Look Back in Anger

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Look Back in Anger published in 1982.
Act 1 Quotes

He is a disconcerting mixture of sincerity and cheerful malice, of tenderness and freebooting cruelty; restless, importunate, full of pride, a combination which alienates the sensitive and insensitive alike. Blistering honesty, or apparent honesty, like his, makes few friends. To many he may seem sensitive to the point of vulgarity. To others, he is simply a loudmouth. To be as vehement as he is is to be almost non-committal.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 9-10
Explanation and Analysis:

In these stage directions, we're introduced to Jimmy Porter, a young English man around whom the play revolves. Jimmy is married to Alison Porter, but unlike his wife, he wasn't born into a wealthy family. Jimmy is often angry, although it's often hard to understand what, exactly, he's so angry about--Jimmy himself seems not to know. As the stage directions explain, Jimmy's anger is somehow "non-committal"; it's as if his anger destroys everything in its path, including Jimmy's own willpower. He's furious with England for losing its power and for abandoning the lower class; he's furious with his wife and his friends--and yet at the end of the day his fury just cancels out, leaving him right where he was to begin with.


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Oh heavens, how I long for a little ordinary human enthusiasm. Just enthusiasm—that’s all. I want to hear a warm, thrilling voice cry out Hallelujah! Hallelujah! I’m alive! I’ve an idea. Why don’t we have a little game? Let’s pretend that we’re human beings, and that we’re actually alive.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter, Cliff Lewis
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Jimmy isn't a particularly brilliant, likable, or extraordinary person--and yet he likes to claim that he's superior to everyone around, for the simple reason that he's more "alive" than his peers. The genius of Jimmy's pronouncement is that it's impossible to disprove: everybody is alive in the literal sense, so it's never entirely possible to disprove Jimmy's insistence that he's somehow "more" alive than everyone else. Jimmy belittles his wife, Alison, and his friend, Cliff Lewis, by accusing them of being too passive and lifeless; somehow, he claims, they're acting like inanimate beings, blundering through life according to other people's rules. Jimmy condescendingly offers to show his wife and friend how to be alive by teaching them a game--the point being that Jimmy lives according to the truth that "we're actually live," whereas Alison and Cliff can only grasp at real life in a performance.

I hate to admit it, but I think I can understand how her Daddy must have felt when he came back from India, after all those years away. The old Edwardian brigade do make their brief little world look pretty tempting. All homemade cakes and croquet, bright ideas, bright uniforms…What a romantic picture. Phoney too, of course. It must have rained sometimes. Still, even I regret it somehow, phoney or not. If you’ve no world of your own, it’s rather pleasant to regret the passing of someone else’s.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter, Colonel Redfern
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jimmy looks at a notice for an upcoming concert, at which the music of the famous British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams will be featured. The mention of Vaughan Williams makes Jimmy think of Alison's father, Colonel Redfern, who had previously complained that modern life "isn't what it used to be." Colonel Redfern is unabashedly nostalgic for England's Edwardian age--i..e, the age when England still controlled a huge chunk of the world's people and resources, and the British Empire hadn't yet collapsed upon itself.

Jimmy has previously been hostile to the Colonel's worldview, claiming that nostalgia is a childish, sentimental emotion. Here, however, Jimmy seems to sympathize with the Colonel, and understands his genuine desire to go back to the past, when life was surely better. The passage illustrates the paranoia and self-contradictions of Jimmy's worldview: for Jimmy, there are no rules or prohibitions except "aliveness." Thus, Jimmy can simultaneously believe that nostalgia is an evil, and yet feel nostalgia himself--the rules don't apply to him.

Pusillanimous. Adjective. Wanting of firmness of mind, of small courage, having a little mind, mean spirited, cowardly, timid of mind. From the Latin pusillus, very little, and animus, the mind. That’s my wife! That’s her, isn’t it? Behold the Lady Pusillanimous.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jimmy looks up a word, "pusillanimous," and then defines it for his friend, Cliff. Jimmy uses the definition to allude to his wife, Alison, and her supposed small-mindedness--even though Alison is in the room with them. Further, Jimmy claims that if he were to mispronounce the word, Alison would probably correct him in public.

