Autobiographical Elements in Look Back in Anger

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Jimmy’s Portrayal

      An overall reading of the play presents Jimmy as a crude boor who constantly bullies his wife unable to bear which she leaves him. But a reading in depth reveals that in spite of his angry outburst, ruthless attack, he has been portrayed in such a manner, so as to win over the audience. The author has attributed to him such qualities which inspite of the negative qualities that Jimmy posses has enabled him to win our sympathy and regard. Some critics are of the opinion that the character of Jimmy has been sketched in the shadow of the author himself and that is why he sympathizes with him.

The Autobiographical Element In The Play

      Many critics have shared the view that Jimmy is a self-portrayal of Osborne. Jimmy shares the same kind of anger as Osborne, has come from a similar socio-economic background. The hero is deeply involved in a class-war just as Osborne himself. Jimmy is self-consciousness proletarian who takes pride in his working class origin. Jimmy articulates Osborne’s disillusionment with contemporary British society and empire and serves as his mouthpiece in denouncing the Church, the Royalty, the conservative Government, the upper class and traditional morality. Jimmy also embodies Osborne’s detriment of the English notion of the stiff-upper-lip, of detachment and apathy, of lack of enthusiasm. Chiding Alison and Cliff for lack of enthusiasm he says sarcastically “why don’t we have a little game? Lets pretend that we’re human beings, and that we’re actually alive”. (Act I, page 59) Jimmy and Alison has been married for four years and inspite of the passage of time, Jimmy has not been able to reconcile himself to the middle-class origin of his wife.

      Jimmy complains, “Nobody thinks, nobody cares. No belief no convictions and no enthusiasm”. Just like Osborne, he feels that there are no brave causes to fight for and to die for.

Jimmy’s War Against The Middle Class

      In Jimmy’s denunciation of the middle class Osborne’s own feeling comes to the fore. There is much similarity in the origin of Jimmy and Osborne. Both of them have sprung from similar socio-economic background. Jimmy faced opposition from Alison’s mother which are similar to those faced by Osborne himself while courting his wife Pamela. Like Jimmy, Osborne too married Pamela much against her parent’s, wishes. Jimmy holds the upper class responsible for being unfair to him. Despite being highly qualified he earns his livelihood running a sweet stall. He feels that because of his humble background the upper-class has denied him his right. So Jimmy attacks the upper class by making sarcastic remarks on Alison’s family. He condemns Alison’s mother calling her an “old bitch” and using the harshest possible language in denouncing her. He mocks at Alison’s father for his inability to get over his past life and ridicules brother-in-law Nigel and calls him “the straight-backed, chinless wonder from Sandhurst”. He makes some nasty comments on him and says that Nigel is just as vague as he can get without being actually invisible. Jimmy considers Alison’s mother an epitome of the entire middle class and condemns her. His criticism of the old lady is so unpalatable that Helena feels sick after listening to it. He even does not spare Helena, Alison’s actress friend who stays as a guest at their flat for sometime. All this criticism of middle-class people, to a large extent, shows Osborne’s own dislike of the middle class.

Jimmy’s Denunciation of The Women Representative of the Middle Class

      Helena, a guest at the Porter’s home does not escape the scathing remarks of the host. Jimmy’s denunciation of Helena is characterized by a bitter irony. He sarcastically calls her an expert in the new economics—“the Economics of the supernatural”. In his opinion, she is one of those mysterious share-pushers “who are spreading all those rumors about a transfer of power.” Irritated with his bitter sarcasm Helena threatens to slap him. Then he says to her “I hope you won’t make the mistake of thinking me for one moment that I am a gentleman.” Speaking vehemently he warns her, “I’ve no public school scruples about hitting girls. If you slap my face—by God, I’ll lay you out!”. Alison, his wife is the target of his constant verbal assault. He finds fault with everything she does. He calls her a “monument to non-attachment” and addresses her as “lady Pusillanimous”. He does not refrain from humiliating her in presence of Cliff by describing her sexual passion in a rather insulting manner. He says that she has the passion of a python and devours him wholly every time they make love. Alison seems right when she tells Helena that he treats her like a “hostage” from the upper class against whom he is in war. Alison also tells her father that Jimmy most probably has married her only to take revenge on the upper class whom he detests.

His Tirades Against Middle-Class Ethos

      Jimmy is so vehemently against the upper class that he opposes everything related to it. He even disregards the moral values and ethos that is typical of the middle class. The middle-class people were rather strict with morality and, respectability demands the virtue of virginity in unmarried women. The fact that Alison remained a virgin till her marriage with Jimmy, annoyed him to her surprise. Alison confides in Cliff that Jimmy was quite angry with her for remaining a virgin and acted as if she had deceived him in some strange ways. Jimmy seemed to believe that an untouched women would “defile” him.

      Jimmy believes that the middle-class people lack ‘solidarity’, which he considers to be working class virtue. One reason for his getting along fine with Cliff is due to his low working class origin. He has a deep sense of solidarity which he claims is lacking in Alison and other middle-class people. But it is interesting to note that he shows this virtue only in regard to people like Hugh’s mother not with others.

Osborne’s Sympathy With Jimmy

      It seems clear enough from the bitter criticism of the middle class that Jimmy’s character was tempered with Osborne’s sympathies. In most of his speeches, the author’s contempt for the upper class can be traced. Yet it would be unfair to accuse Osborne for trying to idealize Jimmy. From the stage direction, it becomes clear that Jimmy has been attributed with some serious faults. In the opening of the play he is described as a disturbing mixture of sincerity and cheerful malice, of tenderness and cruelty; restless and full of pride, a combination which alienates the sensitive and the insensitive alike. From the description of Jimmy the accusation that he wholly sympathized with Jimmy, seems untrue.

      In spite of the presence of so many negative qualities, some genuine grievances in Jimmy can be found. He laments that there are no brave cause left is nothing but genuine. There is also much truth in his statement that a voice that cries out in the dark need not necessarily belong to a weakling. Although Jimmy has been resented by the other characters at first for his bitter sarcasm, later on Alison, Cliff and even Helena agrees that Jimmy is basically worthwhile. They may not accept his ideals, but they never doubt that beneath sharp tongue and rude behavior there lies an honest man. They also accepts that his anger has certain amount of honesty and courage. So Osborne’s sympathy with. Jimmy goes on to this extent and Jimmy can be called a self-portrait of Osborne to this extent. Otherwise, he is a fully individualistic character with certain amount of negative as well as positive attributes.

University Questions

Consider the autobiographical elements in the play Look Back in Anger.
Osborne has voiced his own dissatisfaction with his contemporary society through the character of Jimmy—Discuss.
How far the attitudes of Jimmy Porter reflect those of Osborne himself?

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