Discuss the character of Jimmy Porter in Look back in anger explaining how you feel about him as we move through the main action of the play. Have your ideas changed about him by the time we reach the play’s final scene? Jimmy Porter is the play's main character. He is the "Angry Young Man" who expresses his frustration for the lack of feelings in his placid domestic life. Jimmy can be understood as both a hero for his unfiltered expressions of emotion and frustration in a culture that propagated unemotional resignation.
He can also be considered a villain for the ways in which his anger proves to be destructive to those in his life. All of these characteristics are shown as the play moves on. A play like Look Back in Anger creates a world which, in essence, is familiar to, reality, rather than an imaginative dislocation of reality, and it becomes easier for the mind to sidetrack onto an element which may be more pleasing to it than the main theme of the play.
Constant reference is made, even by people who liked the play, to Jimmy Porter's self-pity, his neurotic behaviour, his cruelty to his wife. This makes nonsense of the play; Jimmy Porter is devoid of any neurosis or self-pity, and the play is summed up in his cry against a negative world, "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. … Would Look Back in Anger have been the success it was if people had been forced to listen to this damning indictment of themselves as dead souls, instead of being allowed to stray into less dangerous channels. (pp. 45-6)Tom Milne, "The Hidden Face of Violence" (originally published in Encore, Vol. VII, No. 1, 1960; copyright © by Encore), in Modern British Dramatists: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by John Russell Brown, Prentice-Hall, 1968, pp. 38-46. This criticism I find to be true, Jimmy as a character does not dwell in self pity or apathy, but instead see’s the world as unjust as a whole.
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His use of the term Enthusiasm is a response to his yearning for positivity, as he simply feels none from Alison. His endless efforts for discussion turn in the end into frustration, which inevitably evolves into confrontation. His endless scanning of numerous newspapers is evidence of this, as he tries to get a sense of the unjust world of his eye’s, to in all hope develop a series of discussions to exercise his mind, which is normally diverted by Alison and Cliff, which leads to his quest for confrontation.
Jimmy as a character appears to be destructive to those in his life, but in contrast, there is the argument to be made that his destructiveness has its origins in Alison’s and Cliffs inability to level with his Ideas and opinions, which they rather continually ignore or shadow with Cliff’s immature comments, leading to Jimmy’s frustration through the lack of ability for discussion of the day’s affairs. An example of this comes in page 3, Jimmy ”we’ll, she can talk, can’t she? You can talk, can’t you? You can express an opinion….. This quote from the start of the play indicates Jimmy’s frustration at the quality of discussion, which evolves in his intimidating questioning of Alison’s and Cliffs ignorance towards his attempts to start discussions. Evidence of Alison’s torment of jimmy is shown straight away by her reply, “ I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening properly. ” This shows Alison’s ability to tease and cause Jimmy’s destructiveness as she in a phrase pokes the bear, as she is well aware of the odds being favourable for a bitter response from Jimmy, and her reliance upon Cliff to defuse any altercation between her and Jimmy. Look back in anger" was also bringing class as an issue before British audiences. Through Jimmy as the voice of the lower-middle class, Osborne is blaming, amongst other things, the upper class for the country's miserable situation. Jimmy uses Alison's brother Nigel as a symbol for the privileged, and therefore despised, upper class's members who fill important positions regardless of whether they are talented or not but merely as a result of their connections. “He’ll end up in the cabinet one day, make no mistake.
But somewhere at the back of that mind is the vague knowledge that he and his pals have been plundering and fooling everybody for generations. ” Jimmy’s character is built upon his view that the world around him is unjust and his further comments on Nigel reflect this further, “ the only thing he can do- seek sanctuary in his own stupidity. The only way to keep things as much like they always have been as possible, is to make any alternative too much for your poor, tiny brain to grasp. It takes some doing nowadays. It really does. Jimmy means by this that those who hold high places in society do so not through ability but through ancestral beginnings, which he fairly see’s as being inept and obsolete towards forming a society that he believes should exist. When he say’s “it really does”, he is saying that the task that Nigel takes is becoming more difficult as more of the population is becoming more and more educated by the year, which he sees as being the form of a future revolution resulting in the expulsion of Nigel’s class and ‘pals’ from guarding high positions of government from the lower class’s.
It is significant that, although Jimmy studied at a university, he runs a sweet stall. This could be considered to be a sign of rebellion. But in truth it is a sign of his character that he is idle in his lack of drive to change society through his own effort, instead he prefers to be bitter and awaits other’s to make the changes he seeks. Jimmy’s character, changes once Helena arrives, He becomes a show off but the most important change is when Alison leaves. He appears to feel free.
This is because Helena is able to level with him, in conversation and confrontation. Before Alison leaves, we see Jimmy testing Helena, “ I hope you won’t make the mistake of thinking for one moment that I am a gentleman”. The fact that Helena can converge in discussion with Jimmy delights him as he feels he is performing before an audience. Someone who he feels is listening to his every word with intrigue. He even say’s, “I think you and I understand one another all right. This is the first indication of Jimmy’s character showing mutual respect with another character apart from Hugh’s mother. Once Alison leaves, and Act 3 begins, it is apparent that Jimmy is in a better place. His questions once deflected by Alison are now responded to by Helena, there are no long rants to restore order and no raised voices enforcing his will to be heard. Helena is open to activity, unlike Alison. For example on page 83, Jimmy “….
I was thinking we might work it into the Act”, to which Helena replies “ good idea”. The fact that Helena is open to activity show’s us a characteristic of Jimmy we did not see early on in the play when living with Alison, he appears to be happy and jubilant on occasion, because of his thoughts and ideas are being responded to positively. In the play we see many sides of Jimmy’s character at different stages of the play, at the beginning he appears as a dreamer, who see’s the world as unjust but not full of self-pity.
He becomes confrontational when frustrated by his wife and friend, who he feels trapped with in a dialogue dead setting. Were he see’s no escape and feels a wasted talent. But in truth is not prepared to take action on behalf of himself. His connection with Helena appears first as one based on hatred on the backdrop of difference in class, but he shows characteristics towards her, that of mutual respect, and eventually one of lust. Resulting in him having a sense of freedom and dialogue he has longed for throughout the play.
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