The passage is an example of how part of Jimmy's anger stems from the fact that he is somewhat insecure about his lower-class origins. In England, speech and pronunciation are crucial to one's success in life, to a degree that many Americans would find unfathomable (as George Bernard Shaw said, "the minute an Englishman opens his mouth he makes some other Englishman despise him"). At the same time, Jimmy uses the definition of this "big word" to hurt his wife, Alison, who has been a calm, passive character so far--i.e., in Jimmy's mind, the definition "pusillanimous."

When you see a woman in front of her bedroom mirror, you realise what a refined sort of butcher she is…Thank God they don’t have many women surgeons! Those primitive hands would have your guts out in no time. Flip! Out it comes, like the powder out of its box. Flop! Back it goes, like the powder puff on the table.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Jimmy continues to berate his wife, even while she's performing the most banal of tasks--here, for instance, Jimmy makes fun of Allson for the way she applies makeup to her face and does the ironing, suggesting that Alison, and all woman for that matter, are incompetent when it comes to using their hands.

Jimmy's tirade is a veiled defense of his own masculinity. Jimmy constantly tries to distinguish himself from weak, fragile women like his wife--his speech reinforces some of the classic female stereotypes (they don't know how to do physical work, they're no good with their hands, they're weak, they could never be surgeons). By distinguishing himself from his wife, Jimmy implicitly tries to make himself a figure of importance--even though it's pretty clear by now that he's not.

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.

Related Characters: Cliff Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Alison, who's alone with Cliff, confesses that she's unsure if she can survive much longer in the same house as Jimmy, her husband. Jimmy is emotionally abusive with her, to the point where she's become more timid and more "pusillanimous" (proving that Jimmy's bullying, quite aside from making her stick up for herself, has actually had the opposite effect).

Alison's confession reminds us that, in many ways, she's closer to Cliff, her husband's friend, than she is to her husband himself. Jimmy treats Alison like a punching bag, an outlet for his own anger and frustration. Cliff, on the other hand, seems more likely to pay attention to Alison's feelings and offer her some emotional support. Alison's speech indicates that she's come to internalize some of Jimmy's abuse: because Jimmy has called her ordinary and ugly, she's come to believe so of herself.

I can’t think what it was to feel young, really young. Jimmy said the same thing to me the other day…I suppose it would have been so easy to say “Yes, Darling, I know just what you mean. I know what you’re feeling.” It’s those easy things that seem to be so impossible with us.

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alison is alone with Cliff, her husband's friend. Alison describes the feelings of loneliness and nostalgia she's often felt. But she also explains that her husband, Jimmy, has felt the same sorts of feelings. Instead of offering her husband comfort, Alison has pretended not to know what Jimmy is talking about. It would be easy for Alison to comfort her husband, but she refuses to do so.

The passage indicates that the toxic relationship between Jimmy and Alison might not be a one-way street: Alison seems to deny Jimmy love in the same way that Jimmy denies her love (though "who started it" remains unclear). The passage reiterates the importance of nostalgia to the characters' lives: they're always thinking about the vanished past, even if they feel guilty for doing so. In the present, the tragedy of "happy couple" is that they're really not so different from each other, but because of failures of communication, they remain constantly at odds and unhappy.

Alison: He actually taunted me about my virginity. 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.
Cliff: I’ve never heard you talking like this about him. He’d be quite pleased.

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Cliff Lewis (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Alison and Jimmy didn't have sex before they were married, despite Alison's family's fears that they had. Indeed, Alison was a virgin before she married Jimmy--a fact that she confesses to Cliff in this scene. Cliff says that Jimmy would be happy to hear Alison talking about him so frankly: such talk would fit his notions of "real talk" and "really living." Alison agrees with Cliff, and yet shows no signs of deciding to talk to Jimmy--the alienation between Alison and her husband continues.

The discussion of Alison's virginity would have been shocking to the play's first audiences--and yet here, the point of the speech is how un-shocking it really is: there's a fundamental incompatibility between Jimmy's notions of sex and Alison's notions of sex, which would go away if only Jimmy and Alison would be frank with each other. But Alison seems too afraid and spiteful, and Jimmy seems like too much of a bully, to have a frank conversation about sex.

