Let me be your Teddy bear. Function and Development in John Osborne’s "Look back in Anger" and "Déjà Vu"
Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2007 14 Pages
Table of content
1. The game of ‘bear and squirrel’ in Look back in Anger
2. Jimmy as the bear in Look back in Anger
3. The Teddy figure in Déjà Vu
4.The protagonists and Teddy in Déjà Vu
4.1 Alison and Teddy
4.2 Cliff and Teddy
4.3 J.P. and Teddy
5. Summary and Conclusion
6.1 Primary Sources
6.2 Secondary Sources
In John Osborne’s last play Déjà Vu (1991) the protagonist J.P., who appeared as young Jimmy in Look Back in Anger (1956) as the prototypical ‘angry young man’, seems to have changed. J.P. has a son and a daughter (who live with their mother, his third ex-wife), and ‘enjoys’ life in a 15-room-flat with his papers, pipe and his pal Cliff as a visitor every now and then. Having come to some wealth enables him to drink champagne, but he has nontheless not come to friendly terms with the world outside.
As proposed by Peinert and various others, the animal imagery -i.e. the ‘bear and squirrel’ game- is a central key element to the understanding of Look Back in Anger as a whole and particularly with regard to the figures of Alison and Jimmy. How can this theory be applied to the figure of Teddy in Déjà Vu, where the tattered teddy bear seems to have risen from being a toy on a chest of drawers to a full member of the family with his own views and qualities.
The aim of this paper is to have a close look at the figures of ‘bear’ and ‘squirrel’ in Look back in Anger and of ‘Teddy’ in Déjà Vu and to compare the ‘bear’ and ‘Teddy’figures with regard to the following questions:
How is the bear metaphor used in Look back in Anger and to what extent does it match Jimmy’s being? What role does the teddy bear figure play in relation to the different protagonists in the two plays? And is there a development from bear to Teddy similar to the development from Jimmy to J.P. in the two plays?
I intend to leave out “John Osborne’s complex relationship with J.P.”, although “for many critics the playwright is barely distinguishable from his character.” and thus an interpretation of Jimmy resp. J.P. might not be complete without taking Osborne into account. But in so short a paper this is simply not possible.
A final remark to the use of sources: Most secondary works deal with Look back in Anger, and few discuss explicitly the ‘bear and squirrel’ game; and it seems for Déjà Vu there are hardly any secondary sources, especially few which discuss the importance of Teddy in the play. Thus especially the second part is based only on Patricia Denison’s John Osborne: A Casebook.
1. The game of ‘bear and squirrel’ in Look back in Anger
The relationship between Jimmy and his wife Alison is deeply affected by their different social background and extremely opposite attitude and demeanor. Coming from an upper class family, she is the silent part who, avoiding all arguments, bears all mean outrages of her husband. Jimmy sums her (and her family) up as “sycophantic, phlegmatic and pusillanimous” (I 15), a “monument to non-attachment” (I 15).
Alison realizes that the relationship with Jimmy is self-destructive from the start (III ii 80), but she returns crushed and remorseful after she has lost their child (“all I want is to die […] but this is what he wanted from me!” (III ii 85)).
In stark contrast to her stands Jimmy, who comes from a lower middle class background. On the one hand he is abusive and aggressive, sadistic and sarcastic, on the other hand educated but futile, self-pitying and helpless. He is stranded between an almost sentimental nostalgia for an idealistic past and his present-day world without ideals (“He was born out of his time” (III ii 80) states Helena, and Jimmy knows: “If you’ve no world of your own, it’s rather pleasant to regret the passing of someone else’s.” (I, 13)).
This paradoxical nature of his is based on personal loss (II i 50), hatred of his own (“We never seem to get any further, do we?” (I 10)) and his country’s situation (“Reason and Progress, the old firm, is selling out!” (II i 48)), thus turning against nearly everybody and everything in an uncontrolled anger instead of doing something productive with his energy.
Before I get into the ‘bear and squirrel’ topic, I would like to make a clear distinction, which is important for the comparison with the late Teddy in Déjà Vu: In Look back in Anger Jimmy is in regard to their game only referred to as ‘bear’, not as teddy or with any toylike qualities; and the namely teddy bear -representing the bear aspect of Jimmy- is only mentioned in the stage directions. It/he is never referred to as a person, never is given a name and simply mirrors the situation Jimmy is in.
In Look back in Anger bear and squirrel are physically present (as requisites) right from the beginning: “below the bed is a heavy chest of drawers, covered with books, neckties, and odds and ends, including a large, tattered toy teddy bear and soft, woolly squirrel.” (I 5) The metaphorical identification (“You’re very beautiful. A beautiful, great-eyed squirrel” and “you’re a jolly super bear” (I 28)) takes place after the introduction to the animal imagery by Cliff metaphorically miming a mouse (I 28; ). Later on Alison explains to Helena, that Jimmy is the bear and she the squirrel (II i 40). “Die hier gegebene Projektion der Hauptpersonen auf Bühnenrequisiten ermöglicht es Osborne dann später, entscheidende innerseelische Vorgänge unter Verzicht auf das gesprochene Wort rein durch Handlung zu verdeutlichen.” Even the position of bear and squirrel between “odds and ends” (I 5) metaphorically depicts the chaos the Porters are in.
This game has no sexual connotation (in contrast to the later metaphor of python and rabbit) but, as Peinert states, “expresses relief, understanding and harmony.” He also enhances the three levels of identification: “1. metaphorische Identifizierung [...], 2. Lautzeichen [...], 3. Bewegungszeichen [...]”, which show the complete shift into their game: To flee the tension in their real-life surroundings Jimmy and Alison escape into their lover’s game of ‘bear and squirrel’ (“the one way of escaping everything” (II i 40)). Alison knows the game is “quite mad” (II i 40), but it is the easiest way of forgetting the difficulties of behaving like a “recognisable human being” (I 31).
The final reunification has the couple transcend back to their private fantasy world, where a change becomes visible: The furry friends, “all love, and no brains” (II i 40) now “admit to being in need of each others constant support”: the squirrel helps the bear to keep its claws and fur in order and the bear cares for the shine of his “none too bright” (III ii 86) squirrel’s tail. And Gilleman enhances the change of Jimmy’s self portrayal: “Now finally, the man who so vehemently derided the prevalent ‘timidity of mind’ acknowledges that he and his wife are both ‘very timid little animals’.” Interesting is that this acknowledging of weakness takes place in the ‘bear and squirrel’ world, and not in the ‘Jimmy and Alison’ world. The harmonic retreat, the “silly symphony for people who couldn’t bear the pain of being human beings any longer” (II i 40) becomes interwoven with negative experiences and influences from real life, which is metaphorically expressed in the “cruel steel traps” (III ii 86).
 Sheila Stowell: “Honey, I Blew Up the Ego”. John Osborne’s Déjàvu . In: Denison., Patricia D. (Ed.): John Osborne: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1997. 171f.
 c.f. Dietrich Peinert: “ ‘Bear' und 'Squirrel' in John Osbornes Look Back in Anger”. Literatur in Wissenschaft und Unterricht 1 (1968). Würzburg: Königshausen + Neumann. 117-122. 118.
 Peinert 119.
 Luc M. Gilleman: John Osborne: Vituperative Artist. A Reading of His Life and Work. New York: Routledge 2002. 59.