Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What symbolic devices does Osborne use in Look Back in Anger and with what effect?

The Bears-and-Squirrels Game, a Symbolic Device
The bears-and-squirrels game in Look Back in Anger occupies a special place. It is a symbolic device which serves an important dramatic purpose. According to a critic, this game is a brave attempt by Jimmy and Alison to compensate themselves for the failure of their marriage.
As such, the game is a kind of "extended metaphor". As we witness this game developing in the play, it is not in the least embarrassing, but strangely moving. As a form of conventionalized sexual play, it has an undoubted dignity of its own for, as Osborne himself has suggested, such a mutual perpetuation of a fantasy-level of experience can be a sophisticated form of sexual communication. However, this fantasy is compensatory rather than complementary to the sexual relationship. The play explores, within a formally perfect framework, a particular kind of sexual relationship, the incidental frustrations which are expressed in Jimmy's outbursts. In this way, the bears-and-squirrels game is intimately connected with the theme of marriage in the play.
A Statement of the Nature of Human Love
According to another critic, the game of bears-and-squirrels seems at first a trivial evasion of the complexities found in any marriage. But at the end of the play the game, according to this critic, becomes a statement of the nature of human love—the willingness to immerse oneself completely in creativeness, to share the pain and the pleasure of the limited animal. Jimmy thus ultimately reconciles himself to an animal relationship with Alison. In her squirrel's nest, Alison is precisely a warm, generous animal who will lie by Jimmy's side every night. Thus, according to this critic also, the symbolic device of the bears-and-squirrels game serves to illustrate the theme of marriage and the sexual relationship between Jimmy and Alison.
A Refuge From the World
According to yet another critic, Alison comes back to Jimmy at the end after having really suffered, and she can therefore be presumed to have realized her own defects and to have returned with the intention of a deeper commitment to Jimmy's love. Jimmy and Alison then revert to the bears-and-squirrels game as a refuge from the world which sets "cruel steel traps" for its animals. It seems likely that this basis of warm, animal love might, on the other side of suffering, lead to a happy and continuing relationship. Some critics, however, feel otherwise, and see in the ending merely a temporary escape from realities which will have to be faced later.
Alison's Explanation of the Bears-and-Squirrels Game
Let us see how this symbolic device of the bears-and-squirrels game develops in the play and how the dramatist expects us to be affected by it. The first hint of this game is given to us in the stage-directions at the very beginning of the play, when we are told that, among miscellaneous articles on the chest of drawers, there is a large toy teddy bear and a soft, woolly squirrel. At this time we hardly pay any attention to the toy bear and the toy squirrel. These two toy animals seem to be just a part of the random collection of things on the chest of drawers. However, we become aware of the supreme importance of these two toys in Act II when Alison is talking to Helena about the failure of her marriage to Jimmy. Alison explains that she had married Jimmy in the teeth of the fierce opposition of her parents and that she had subsequently found herself leading a very unsatisfactory life on account of Jimmy's poverty and his lack of an occupation. For quite some time, Alison and her husband had to live under the roof of Hugh who was a friend of Jimmy's. Hugh was a detestable man, says Alison, and she had hardly been able to tolerate him. Jimmy and Hugh used to invade, the homes of her relatives and friends as uninvited guests and they used to take her also alongwith them. They were gate-crashers who went to people's homes for free food and drinks. Alison further tells Helena that her relations with Jimmy now are such that she is reluctant even to tell Jimmy about her pregnancy. In short, the marriage, according to Alison's account, has come to nothing. Alison then shows Helena the toy bear and the toy squirrel lying on the chest of drawers and says that the bear represents Jimmy and the squirrel represents herself. When Helena does not understand Alison's meaning, Alison explains that it is a game which she and Jimmy have played on certain occasions but that now even that game seems to have lost its purpose. She goes on to say that this game was the only way in which she and Jimmy could escape from everything. This game was a kind of "unholy priest-hole" of being animals to one another. Jimmy and she could imagine themselves as "little furry creatures with little furry brains". In the roles of animals, a bear and a squirrel, they could feel "dumb, uncomplicated affection" for each other. And they could spend a happy time like "playful, careless creatures in their own cosy zoo for two." Alison further describes the game as "a silly symphony for people who couldn't bear the pain of being human beings." But now, says Alison, even those poor little silly animals are dead, These animals were "all love, and no brains," says Alison in conclusion.
