The significance of the ‘Bear and Squirrel’ game in “Look Back in Anger.” by John Osborne.


                           The significance of the ‘Bear and Squirrel’ game in “Look Back in Anger.”
We hear the symbolic reference to ‘bear and squirrel’ for the first time in Act-II Scene I of “Look Back in Anger” though the first hint of this game is given to us in the stage directions at the beginning of the play. Helena, with her unerring womanly instinct, believes that the marriage of Jimmy and Alison has not clicked. Love is not absent, nor is there any mental and emotional harmony. In Helena’s considered opinion Jimmy is not capable of love. Alison does not give a specific reply to her tacit inquiry. She simply points to the ‘toy bear’ and ‘the toy squirrel’. The former represents Jimmy, while the latter is Alison. According to Simon Trussler, this game is a brave attempt by Jimmy and Alison to compensate themselves for the failure of their marriage. As such, the game is a kind of ‘extended metaphor.’ Alison explains that they play the game to relieve the monotony of life. They are sick of the humdrum of life and seek an escape from the sordidness of reality as they imagine themselves to be two animals. In these roles, they are neither hunted nor haunted. But their sense of security even as animals is fast disappearing. So, it is a kind of ‘unholy priest-hole’ of being animals to one another. They, however, think that since an adjustment as human beings, as man and wife is growing increasingly difficult, the only way out is to play the roles of animals. They have, thus, a sort of ‘silly symphony for people who could not bear the pain of being human beings any longer.’

The adjectives Osborne ascribes to the toy bear are significant: ‘tattered’, ‘toy’, and ‘teddy’. Jimmy, despite pretending to be a macho, who has the onus of breaking down, or at least protesting. What he sees as the contemporary evils in his society, is merely a plaything, less than a fly which is the plaything in the hands of boys, as Gloucester says in ‘King Lear.’ A fly has a life, a toy does not. Jimmy’s continual pleas for life sound ironic in this context, he does not know that the system has a vacuum cleaner which has cleansed him off his own life. That is why the toy is tattered. This is a spiritual death that Jimmy will learn to face in both himself and others. Alison is the squirrel, a soft, wooly creature, inconsequential, yet snug and smug. In Act III Scene II the bear and squirrel episode is revived. Alison returns to Jimmy after months as a shadow of her former self. She turns to Jimmy and cries out in deep agony:
“Don’t you see! I’m in the mud at last! I’m groveling! I’m crawling!” Her pride, if any, is humbled. She now tries to identify herself completely with her husband, who always has flung at the Establishment, at the values and ideals of the self-complacent middle class. She collapses at his feet. Jimmy, for the first time, holds her up with warmth and affection. He tells her:
“We’ll be together in our bear’s cave, and our squirrel’s drey, and we’ll
live on honey, and nuts-lots and lots of nuts. And we’ll sing songs about
ourselves-about warm trees and sung caves, and lying in the sun. And you’ll
Keep those big eyes on my fur, and help me keep my claws in order, because
I’m a bit of a soppy, scruffy sort of bear. And I’ll see that you keep that sleek
bushy tail glistening as it should because you’re a very beautiful squirrel, but
You’re none too bright either. So, we’ve got to be careful.”
Alison responds equally affectionately:
“Oh, poor-poor bears!”

On a review of what has preceded, it will appear even to a superficial observer that this episode has been introduced by the playwright with a definite end in view. George E. Well worth has aptly remarked:
“Osborne has created an excellent, minutely accurate dissection of a perverse marriage in the style of Strindberg… Jimmy Porter’s problem is not the vicious injustice. And the hypocrisy of the social order: it is his suppressed awareness of the insoluble psychological paradox caused by his desperate overriding need to possess a woman’s complete, unquestioning love and his simultaneous constitutional inability to get along with anyone.”

So, to conclude, we can say that the ‘Bear and Squirrel’ episode actualizes a refuge from the world which has set ‘cruel steel traps’ to catch the animals. This is a device, not an effective one, one to forget their surroundings, their misunderstanding, their maladjustment, their rationality, and particularly their humanness, which causes interminable suffering. So, James Gindin Remarks quite appropriately:
“The game of squirrels and bears which Jimmy and Alison play seems, at First, trivial evasion of the complexities found in any marriage. But the end of the play the game becomes a statement of the nature of human love-the willingness to immerse oneself completely in creatureness, to share the plain and the pleasure of the limited animal.”

1. GALE, C. L. (2017). Study guide for John Osborne’s look back in anger. GALE STUDY GUIDES.
2. Sierz, A. (2008). John Osborne’s look back in anger (Continuum Modern Theatre Guides). Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.

One Comment on "The significance of the ‘Bear and Squirrel’ game in “Look Back in Anger.” by John Osborne."
  • Shilpa Chakraborty Reply
    May 29, 2023 at 7:06 pm

    Good work 👍

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