Look Back in Anger

Look Back in Anger Summary and Analysis of Act III - Scene I


The scene opens several months later. Jimmy and Cliff sit in their armchairs with the Sunday papers. Helena, whose things now occupy the apartment, is ironing in a corner. Jimmy is smoking a pipe. Cliff tells him to put it out. Helena notes that she likes the pipe and this pleases Jimmy. Jimmy begins to tell them of an outrageous tabloid story in one of the papers: a cult in the Midlands is partaking in “grotesque and evil practices.” The cult is drinking the blood of a white cockerel and making “midnight invocations to the Coptic Goddess of fertility.” Jimmy wonders if perhaps this is what Mrs. Drury, their landlord, does in her spare time. Jimmy wonders if someone is performing evil magic upon him and then, humorously, suggests that Alison’s mother is performing voodoo rituals to cause him pain. Helena tells Jimmy that he should perform the rituals on her, and Jimmy suggests that Cliff could be the voodoo doll.

Jimmy notes in a “brooding excursion” how sacrifice is really not a big deal because most people only sacrifice the things they didn’t want to begin with. He ponders that “we shouldn’t be admiring them. We should feel rather sorry for them.” Returning to the playful banter, Jimmy suggests they make a loving cup from Cliff’s blood, which wouldn’t be very good since his blood is so common. He suggests making the cup from Helena’s blood instead, a “pale Cambridge blue....”

Jimmy turns his attention back to the paper, telling Cliff to finish his because he doesn’t understand what the writers are talking about anyway. He relates a story he read about a Yale professor coming to England to prove that Shakespeare changed his sex while writing The Tempest. Helena laughs at this and Jimmy asks her if anything is wrong. She only says that she is not used to being around him and that she can’t tell whether he is serious or not. He asks her if she is going to church and she tells him she is not, unless he wants to go. Jimmy gets a cold look in his eyes and begins to question her on whether she feels sinful for living with him. He then quickly turns back to badgering Cliff. Jimmy then asks Helena if he saw her talking to the Reverend the other day. She says she did talk to him and Jimmy asks if “ this spiritual beefcake would make a man of me?” He says, “I was a liberal skinny weakling...but now everyone looks at my superb physique in envy. I can perform any kind of press there is without betraying the least sign of passion or kindliness.” Helena asks if they can have just one day without talking about politics or religion and Cliff echoes the sentiment.

Jimmy changes the subject by saying he thought of a new title for a song for a traveling act: “My mother’s in the madhouse -- that’s why I’m in love with you.” He had previously thought of a name for his act with Helena -- Jock and Day -- but thinks that the name might be too intellectual. He suggests “T.S. Eliot and Pam” instead. Jimmy then starts in on a routine that all of them obviously know well. Cliff and Jimmy begin a comedy sketch about “nobody” in which Cliff is looking for “nobody” and Jimmy keeps telling him that he hasn’t seen "nobody." Helena chimes in as a character and when Jimmy asks her who she is, she says "nobody" -- the punch line to the skit. Jimmy and Cliff start to do a “Flanagan and Allen” routine and sing a song: “So don’t be afraid to sleep with your sweetheart, / Just because she’s better than you....”

Jimmy then stops and tells Cliff that he kicked his ankle and that the routine is no good. Cliff pushes him hard and he falls. Jimmy jumps up and they start to wrestle until Cliff pushes him off. Cliff complains that his only clean shirt is dirty now and Helena offers to wash it for him. Cliff hesitates but then takes the shirt off and lets Helena launder it for him. When she exits, Jimmy notes that Cliff doesn’t like Helena very much. Cliff answers that, at one time, Jimmy didn’t like her either.

Cliff then tells Jimmy that he is thinking of leaving. He says he is tired of the sweet stall and that he would not be such a burden on Helena if he left. Jimmy takes this news casually and tells him that maybe he can find one of Helena’s “posh girl friends with lots of money, and no brains” to take care of him. Jimmy tells him that he’s been a good friend but that he is prepared for him to leave. He tells him that he’s looking for something from Helena that she could never give and that he’s worth “a half a dozen Helenas to me or to anyone.” Jimmy wonders “why, why, why do we let these women bleed us to death?” He thinks, “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.” He thinks that if they should all die in a nuclear explosion it will “just be for the Brave New-nothing-very-much-thank-you.”

