enemy, Alison is quite friendly to her, and does not at all mind Helena's coming to stay with her even though Jimmy is greatly upset by the information that Helena is coming. Under Helena's influence, Alison even goes to church, thus further annoying Jimmy. It is under Helena's instigation that Alison leaves Jimmy and goes with her father to live under the parental roof.
Her Attitude to Hugh and Hugh's Mother (Mrs. Tanner)
Alison never liked Jimmy's chum, Hugh, or Hugh's mother, Mrs. Tanner. She was shocked by Hugh's crudeness and bad manners when she had to live in Hugh's apartment immediately after her marriage to Jimmy. Hugh and Jimmy used to invade the homes of Alison's relatives and friends for food and drinks; they were real gate-crushers, and Alison could not tolerate that sort of thing. Indeed, she still has unpleasant memories of the time she had spent under Hugh's roof. Nor does she have much feeling for Mrs. Tanner even though that lady had established Jimmy in his sweet-stall. In fact, Alison does not care for Mrs. Tanner at all, even though she knows very well that Jimmy has the highest regard and respect for that lady. When Jimmy wants Alison, at a very crucial moment, to accompany him to London to see Mrs. Tanner, she refuses. Afterwards she does not even send a bunch of flowers to Mrs. Tanner's funeral.
Her Spirit of Tolerance
Some of Jimmy's habits irritate Alison even now, four years after the marriage. For instance, she feels very annoyed when he plays on his trumpet, just as he feels annoyed by her ceaseless ironing of clothes and by her general apathy. However, she remains silent and does not generally give expression to her annoyance. In fact, her attitude of toleration towards Jimmy is one of her most remarkable and most admirable qualities. Even when he tries to provoke her by making sarcastic remarks about her and by his abusive language about her family, she maintains an attitude of composure and a calm exterior, even though she feels inwardly hurt. She even tells Cliff that she can no longer bear the way Jimmy keeps on behaving towards her, but even then she does not outwardly react in any way till Helena comes and puts pressure on Alison to break away from Jimmy. Alison has shown a highly commendable flexibility during the last four years, and has been adjusting herself to Jimmy's moods and whims. By nature she is not a demanding woman and, if it were not for the unhappiness of her marital life, she would be a perfectly contented person despite her husband's low social and economic status.
Her Liking for Cliff
It is interesting to note that the only thing in common between Alison and her husband is that both of them are fond of Cliff. Cliff is almost as acceptable to Alison as he is to Jimmy. In fact, Cliff is deeply attached to Alison, and Alison fully reciprocates his affection. Of course, as she tells Helena, nothing sexual is involved in her relationship: "It's just a relaxed, cheerful sort of thing, like being warm in bed. You're too comfortable to bother about moving for the sake of some other pleasure." Nor does Jimmy mind that attachment between Alison and Cliff about whom he has an excellent opinion.
The Sexual Harmony between Her and Jimmy
In addition to both Alison and Jimmy having a great affection for Cliff, there is one thing more which seems to be keeping the husband and the wife together, and this is the sex-equation between them. No two persons could have been more different from each other than Alison and Jimmy as regards their temperaments, habits of thought, and general outlook upon life, but there is perfect sexual harmony between them. Although Jimmy somewhat indignantly describes her passion as the passion of a python, or as a devouring passion, there is no doubt that he enjoys making love to her. Apart from that, there is no understanding at all between them, so much so that Alison hesitates even to tell him about her pregnancy. She thinks that, if she were to tell him about her pregnancy, he would at once suspect her motives. She also feels that, in course of time, he would begin to dislike her for looking bigger and bigger because of the growth of the baby inside her.