There’s hardly a moment when I’m not—watching and wanting you. I’ve got to hit out somehow. Nearly four years of being in the same room with you, night and day, and I still can’t stop my sweat breaking out when I see you doing—something as ordinary as leaning over an ironing board. Trouble is—Trouble is you get used to people.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we get one of the most complex views of Jimmy's character. Jimmy is a mess of contradictions, especially when it comes to his wife Alison. Jimmy complains that it's easy to get used to things over time--and yet when he's talking about Alison, he insists that he's still highly attracted to her beauty, even after four years of marriage.

Jimmy gets used to people, and yet he can't ever entirely get used to Alison--he still finds her enchantingly lovely. Jimmy both loves and hates Alison: on one hand, he thinks of her as the "light of his life." And yet, on the other hand, Jimmy thinks of Alison as an outlet for his insecurity and self-hatred.

If you could have a child, and it would die. Let it grow, let a recognisable human face emerge from that little mass of indiarubber and wrinkles. Please—if only I could watch you face that. I wonder if you might even become a recognisable human being yourself.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

In this crucial passage, Jimmy takes his contempt for Alison's way of life even further than we've seen up until now. Jimmy tells Alison that he wants Alison to have a child that dies. He thinks that such an experience would make Alison a tougher, more sincere human being--one who would "live fully," as Jimmy does.

The passage is shocking and, as always with Jimmy, contradictory. Jimmy thinks that pain is the only way to achieve "true life," but in order to lead Alison there, he seems to condone the death of their own child. Furthermore, in wanting to cause so much suffering and pain for Alison (a person he professes to love deeply), Jimmy seems to be turning his back on the full range of human emotions: in other words, by focusing so exclusively on pain and suffering as roads to real life, Jimmy neuters his own understanding of what life can be.

In terms of the plot, of course, this passage is also vital because it shows Jimmy essentially "cursing" Alison to her fate. At this point, Alison really is pregnant with their child, though she hasn't told Jimmy yet. And Alison will go on to have a devastating miscarriage, just as Jimmy spitefully wishes for her here.

She’ll go on sleeping and devouring until there’s nothing left of me.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Jimmy concludes Act I by claiming that Alison is eating him alive. In an uncertain modern-day environment, Jimmy doesn't know what to make of his own life: he's unsure what path to take, who to love, etc. In his frustration, Jimmy takes out his anger on his wife, Alison. And yet Jimmy hypocritically claims that it's Alison who's emasculating him, preventing him from living the life he deserves. Jimmy's comments are clearly self-serving: it's easier for him to be an underachiever and blame Alison than it is for him to try to succeed and fail on his own.

The image of Alison devouring Jimmy alive is important for the rest of the play, because it reinforces the fact that Jimmy thinks of himself as a victim, through and through. Even when he has psychologically abused his wife to the point where she can barely open her mouth Jimmy thinks of himself as the repressed, devoured one.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Everything about him seemed to burn, his face, the edges of his hair glistened and seemed to spring off his head, and his eyes were so blue and full of sun. He looked so young and frail, in spite of the tired line of his mouth.

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alison describes how she met Jimmy Porter years ago. Jimmy was sunburnt and red-skinned, the very embodiment of youth and vitality, with a touch of rebellion, sadness, and violence. In retrospect, it's possible to read Alison's interpretation of Jimmy's appearance as almost demonic--a sign that she should never have married him. But at the time, Alison thought of Jimmy as an ideal suitor: he was both strong and weak, masculine and frail. She thought that by marrying Jimmy, they could help one another equally. Furthermore, Alison seems to have thought of Jimmy as a symbol of rebellion against her upperclass family; Jimmy symbolized everything her stuffy, reserved parents disapproved of.

We could become little furry creatures with little furry brains. Full of dumb, uncomplicated affection for each other…And now, even they are dead, poor little silly animals. They were all love, and no brains.

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Related Symbols: Bear and Squirrel
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alison describes a game that she used to play with her husband, Jimmy. Alison and Jimmy would pretend to take on the attributes of two animals: Alison would be the squirrel (small, timid, etc.), while Jimmy would be the bear (large, masculine, dangerous). Playing such a game would allow Alison and Jimmy to escape their problems for a little while, and show their love for one another through play and innocent fun.

