JOHN OSBORNE Look Back in Anger


A contemporary play first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in 1956 and first published in 1957. It is written in prose and has three acts.



JIMMY PORTER: He is a young man about twenty five years old. lower middle-class, university-educated, intellectually restless and thwarted,  He is a mixture between sensitiveness, sincerity, malice…not an easy being. He has a kind of juvenile feeling of rebellion. Thus he lets go this feeling of rebellion by insulting and psychologically attacking his wife with as strong sentences as the following:  “If only something—something would happen to you, and wake you out of your beauty sleep!… If you could have a child, and it would die… I wonder if you might even become a recognisable human being yourself. But I doubt it.” In Jimmy Porter, Osborne created what came to be seen as a model of the “angry young man”, railing at the lack of passion of his age, entreating Alison and Cliff to show some enthusiasm.

CLIFF LEWIS: He is Jimmy’s friend who helped him running a sweet stall. He is, perhaps, the only truly sympathetic character in the play. He is quite different to Jimmy. He is much more patient and reflexive and does not let himself get carried by his impulses as Jimmy does.

ALISON PORTER: She comes from a medium-class family. , the daughter of a retired Colonel in the British Army in India. She is weaker than Jimmy Porter and usually her behaviour consists on avoiding to afront her problems. She has not a very good relationship with her family due to their enemisty with Jimmy. 

HELENA CHARLES: She is an actress friend of Alison's from school. Jimmy does not like her, maybe because she has the opinion that the relationship between Jimmy and Alison has not any future. Helena criticises strongly Jimmy’s behaviour and character, saying: “There's no place for people like that any longer…he doesn't know where he is, or where he's going. He'll never do anything, and he'll never amount to anything.”

COLONEL REDFERN: Alison’s father and an ex-soldier in the Indian war. He admits the fact that Jimmy could feel angry about them for their behaviour when he and his wife used to spy on him thinking he was a criminal.

PLOT:  The play takes place in a one-bedroom flat in the Midlands. Jimmy Porter, lives with his wife Alison and his friend Cliff Lewis. Jimmy reads the papers, argues and taunts his friends over their acceptance of the world around them. He rages to the point of violence, reserving much of his anger for Alison's friends and family. The situation is exacerbated by the arrival of Helena. Appalled at what she finds, Helena calls Alison's father to take her away from the flat. He arrives while Jimmy is visiting the mother of a friend and takes Alison away. As soon as she has gone, Helena moves in with Jimmy. Alison returns to visit, having lost Jimmy's baby. Helena can no longer stand living with Jimmy and leaves. Finally Alison returns to Jimmy and his angry life.

SPACE: The play is developed in Midlands, in a penthouse. This flat has a characteristic decoration. It is furnished with two sofas, a bed and two wardrobes.

TIME: This is an actual play. It is divided into three acts as I have said before. The first act starts a morning on April. The second one is divided into two scenes which represent two weeks after the first act and the evening after the day represented before. Third act also has two scenes. The first one represents what happened few months after the act before and the second scene of the third act represents seconds before the play ends. 

LITERARY RESOURCES: There is used a really simple language so it is not dificult to understand the play. It is written on prose and the author does not use really long sentences. It is characterised by colloquial language and use of it.

PERSONAL OPINION: The play is interesting and would be a perfect

mirror to understand the situation in England in the 50’s. The impact Osborne had on British theatre is incalculable. Some would say that with Look Back in Anger he brought class as an issue before British audiences. There should be foregrounded the character of Jimmy Porter as the main representative of what would be called the “Angry young men” generation.  Osborne has often been criticised for not seeing a way out, and not explaining more carefully the crisis in which Jimmy finds himself. However, his situation is somewhat exposed throughout the play and he even talks about it when he says: “people of our generation aren't able to die for good causes any longer...There aren't any good, brave causes left.” Such a statement could be read as the voice of pessimistic nihilism, an ideology which I would say to be nowadays extremely spread. But what makes Jimmy's statement so interesting is precisely the historical context in which it occurs. The reknown English drama critic Kenneth Tynan, wrote in a piece on “The Angry Young Movement” that Jimmy Porter “represented the dismay of many young Britons ... who came of age under a Socialist government, yet found, when they went out into the world, that the class system was still mysteriously intact.” Those might be his reasons to behave in a way which represents the individualisation of the common social problems.



Academic year 2005/2006
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
© Aina García Coll
Universitat de València Press