Her Understanding of Jimmy's Nature
Alison frankly tells Helena that she does not believe Jimmy to be right in his attitude to life, especially because Jimmy demands from others an allegiance not only to himself but to those who are dear to him, like his late father, for instance, and the other women he had loved. This is how she describes this aspect of Jimmy's nature: "It isn't easy to explain. It's what he would call a question of allegiances, and he expects you to be pretty literal about them. Not only about himself and all the things he believes in his present and his future, but his past as well. All the people he admires and loves, and has loved His father, who died years ago. Even the other women he's loved." This is a very shrewd comment by Alison on Jimmy's nature. Indeed, Alison has understood Jimmy's nature to a very great extent. She gives more evidence of this fact on a couple of other occasions also. For instance, when Helena says that Jimmy seems to have suffered a good deal in life, Alison rightly advises Helena not to take away Jimmy's suffering from him because without his sense of suffering he would feel lost. In her conversation with her father, Alison rightly points out that Jimmy had married her from motives of revenge. What she means is that Jimmy, with his working-class origin, had tried to take revenge upon the middle class by marrying her. (As we know, Alison comes from a middle-class family; and Jimmy cannot tolerate the feeling of superiority which people of the middle class have in their attitude to the working class.) She also thinks that Jimmy should have been another Shelley and married a girl like Mary, the daughter of William Godwin. She goes on to call Jimmy a "spiritual barbarian" who had thrown a challenge to her by marrying her. When she calls him a spiritual barbarian she means that he is not sensitive enough to understand the feelings of others or to sympathize with them. Here, of course, she is slightly mistaken because basically Jimmy is not callous, as is evident from his grief over the death of Mrs. Tanner and his anguish at his own loneliness. However, Alison is right insofar as Jimmy is indifferent to the feelings of persons who are socially above him. Alison is right also in thinking that Jimmy cannot be truly happy with either Helena or herself. She very aptly expresses her view in the following manner, while talking to Helena about him: "He wants something quite different from us. What it is exactly I don't know—a kind of cross between a mother and a Greek courtesan, a henchwoman, a mixture of Cleopatra and Boswell." While Alison is, on the whole, right in her analysis of Jimmy's nature, not much importance is to be attached to Jimmy's analysis of hers when he says that she does not really possess that relaxation of spirit which he had once thought to be her great merit. No woman can show a relaxation of spirit if she is a perpetual target of criticism by her husband and, in any case, Alison has shown a greater relaxation of spirit during the past four years than Jimmy himself, who has been fretting and fuming and raging against her and the world most of the time.
The Fantasy of the Bears-and-Squirrels Game
The only moments when Alison has had any happiness with Jimmy were those when she and he played the bears-and-squirrels game, that is, when they imagined themselves as animals and forgot the actual reality. This is how she describes that game to Helena: "It was the one way of escaping from everything—a sort of unholy priest—hole of being animals to one another. We could become little furry creatures with little furry brains. Full of dumb, uncomplicated affection for each other. Playful, careless creatures in their own cosy zoo for two."
The Psychological Basis for Alison's Return to Jimmy
Although Alison forsakes Jimmy because of his continuous ill-treatment of her over a long period of time, and we fully endorse her action, yet she comes back to Jimmy "grovelling and crawling", as she herself puts it. The fact is that she has suffered deeply, as deeply as any woman can suffer, because the loss of her child is the greatest misfortune that can befall any woman. Having had a miscarriage, Alison can no longer endure her loneliness. The child in her womb must have been a great comfort to her and would have continued to be a comfort if she had not lost it. There is, thus, a strong psychological basis for her coming back and falling at Jimmy's feet. And, in any case, she had been in love with him, too. There is, therefore, nothing incredible about her coming back to Jimmy, even though out of the generosity of her heart she tells Helena that she has no desire to cause a breach between Helena and Jimmy, and that she has come only on account of a hysterical feeling or a feeling of morbid curiosity. She has greatly been chastened by her suffering, and that accounts for her abject surrender to Jimmy who had at one time expressed the wish, that she would undergo suffering, such as the kind of suffering that a woman experiences when she loses a child. The reconciliation between them is facilitated by the prior departure of Helena and by the timely recollection by both of the bears-and-squirrels game which they used occasionally to play in the past.

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