The Game, a Way of Forgetting the Actual Reality
The bears-and-squirrels game, then, was a kind of escape for Alison and Jimmy from the harsh realities of life and from the failure to have adjusted themselves to each other in a harmonious relationship. When a man and his wife fail to come to terms, and they find themselves at loggerheads with each other, they yet try to find some common basis for mutual harmony, instead of separating or resorting to a divorce. This would especially be the case where the marriage was one of love and had taken place against the declared wishes of the parents of one of them or the parents of both of them. Alison, having married Jimmy against the wishes of her parents, could not easily break up the marriage, although the breaking point does ultimately come partly because of the role played by Helena. In the case of Alison and Jimmy, the basis for some sort of mutual understanding was found in the bears-and-squirrel game. Animals feel only a dumb, natural affection for each other, without this affection being complicated by intellectual disparities. Nor are there any class-distinctions among animals. The main reason for Jimmy's bitterness against Alison was, after all, his opposition to the middle class which she represented while he himself comes from the working class. The only way that the two could therefore discover, in order to forget their respective social positions, and the intellectual gulf between them was to imagine themselves as animals, the bear representing masculine strength and the squirrel representing feminine softness and gentleness.
The Fleeting Happiness Provided by this
Game on Occasions
In short, on certain occasions, especially when they made love to each other, Jimmy and Alison used to imagine themselves as a bear and a squirrel respectively, and thus become oblivious of their human character, their rationality, and their social prejudices. One such occasion occurs in Act I when Cliff has gone out of the room for a little while and when, in a moment of mutual tenderness, Jimmy and Alison play this game. Jimmy calls Alison a "beautiful, great-eyed squirrel", "Hoarding, nut-manching squirrel", "With highly polished, gleaming fur, and an ostrich feather of a tail". This almost poetic description, affords great joy to Alison and relieves the tension from which she has been suffering as a result of Jimmy's verbal assaults on her. She then begins to produce the sound which a squirrel produces, and she calls him a "jolly super bear, too", "A really marvellous bear", 'Marvellous and beautiful". She jumps up and down in a state of excitement, making little "paw gestures". They are both very happy at this time and they lovingly embrace each other. Alison says that everything just seems to be all right suddenly. Then, in her state of extreme bliss, she is about to tell Jimmy about her pregnancy when Cliff suddenly enters, and the illusion is shattered. The escape into the fantasy-world of animals had made both Jimmy and Alison forget the stern reality and had made them very happy, though happiness proved fleeting as it must have been on similar previous occasions.
Jimmy's Throwing the Teddy Bear on the Floor
When Jimmy gets ready to go to London to attend upon the dying Mrs. Tanner, and when Alison, whom he wants to take with him, refuses to go, Jimmy feels very distressed. Alison then leaves with Helena for the church while Jimmy picks up the teddy bear gently, looks at it, and then throws it on the floor. This action of Jimmy's shows how disappointed he is feeling with his wife, and what a shock it is to him that she should have proved so callous in the matter of Mrs. Tanner's approaching death. Jimmy at this time feels solitary and forsaken. He badly needed Alison's comradeship at this time, but she has let him down. The teddy bear which symbolizes Jimmy is now of no use to him, and so he discards it. His gesture in throwing the toy bear on the floor shows that the fantasy-world of animals can no longer provide any comfort to him.
Alison's Disillusionment with the Toy-Squirrel
On the following day, when Alison is packing up her things to go with her father to her parental home, she picks up the toy squirrel from the chest of drawers and is about to put it in her suitcase when she changes her mind and puts it back. This action of Alison's also has a symbolic significance. The toy-squirrel was very dear to her because of its past associations, and she would have liked to carry it with her. But she realizes that now, with a change in her relationship with Jimmy whom she has decided to leave, the squirrel can have no meaning. For her, too, the fantasy-world of animals has ceased to exist. Her action in picking up the toy squirrel shows her feeling of nostalgia and her action in putting it back shows her feeling of disillusionment and disappointment.