The passage is interesting because it shows Alison in the throngs of nostalgia: Alison claims that she and Jimmy no longer play the "game" anymore. Actually, Jimmy and Alison do seem to play "bear and squirrel" when they're together, in the sense that Jimmy is loud and aggressive and Alison is meek and quiet. Alison's remark suggests that the game used to be a way for her to escape the pressure of being a human being for a while, and yet her current situation seems more savage and animalistic still. The passage has a sad, rueful tone, as if Alison is pondering her old mistakes, mistakes that led her into a loveless marriage.

One day, when I’m no longer spending my days running a sweet-stall, I may write a book about us all…and it won’t be recollected in tranquility either, picking daffodils with Auntie Wordsworth. It’ll be recollected in fire, and blood. My blood.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter, Cliff Lewis, Helena Charles
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Jimmy is an interesting character because he embraces art and literature, yet sees most traditional literature as being feminized and weak-willed. Here, he tells Alison and Cliff that one day he'll write a book about his experiences, into which he'll pour his own blood and tears. The book, he insists, will be violent and energetic. He contrasts it with the works of the poet William Wordsworth, who wrote about nature, daffodils, and other supposedly "timid" topics. Jimmy sees himself as a potentially great, perhaps Modernist author, and yet he seems not to have the drive or the initiative to write a novel. He's too busy being angry with his friends and his wife.

Oh, don’t try and take his suffering away from him. He’d be lost without it.

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage--maybe the truest line in the whole play--Alison interrupts Helena as she tries to comfort Jimmy. Helena sees that Jimmy is frustrated and angry with the world, and tries to offer him some encouragement. Alison tells Helena that Jimmy enjoys his own suffering; he's basically a masochist.

Jimmy's love for pain and suffering might seem counterintuitive, and yet it fits with everything we know about him. Jimmy a malcontent: he takes out his rage and hatred on his wife and friends, but never seems to do anything to change his life in any concrete way. Jimmy is so frightened of failure that he'd prefer to be unhappy and blame others for his unhappiness than to shoot for success and potentially fail. Thus, he'd rather blame his wife for emasculating him than try to write a book about his life. For Jimmy, there's a kind of comfort in believing that the world is out to get him, because such a belief absolves Jimmy of any real responsibility for his own suffering (whenever anything bad happens to him, it's Alison's fault, or someone else's).

Anyone who’s never watched somebody die is suffering from a pretty bad case of virginity.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Helena Charles
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Jimmy remembers his experiences during the era of Spanish Civil War (i.e., late 1930s), during which he was only a child. Jimmy's father saw some horrible carnage (he was even wounded in battle, and back at home, Jimmy watched him die slowly). Jimmy is talking to Helena about his life experiences, and Helena is forced to admit that she's never actually seen someone die. Jimmy characterizes Helena's ignorance of death as a form of "virginity."

The passage should remind us of Jimmy's remarks about Alison's (literal) virginity: he seemed to prefer a wife who'd already had sex to one who was a virgin. Here, Jimmy seems to savor the fact that Helena is a virgin to death, because it confirms that Jimmy is the toughest, most mature person in the room. There's an undeniable sexual side to Jimmy's self-touting; he seems sexually attracted to Helena, even as he calls her a mere "virgin" to real life. One could even say that Jimmy's sexual attraction to women is dependent upon his feeling of having more toughness and life experience than they do. As much as he complains about Alison's upper-class roots, he wouldn't dream of marrying anyone who was more working-class and experienced than he.

I rage, and shout my head off, and everyone thinks “poor chap!” or “what an objectionable young man!” But that girl there can twist your arm off with her silence.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jimmy tries to find the words to express his feelings. He's full of hatred and rage, but can't explain what, exactly, he finds so hateful. Here, however, Jimmy explains that he can't stand the double-standard in his society. People pity him and condescend to him because he's angry al the time, and (implicitly) because he seems like a working-class figure. And yet Alison's passivity in the face of other people's suffering is accepted as a more "natural" kind of behavior. Jimmy argues that to be silent in the face of other people's suffering (whether those other people are the working classes in general, starving people around the world, etc.) is a truly insane reaction.

