ABSTRACT

To begin to make any sense of so peculiarly structured a play we need to come to terms not only with Jimmy's prominence and peculiarities but also with a further dimension of structural and tonal diversity: the one that generates Osborne's recurring insistence on the humor of a play that seems to have little to be humorous about. Jimmy's most famous remark, for example, that "There aren't any good, brave causes left" for his generation, is delivered not bitterly, as many might expect, but "In [Jimmy's] familiar, semi-serious mood" (104). Jimmy's humor and the "cheerful malice" that Osborne refers to at the outset are interwoven with his anger and aggressiveness throughout the action, baffling everyone at one time or another, but particularly Helena during their brief romance:

These oscillations between humor and seriousness in Jimmy's behavior are exemplified most clearly in the newspaper rituals and music hall routines into which the characters are likely to lapse at any moment, but the humor has larger consequences than that of simply amusing the audience. The humor is characteristically an ironic humor that serves several purposes, not the least of which is that of saving the play from collapsing under the weight of Jimmy's self-pity and self-concern. Ironic humor provides distance, both for the audience from Jimmy and for Jimmy from his obsessive concerns. And this is of major importance in a play that is in many ways about the recurring problem the characters confront of relating their private lives to the urgent social issues Jimmy repeatedly raises. As Helena at one point exclaims in exasperation, "Jimmy, can we have one day, just one day, without tumbling over religion or politics?" (98). Jimmy's humor at his own, as well as everyone else's, expense prevents him from coming across as either an obsessive narcissist or an ideological fanatic. The humor serves, in effect, both to complicate his perspective and to establish a connection between the diverse issues that alternately command his attention. And this process of connecting