Symbolism in John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger”: The Bear and Squirrel Game

Some critics feel that the bear and squirrel game is simply a device to escape the harsh and cruel realities of life in the face of mutual conflicts and tensions and the failure of marriage between Alison and Jimmy. This is true as far as it goes, but it does not go very far.

This game is not merely a device for the evasion of the complexities of a marriage. It is the statement of the nature of human love to share the pain and pleasure of life. It seems that Jimmy ultimately reconciles himself to an animal relationship with Alison.

This game has also been viewed as a brave attempt by Alison and Jimmy to compensate themselves for the failure of their marriage. It has thus been taken as an extended metaphor. The game, as it develops, is not embarrassing, it is strangely moving. It is undoubtedly dignified as a form of conventionalized sexual play. This game explores, within a formally perfect frame work, a particular kind of sexual relationship, the incidental frustration of which are expressed in Jimmy Porter’s innumerable tirades and outbursts. It shows that the Bear and Squirrel game is important in the theme of the play. The game provides happiness to Alison and Jimmy for a short time. The game is helpful in bringing about the reconciliation between Alison and Jimmy at the end of the play.

There are other symbolic devices also in the play too have their own dramatic significance. Ironing is one such symbol. When the play opens, we find Alison at the ironing board with a pile of clothes. She is almost always seen at the ironing board. When she leaves Jimmy, Helena replaces her at the ironing board as she has done other matters also. It is a symbol of Jimmy’s boredom and its presence throughout play shows Jimmy’s continued boredom.

Church Bells annoy Jimmy more than anything else. Thus the church bells are symbol of religious practices and rituals to which Jimmy is vehemently opposed.
Next we have Jimmy’s trumpet. He plays on it when Helena arrived for the first time and he is again found playing on it when Alison returns. For Jimmy it is his baby. But it has its own symbolic significance. Jimmy is deeply attached to it.

He feels that the trumpet-music has a wholesome quality. He at one place observes that those who do not enjoy and appreciate jazz-trumpet cannot have any ling either for music or for people. To Jimmy, trumpet provided comfort and solace m the bitterness of the world of realities. But at the same time it is also a weapon Jimmy’s hands to break the nerves of others, more particularly Alison and Helena. Alison observes “Good I wish he’d lost that damned trumpet.” Similarly, Helena o feels irritated by its jarring notes. At such occasions Jimmy must be feeling greatly ted and delighted because he derives satisfaction out of the misery of others. Thus a trumpet adds to the new dimension in the play.

Then there is another symbolic device and it is people—Alison’s people — mother, her, brother, friends. They serve to Jimmy as symbols of the rich and respectable per middle class. That is why Jimmy treats them with so much bitterness and whims.