Helena enters and gives Cliff his shirt. Jimmy tells him to dry it quickly so they can all go out for drinks. Jimmy tells Helena to cheer up and that he wished her “heart stirred a little” when she looked at him. She tells him that it does and that she knows Cliff is leaving. Jimmy tells her that he’s been a good friend, that “he’s had to learn how to take it, and he knows how to hand it out.” Helena goes over and sits on the arm of his chair, running her hand through his hair. He tells her that she had always put out her hand for him and that she has made a good enemy. “But then, when people put down their weapons, it doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily stopped fighting.” Helena tells him that she loves him.

Helena and Jimmy share a tender moment, embracing. He tells her that they should leave and start their act, “T.S. Eliot and Pam,” and that he’ll “close that damned sweet-stall and...start everything from scratch.” Helena tells him that this is wonderful. She goes to change out of her shirt and Jimmy goes to hurry up Cliff when there is a knock at the door. Jimmy opens it and finds Alison, standing in a raincoat and looking ill. Jimmy tells Helena that she has a visitor and walks out of the room, leaving the two women together.


This opening scene of Act III mirrors the play’s first scene. It is, once again, a domestic scene. Jimmy and Cliff are in their same places. They read the papers and Jimmy complains about the lack of imagination in what are supposed to be the “posh” papers. Helena irons in a corner just as Alison did in Act I. This suggests that, even though the audience witnessed a great disturbance in previous scenes, things have changed only slightly in their lives.

The concept of blood plays an important role in this scene. In the previous act, Jimmy made the comment that he would one day write a book from his own blood. This idea of blood symbolizes the sacrifice that he believes he is making by living a domestic life first with Alison and now with Helena. In this scene, blood is a symbol of the violence and sexual tension that still remains between Jimmy and Alison. Jimmy makes reference to a brutal ritual in which blood is spilled as a sacrifice to a fertility god. This reference to the sacrificial rite symbolizes Jimmy’s own violent sacrifice and Alison’s pregnancy which, the audience will soon learn, came to an end. Jimmy still believes that it is Alison’s past -- her parents -- that are responsible for his sacrifice.

We soon learn that Jimmy is mostly unchanged from his relationship with Helena. Helena only brings a new antagonism into their relationship: religion. Jimmy is ardently opposed to her religious tendencies. Jimmy believes that traditional religion represents the past. Religion has no place in modern society, or if it does it must take a vastly different form, such as African American religion which relies on strong expressions of emotion and personal feeling. Osborne’s purpose in this antagonism towards traditional religion is to show how modern society’s focus on the self has created a void for morality. In this modern world, meaning is subjective. Jimmy is the best representation of this subjectivity. His personal feelings are the center of his life.

This scene also contains Jimmy’s most famous speech in the play. He believes that there are no longer any worthy causes to die for. Previous generations, represented by Colonel Redfern, were the last to sacrifice themselves for their country and their belief in a right way to live. According to Jimmy, the world is a subjective place now. There is a poverty of ideals in the modern world. Jimmy, thus, is a character trapped between his nostalgia for the past and his assessment of his present prospects.

This nostalgia for the past is also the reason why Jimmy is able to calmly accept Cliff’s desire to leave. Cliff sees the present as changed in a fundamental way; Helena entered their household and the dynamic between the three characters changed. Jimmy, however, finds solace and a sense of stability in the past. In his reassurance that Cliff has been a good friend, he is already memorializing Cliff. Jimmy idealizes Cliff’s friendship just as he does Hugh and Mrs. Tanner and every other relationship in his life. The audience should remember how Jimmy consistently requires allegiance to the people in his life. Cliff now enters that nostalgic sphere.