Look Back in Anger

by John Osborne

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Act 2, Scene 1 Summary

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It’s two weeks later, and Alison is making tea in the kitchen wearing just a slip while Jimmy can be heard playing the jazz trumpet poorly across the hall. The table is set for four, and Helena enters carrying a large salad. Alison tells her it’s been wonderful having help around the house, and Helena remarks on how difficult it is looking after two men at once. The two chat about housework, and about the men, and about how the domestic dynamics in the household have changed since Helena’s arrival.

The two stop to listen to Jimmy’s trumpet, and Helena tells Alison it sounds like Jimmy is trying to kill somebody with it. He had a band once, Alison tells her, and she thinks he’d probably secretly love to close his candy stall and join back up.

Helena asks Alison if there’s anything romantic going on between her and Cliff. Alison says they’re simply very fond of each other, and it manifests in a sort of cozy non-sexual physical intimacy. She likens it to being lazy and warm next to someone in bed, suggesting that they are simply too relaxed to do anything other than maintain that warmth. Skeptical, Helena asks if Jimmy approves.

Alison says it’s hard to explain, but Jimmy has his own sense of morality and propriety based mostly on allegiance. Cliff fits uniquely into their lives, she continues, because he’s so easygoing and good-natured. They’d tried living with Jimmy’s friend Hugh Tanner, she explains, and that had gone poorly, though Jimmy is still very fond of Hugh’s mother. The arrangement had become especially incendiary when Jimmy and Hugh had used their connection to Alison to start inviting themselves regularly over to other upper-class family homes, eating and drinking to excess and behaving terribly.

As Alison elaborates further on her history with Jimmy, Helena is in disbelief. Finally, she tells Helena she is just so tired of it all—she dreads when Jimmy comes into the room. Helena asks why Alison hasn’t told Jimmy about the baby yet. Alison says she doesn’t really know, but she’s also never wanted to be with anybody else. Pointing to a stuffed bear and squirrel sitting atop a chest of drawers, she tells Helena affectionately that those are their nicknames for each other. Helena, increasingly concerned, tells Alison she needs to either fight back or leave. Otherwise, she asserts darkly, “he will kill you.”

Cliff and Jimmy enter, and the four sit down to dinner. Jimmy is, as usual, verbosely belligerent and unkind, and he and Helena have an argument in which she tells him she thinks he’s very tiresome. Eventually, Helena and Alison excuse themselves to go out. Asking where they could possibly be going on a Sunday night, Helena tells him they’re going to church.

The argument escalates tensely, and Jimmy and Alison continue to argue about their past, the church, and their families. Helena attempts to intervene. Jimmy, sensing a new target, turns on her and asks when she’s leaving. “Alison wanted me to stay,” Helena reveals.

Jimmy’s tirade continues, and Cliff eventually tells him he’s gone too far. Jimmy refocuses his ire yet again, targeting Cliff this time. Soon, Jimmy moves on from his three companions altogether and starts monologuing about his experience with loss and grief, and the horrors of witnessing his father’s slow death. He knows more about both life and death than the rest of them ever will, he asserts.

Against Jimmy’s protests, Alison and Helena finally prepare to leave. Jimmy finally runs out of energy and exits, and Helena tells Alison she’s wired her father for help. He is coming to take her home tomorrow, she reveals, and Alison should pack. Alison thanks Helena and says she’ll go when her father comes.

Jimmy enters, distraught, saying there has been a phone call and Hugh’s mother—of whom Jimmy is very fond—has had a stroke. He plans to go see her right away and asks Alison if she’ll go with him. She declines, picking up her prayer book and heading to church with Helena. Jimmy collapses on the bed, and the curtain closes.

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Act 1 Summary


Act 2, Scene 2 Summary