The passage is one of the best pieces of evidence for the idea that Osborne, even as he mocks his protagonist, doesn't entirely disagree with him. Jimmy is an abusive man, and yet he seems to understand the problems of the world more clearly than Alison does: he refuses to turn his back on other people's poverty, alienation, etc. The passage is also a great example of why John Osborne was known as one of the "Angry Young Men" of England during the 1960s: his writings used angry, unbalanced protagonists to critique what he saw as the injustices of the modern world.

Where I come from, we’re used to brawling and excitement. Perhaps I even enjoy being in the thick of it. I love these two people very much. And I pity all of us.

Related Characters: Cliff Lewis (speaker), Jimmy Porter, Alison Porter
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Helena tries to understand how Alison and Jimmy's relationship can survive while they're constantly fighting with each other so vehemently. Cliff, who's living in the house as well, explains to Helena that Jimmy and Alison manage to get along in part because they fight so much, not in spite of it. Cliff explains that Helena's confusion about Alison's fighting is the result of her upper-class background: in a working-class family, like the one Cliff grew up in, people fought all the time to solve their problems. While such a way of life might seem violent and unorthodox, it's probably more emotionally honest than the other extreme, the one seen more commonly in upper-class environments; i.e., a way of life in which people never have fights of any kind, but just swallow their anger and resentment.

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

I think you may take after me a little, my dear. You like to sit on the fence because it’s comfortable and more peaceful.

Related Characters: Colonel Redfern (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Osborne gives us a better idea of why Alison is so timid and meek in her interactions with the other characters. Alison visits with her father, Colonel Redfern, who remembers how she came to marry Jimmy. Alison saw herself as rebelling against a corrupt system of society by marrying someone from outside her social station. And yet she didn't entirely commit to her rebellion. Instead of cutting off all ties with the Colonel and the rest of her family, Alison continued to communicate with them, and seemed not to get along well with Jimmy. The Colonel sums up Alison's weakness by claiming that she prefers to sit on the fence, halfway between the the upper-class and the lower-class.

The Colonel's observations are surprisingly frank: he seems to fault his own daughter for not cutting off communication with him. Furthermore, he seems to blame himself for his daughter's inability to commit fully to anything: her weakness was once his weakness. In all, the Colonel is one of the most complicated characters in the novel; like everyone else, he's a biased witness, so we have to take his opinions with a grain of salt, but he gets to the heart of what's wrong with Alison's way of looking at life in a way that no other character, including Jimmy, can.

I always believed that people married each other because they were in love. That always seemed a good enough reason to me. But apparently, that’s too simple for young people nowadays. They have to talk about challenges and revenge. I just can’t believe that love between men and women is really like that.

Related Characters: Colonel Redfern (speaker), Jimmy Porter, Alison Porter
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Colonel Redfern tries to understand what goes on between Alison and jimmy. Alison insists that she continues to love Jimmy, and Jimmy says the same about Alison--and yet from the Colonel's perspective, they just fight all the time, and aren't compatible in the slightest. Alison explains that their fighting is a part of their love: it's because they love one another that they're so good at getting under one another's "skin." Furthermore, Alison's love for Jimmy is partly the result of her desire to rebel against her parents and her own background; love, by itself, is too simple to explain why she's married to Jimmy.

The Colonel's reaction to Alison is fascinating: instead of denouncing her for staying married to an angry man, he throws up his hands and admits he can't understand his daughter. He reminisces about the "good old days," in which people married for love and love alone (pretty strange to hear the elder character in a play talking  about marrying for love as a phenomenon of the past--usually it's the other way around). Colonel Redfern, one could say, is a stand-in for the audience itself (most people who saw this play would have been shocked by the idea of Alison's angry marriage to Jimmy). Redfern doesn't understand the marriage, but he comes to accept it.

You’re hurt because everything is changed. Jimmy is hurt because everything is the same. And neither of you can face it. Something’s gone wrong somewhere, hasn’t it?

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter, Colonel Redfern
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Alison, who's usually quiet and noncommittal about her feelings, sums up the relationship between Jimmy and Colonel Redfern succinctly. Jimmy is angry because he sees his world as staying "the same"--nothing is changing for the better for the lower class--while the Colonel is sad because the world has changed so much since he was a young man--Britain is no longer a global power, and the "good old days" of colonialism and Edwardian manners are gone. Both the Colonel and Jimmy blame each other for the world's problems, and yet they're both the world's victims.

