"People like me don't get fat. I've tried to tell you before. We just burn everything up."
This quote, spoken by Jimmy, is a glimpse into his character and his anger. Though his quote, literally, is meant to convey the kind of physical energy that Jimmy has in his everyday life, on another level the quote is meant to suggest the kind of destruction that Jimmy brings to the lives of those around him. The word "burn" has a double meaning in this way; on the one hand it is meant to represent a burning of physical, bodily energy. On the other hand, it is meant to convey destruction -- how Jimmy's frenetic quest for real life destroys the lives of those to whom he is closest.
"If you could have a child, and it would die...if only I could watch you face that."
This quote, spoken by Jimmy, demonstrates his vicious anger towards Alison. The quote is an example of dramatic irony as well as foreshadowing. It foreshadows future events in the play in which Alison loses her pregnancy, Jimmy's child, to miscarriage. It is dramatic irony in that the audience already knows that Alison is pregnant when Jimmy speaks this line, but he does not realize this fact. Without the suffering of losing something close and important to her, Jimmy sees Alison as an incomplete or unborn person, incapable of true emotion and life.
"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!"
Jimmy is primarily concerned with a way to live a real, enthusiastic, and emotional life. The desire for emotion expresses itself in his anger towards his wife and their domestic existence. This quote is a reference to black gospel religion which Jimmy associates with things such as jazz music (Jimmy also plays the trumpet, a similar reference). This use of a religious phrase should be compared to Jimmy's antagonism towards traditional English Anglicanism, which Jimmy firmly rejects. It should also be noted that most of the play occurs on a Sunday, suggesting that in Jimmy's righteous anger is a modern attempt to find the kind of real life that traditional religion sought to convey for its believers.
"If you've no world of your own, it's rather pleasant to regret the passing of someone else's. I must be getting sentimental. But I must say it's pretty dreary living in the American Age -- unless you're an American of course."
Jimmy is a character that is not of his age. He derides his father-in-law for being an old "Edwardian." This Edwardian Age is a reference to the reign of King Edward VII in Great Britain, a brief period at the beginning of the 20th century where a fashionable British elite influenced the art and fashions of continental Europe. Jimmy, however, is also in many ways a sentimental Edwardian. He views himself as a descendant of this more fashionable age, stuck in a time in which the world around him does not understand his passions and motivations. In comparison, the American Age is "dreary," meaning that the fashion and culture of this previous age has been wiped away by the rise of America as a great world superpower.
"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."
In this quote, Alison attempts to explain Jimmy's character and motivations to her friend Helena. Jimmy's allegiances are a result of his intense character and desire for raw emotion. Casual acquaintances will not do for him. Such relationships lack power and realness. Jimmy expects all of those he cares about to be committed to those things as well. Alison's break with Jimmy occurs when she goes to church with Helena, a rejection of Jimmy's secularism. He takes this action very personally as an affront to him.
"Jimmy went into battle with his axe swinging round his head -- frail, and so full of fire. I had never seen anything like it. The old story of the knight in shining armour (sic) -- except that his armour didn't really shine very much."
This quote, spoken by Alison, is her attempt to explain to Helena why she fell so madly in love with Jimmy as a young girl. This quote allows Osborne to explore the idea of chivalry, an idea found in medieval English literature and a trait that has deep roots in English mythology. Osborne is questioning whether the idea of male chivalry can still exist in a feminized modern world. While Jimmy is compared to a knight, he is described as a poor knight with dull armor, and his modern chivalrous acts seems to do more harm than good.
"One day, when I'm not longer spending my days running a sweet-stall, I may write a book about us all. ...It'll be recollected in fire, and blood. My blood."
Jimmy expresses his anger through the use of language that could be almost considered biblical. Jimmy uses the word "blood" throughout the play to describe his relationships. "Blood" signifies sacrifice and violence. Jimmy feels as though he has sacrificed much of his life to a lifeless relationship with Alison. Thus, this quote illustrates the way in which Jimmy feels he has shed his blood for his dull domestic life. This quote also demonstrates the violence that Jimmy expresses to Alison. Though there is never any real physical violence in the play, the metaphorical use of the word "blood" demonstrates the deep psychological violence that both Allison and Jimmy perpetrate on each other.
"Why, why, why, why do we let these women bleed us to death?"
This is Jimmy's expression of his antagonism towards women. Jimmy uses imagery throughout the play to describe women in often mean-spirited and sometimes violent ways. Some critics of the play accuse Osborne of misogynistic language and. Osborne wrote later that much of the play was a reaction to what he saw as a feminized world in which personal suffering is glorified and the idea of male nobility is diminished. Again, the idea of blood is used here. Jimmy feels as though the idea of shedding blood for the love and attention of women has replaced the idea of shedding blood for a noble sacrifice.
"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."
This quote demonstrates a central theme of the play: the way in which past and present are intertwined. Jimmy often sees himself as a product of Britain's great past, its empires and conquests. In this quote, Jimmy uses the specific example of the British defeat of the Nazi's in World War II as Britain's last great cause. In this past, he sees a noble and fulfilling state of being. The present, on the other hand, is an unfulfilling time in which the British age has been replaced by a "dreary" American age. Jimmy is, of course, idealizing the past, yet this nostalgia causes him to feel even more anger and dissatisfaction towards the present.
"There are cruel steel traps lying about everywhere, just waiting for rather mad, slightly satanic, and very timid little animals."
In this quote, one of the last lines of the play, Jimmy and Alison have reverted to their fantasy world of bears and squirrels. This is a fitting ending for the play since both Jimmy and Alison have come to a point in which they can no longer face the pain and intense emotion of real life. This is what JImmy calls the "pain of being alive." Escape, therefore, is the only option left for them. They retreat into a fantasy world. This world is the only stable option within which these characters can live. Through this idea, Osborne suggests that fiction is the only answer to the cruelties of real life.
Look Back in Anger Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Look Back in Anger is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The cultural backdrop to the play is the rise and fall of the British empire. The beginning of the twentieth century saw the peak of power and influence of British colonialism. By the 1950's, two World Wars, which devastated the British economy,...
Alison Porter is Jimmy's wife. She comes from Britain's upper class, but married into Jimmy's working class lifestyle. The audience learns in the first act that she is pregnant with Jimmy's child. Jimmy's destructive anger causes...