The Game Helpful in Bringing About the Reconciliation
Towards the close of the play, when Jimmy bends and takes Alison's trembling body in his arms, Jimmy consolingly says to her that he and she will be together again in their bears cave and their squirrel's nest and will live on honey and on lots and lots of nuts. Both Jimmy and Alison are now in a chastened mood on account of the suffering that they have gone through. And in this mood of renewed tenderness, Jimmy's mind has at once gone back to the bears-and-squirrels game. So he goes on to say that, as animals, they will sing songs about themselves, about warm trees and cosy caves, and will bask in the sunshine. He adds that Alison, the squirrel, will keep her big eyes on his fur and help him to keep his claws in order because he is a rough and untidy kind of bear, while he will see to it that she keeps her sleek, bushy tail shining as it should, because she is a very beautiful squirrel. And at this point Jimmy also speaks to Alison certain words of caution and warning. He reminds her that even for animals there are cruel steel traps lying everywhere, just waiting to catch mad animals as well as timid ones. And Alison nods in agreement. Finally, Jimmy says in a pathetic voice: ''Poor squirrels!", while Alison says: "Poor bears! Oh, poor, poor bears!". And thus the reconciliation too is helped by the fantasy-world of that game, though it is possible that they are playing this game for the last time because they have now become qualified to face the realities of life.
Ironing as a Symbolic Device
A few other symbols have also been used in the play. There is Alison's endless ironing, for instance. Her ironing represents the kind of routine with which Jimmy is fed up. The ironing serves to add to Jimmy's boredom and it therefore becomes also a symbol of his boredom. In one of his early speeches in the play Jimmy complains: "Always the same ritual. Reading the papers, drinking tea, ironing." Subsequently also he shows his impatience with the ironing. It is ironical that, after Alison has gone away and has been replaced by Helena, we find Helena also ironing the clothes like Alison, so that from one point of view at least there is no change in Jimmy's life.
The Church-Bells as a Symbol
Then there is the sound of the church-bells. Jimmy feels annoyed when he hears this sound. He is opposed to church-going; he is opposed to religious practices and rituals; and the church-bells, being symbolic of the church, annoy him. In Act I, when he has declaimed about the noise that women make, he hears the ringing of the church-bells and says: "Oh, hell! Now the bloody bells have started". The sound of the church-bells is an irritant to him, and he feels that this sound will drive him crazy. The church-bells irritate him also because they suggest in a vague manner the existence of a world other than the one with which Jimmy is familiar, and that other world is the spiritual world.
The Trumpet
Finally, there is Jimmy's blowing on his trumpet. Although playing on the trumpet is only a hobby for him, it also serves a symbolic purpose in the play. In the first place, it offers Jimmy an escape from the irritating world of routine, and is therefore a source of some comfort to him. He really thinks that the sound of the trumpet has a wholesome quality. That is why, he says that those who cannot appreciate jazz can have no feeling either for music or for human beings. But the sound of the trumpet also suggests an atmosphere of breaking nerves. While Jimmy may resort to his trumpet as an escape, the sound of the trumpet annoys others. For instance, when Alison and Helena hear the sound of the trumpet, they feel very upset. Alison says: "God, I wish he'd lose that damned trumpet". She is afraid that the landlady will ask them to vacate the flat because of the noise Jimmy makes. Helena says that it seems to her that Jimmy wants to kill someone, herself in particular, with the sound of the trumpet. Afterwards, Cliff shouts to Jimmy, saying: "Hey, you horrible man! stop that bloody noise, and come and get your tea!" Thus the sound of the trumpet reinforces the tension of the play by drawing our attention to another point of difference between Jimmy and the other inmates of the house.

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Anonymous said...

great..helped me a lot

Anonymous said...

Copied from Ramji Lall - Look Back In Anger

Anonymous said...

Very valuable & helpful and effective answer
Thanks for this kindness

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