Alison's observations show that she's a good observer of human nature, and that, during her long periods of silence, she's listening very closely to her husband and father. Indeed, Jimmy seems furious with life for being static: he feels emasculated and isolated by the sameness and homogeneity of his life. Colonel Redfern, on the other hand, is nostalgic for his youthful days in India--days that he couldn't possibly recreate now that India has fallen out of British control.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

I suppose people of our generation aren’t able to die for good causes any longer. We had all that done for us, in the thirties and the forties, when we were still kids. There aren’t any good, brave causes left.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Cliff Lewis
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous passage, Jimmy insists that there are no more "good, brave causes"--all the great political causes of the world were fought for in the 30s and 40s, leaving the young men of the 50s and 60s to a dull, morally ambiguous life. Jimmy, who's obsessed with fighting and "real life," wishes that he could fight for a pure political cause of some kind, but no such cause presents itself to him. His father fought in the Spanish Civil War, and Jimmy has spent the succeeding years wishing he could fight in a war of his own. Jimmy is so irrationally nostalgic that he pines for danger and violence, if only to break up the suffocating sameness of his life with Alison (and now Helena).

As many critics have pointed out, however, Jimmy has made up his mind much too soon--in the years immediately after Osborne's play was released, "angry young men" could fight for or against all sorts of great causes, such as nuclear disarmament, the war in Indochina, civil rights for women and minorities, etc. Jimmy isn't unfulfilled--he's just not looking hard enough.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

The heaviest, strongest creatures in this world seem to be the loneliest.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker)
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jimmy Porter has just finished berating Alison for not sending flowers to Mrs. Tanner, who's had a fatal stroke. As he sees it, humans should reach out to one another in times of crisis, no matter what class they belong to. And yet in the passage, Jimmy sums up his position by talking about himself, not Mrs. Tanner or Alison. Strong creatures, he claims, are always the loneliest.

The point of Jimmy's speech seems to be that Jimmy himself, in trying to change Alison and change the way people behave around each other, has actually cut himself off from other people: because he's so pugnacious and so committed to his ideals, he's almost impossible to get along with. As always, Jimmy is both partly right and maddeningly self-absorbed. He's probably correct to say that Alison should have sent flowers to Mrs. Tanner, but he concludes his argument with the arrogant point that he, a strong, heavy creature, has the noble burden of being alone. Jimmy loves the idea of being alone: being alone is proof that he's a real iconoclast, not just a "sheep," like Alison. There's an unmistakable machismo in this quote, summing up Jimmy's worldview.

I don’t want to be neutral, I don’t want to be a saint. I want to be a lost cause. I want to be corrupt and futile!

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

In this climactic passage, Alison finally shows some of the emotion that Jimmy has been craving throughout the play. For the most part, Alison has been shy and closeted, at least around her husband. But here, she shocks everyone, including Jimmy, with a sudden, terrifying emotional outburst. She screams that she has no desire to be neutral and more. Instead, she wants to express her emotions and her visceral humanity, just as Jimmy does. Because Alison has recently had a miscarriage, she now finds the despair and the anger to scream out at the universe. Like Jimmy, she's come to see the world as an unfair, painful place--and just like Jimmy, she wants to strike out against the word, even if she knows that her attempts will always be "futile."

Jimmy has spent the entire play trying to get Alison to show some emotion--i..e, be sincere with him--and now that she's finally shown emotion, Jimmy can barely look at her. (It's characteristic of Jimmy that he gets exactly what he wishes for, and then realizes it's not what he thought it would be.) The passage represents, in short, a moment of catharsis for Jimmy and Alison: a sudden outburst of pain, grief, and fury. While Alison's cathartic outburst might be painful, it's also reparative. Because she's let out her long-repressed emotions, Alison can hopefully come to live her life more honestly now. The main ambiguity of the ending, however, is whether Alison and Jimmy have really changed their lives, or if Alison's outburst is just part of an endless cycle of repression, catharsis, and more repression.

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