Look Back in Anger: Protest of Post-War Youth in England

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The Subject Matter in Relation To The Times

      After its first staging Look Back in Anger received a good response from the audience. The hero became a kind of folk hero for the generation of the post-war British youth. The youths identified themselves with the hero who looked at the world around him and found nothing right in it. Jimmy to them seemed a real character living with them, articulating their disillusionment with the contemporary British society. The younger generation puzzled by the Hungarian revolution, unhappy about Britain’s last imperialist fling at Suez, and determined to protest against the hydrogen bomb and about all kinds of political and social questions looked up to Jimmy who shared their predicament, their frustration and disillusionment. The play became the center of a lot of serious theorizing about the angry man and his place in the society. The main reason for the great impact was the relevance of the subject matter to the current social problems of the time. Osborne displayed his feeling for the contemporary scene, and the temperament of the post-war youth by his use of the contemporary idiom and his sharp comments on matters ranging from “posh” Sunday newspaper and “white tile universities to Bishops and the hydrogen bomb.”

The Disillusionment of The Youth Despite The Introduction of Reform.

      Look Back in Anger catches the mood and temper of the post-war England. The British labor party after coming to power, introduced some social reforms to build up a welfare state in their country. Yet some young idealists were not satisfied. The people found themselves in precisely the same situation that Jimmy Porter describes in one of the famous speeches: “There are no good, brave causes left in the world”. The public, related the play to the socio-political issues of the time, the uneasiness, discontent and frustration of the English society as an aftermath of the Suez war. The angry Jimmy Porter of working-class origin reflected the general mood of the time.

Jimmy As The Mouthpiece of The Post-war Youth

      Jimmy Porter reflects the mood of the post-war generation of British youth. The younger generation of the British youth saw in Jimmy a reflection of their own. Jimmy is projected by the author as a representative of the contemporary youths who looked around the world and found nothing right in it. Jimmy condemned the society for its alleged partiality, hits out at people and institutions blaming them for everything. All the characteristics of the post-war youth are to be found in Jimmy, who suffers from disillusionment, frustration and raves and rants at people. Jimmy articulates the disillusionment of the contemporary youth with the British society and serves as their mouthpiece in denouncing the Church, the Royalty, the conservative Government, the upper class, the traditional morality. As soon as the play opens we encounter a discontented and restless Jimmy criticizing the newspapers, wife Alison and friend Cliff. He complains that the Sunday papers make one ignorant. He complains that his wife goes to sleep whenever he tries to speak to her. As for Cliff, he is too ignorant to understand what the newspapers have to say. So the bitter criticism of Jimmy, his use of contemporary idioms, his lashing out at people, everything suggests his projection as a mouthpiece of the agitated youth of his time.

Jimmy’s Class-War

      Jimmy shows a reverse snobbery in his class consciousness. He hates everything that is refined or genteel. He becomes the self-proclaimed representative of the working class and wages an everlasting war against distinction. He can never forgive his beautiful wife because of her upper-class background. He could never forgive and forget that Alison’s family had opposed her marriage with him. He constantly bullies his wife by attaching her family members, and mocking at them. He feels that life has treated him pretty badly. He feels that society had deprived him of his rights because of his low origin. Despite his university degree he is unable to secure a job. This has caused a sense of insecurity in him. His resentment of the upper class is because of his belief that they are behind this injustice. In Alison’s words he treats her like a ‘hostage’ of the upper class against whom he has declared a war. His criticism of Alison’s mother, his mockery of Alison’s father and many gibes at his brother-in-law Nigel and his partnership with Hugh debunking and desecrating upper-class gatherings can be perceived as his war tactics.

Jimmy’s Predicament

      Jimmy laments that there are no good brave causes left in the world that is worth a sacrifice. Dying will be as ordinary as stepping in front of a bus. He is a lost cause like Alison says when Helena deserts him he sadly comments that everybody wishes to escape from the pain of being alive and the pain of love.

      Jimmy has been drifting. Inspite of his academic qualification he has not been able to settle down in his life. He tried his luck at many things, journalism, advertising, even vacuum-cleaner for a few weeks, and he was a happy doing one thing as another.

      The fact that he earns his livelihood from the sweet stall is something we cannot understand. He is certainly thinking of switching to another profession as he tells Helena, but is not sure what exactly he would do. This attitude of uncertainty and drift is typical of the aimless youth of post-war England.

Jimmy’s Boredom

      Jimmy’s boredom with life is also characteristic of Post-war youth. In the opening scene of Act I we find him grumbling about the monotony of Sundays. He finds Sundays very monotonous and depressing because one has to follow the same routine every time—reading papers, drinking tea, ironing clothes. He complains that his youth is slipping away hour after hour in this state of boredom. He is anti-Church in his attitude so much that even the sound of the Church bells annoys him. He tries to escape from all this boredom by playing on his trumpet.


      Some critics do not agree to the view that this play intended to mirror the state of post-war society in Britain. One critic opines that it is an attempt to dissect or analyze a perverse marriage. According to him Jimmy is not the victim of any vicious injustice and hypocrisy of the society, he is victim of his own desire to possess a woman’s complete unquestioning love, and his inability to get along with others. But this view is too narrow to cover the entire range of the play.

University Questions

Justify this dictum with reference to Osborne’s Look Back in Anger “Rebelliousness and disillusionment in the context of the times are given a voice in the character of Jimmy Porter”?
Look Back in Anger is a play of protest against the contemporary English society. How far is the statement relevant in context of the play?
Look Back in Anger is based on the ideas and sentiments of the angry generation. Substantiate this statement.
Look Back in Anger is the mouthpiece of the post-war youth in England. Give arguments in support of this dictum.

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