Look Back in Anger

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Love and Innocence Theme Analysis

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Suffering and Anger vs. Complacency Theme Icon
Disillusionment and Nostalgia Theme Icon
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Jimmy believes that love is pain. He scorns Cliff and Alison’s love for each other, which is a gentle sort of fondness that doesn’t correspond to his own brand of passionate, angry feeling. When Helena decides, suddenly, to leave him at the end of the play, Jimmy reacts with scorn and derision. Love, he says, takes strength and guts. It’s not soft and gentle. To some extent, Jimmy’s definition of love has to do with the class tensions between Jimmy and Alison. Alison tells her father that Jimmy married her out of sense of revenge against the upper classes. In asking her to leave her background, he laid out a challenge for her to rise to, and their passion was partly based on that sense of competition between classes. This subverts a traditional love story—Jimmy’s anger at society overshadowed his feelings for Alison, at least in her eyes.

It’s clear that Jimmy and Alison’s relationship isn’t characterized by much tenderness. However, the two do manage to find some when they play their animal game. Jimmy and Alison as the bear and squirrel are able to express more simple affection for each other, but only in a dehumanized state, when they leave their intellects behind. In the final scene, Jimmy describes their game as a retreat from organized society. They’ll be “together in our bear’s cave, or our squirrel’s drey.” Jimmy and Alison are not able to enjoy love as a simple human pleasure. Their relationship is buffeted by class struggle, anger, and suffering. Only when they remove class markers and withdraw from society in their animal game are they able to reach some level of innocence.

This reflects a broader loss of innocence in a generation of post-war Britons that had seen the hydrogen bomb dropped on Japan and 80 million soldiers and civilians die during World War II. Their parents and grandparents were able to grow up with some measure of peace of mind, but these characters (and the real Britons of their generation) cannot. This affects them even in fundamental parts of their domestic lives, like love and marriage. They have trouble experiencing these things as simple pleasures, because the world surrounding them is so difficult and complex. Only by leaving their society, their human-ness, behind, can they find the innocence to enjoy simple love.

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Love and Innocence ThemeTracker

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Love and Innocence Quotes in Look Back in Anger

Below you will find the important quotes in Look Back in Anger related to the theme of Love and Innocence.
Act 1 Quotes

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."


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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.

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 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.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

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.