Look Back in Anger: as A Realistic Play

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Historical Importance (Realism)

      The aim of realistic drama is “putting ourselves and our situation on the stage”. Look Back in Anger appealed to the audience of that time because of the immediacy of the subject matter. Osborne presented the contemporary scene on the stage and expressed the disapproval of the post-war youth of the society through Jimmy. By his command of contemporary idiom, his sharp comments on subjects ranging from the “posh” Sunday newspapers and ‘white the’ Umnusities to the Bishops and the Bomb, Osborne caught the fancy of the audience of his time. The youth of his time identified themselves with Jimmy Porter, a dissatisfied, disgruntled young man who lashes out at everyone with his scathing comments. The hero represented the post-war British youth who looked around the world and found nothing right in it.

Jimmy’s Tirades against Others, Himself and the General Conditions of Life

      The play gives out an intense feeling of frustration, anger, disillusionment, hatred etc. The atmosphere, the speeches by the protagonist have an authentic power. The play depicts the traditional room of the naturalist theatre, where the hero rages at the world, attacking people, institutions. He is enraged by the lack of imaginative response he meets everywhere. “Did you read Priestley’s piece this week?” he asks Alison and Cliff. Without waiting for their answer he adds, “why on earth I ask I don’t know. I know damned well you haven’t.” Being a University graduate he is running a sweet stall. He feels he has been deprived of a suitable job because of his low social background. He feels society has been cruel to him. So he attacks social system, the upper middle class whom he considers as his enemy and against whom he wages a constant battle.

The Disorganised Life

      Look Back in Anger has been regarded as marking the emergence of working-class drama at a particular stage of cultural and social change in Britain. The life depicted in this play is that of disorganized and drifting. The play reflects the general feeling of restlessness, frustration and disorganization. Jimmy, the protagonist expresses his dissatisfaction and lashes out continuously at people and institution. It presents a realistic picture, a strained marital life because of the disparity of class, a frustrated unemployed youth who constantly bullies his wife. The wife a passive sufferer, silently tolerates her husband’s tantrums, refuses to believe in the husband’s philosophy of life. The husband humiliates his wife in presence of his friend by comparing her sexual passion to that of a python. Provoked by friend Helena and feeling that she cannot take it anymore she walks out on her husband. Helena who came to stay as a guest becomes the mistress of Jimmy after the wife has left. Again Alison returns unexpectedly and an uneasy atmosphere is created. Helena’s middle-class morality arouses her consciousness and realizing her guilt as having lived as a mistress to her friend’s husband, she decides to go out of their life for good. So the whole play is about disorganized lives of the people.

Women as the Symbol of Frustrated and Disorganised Society

      Women are the victim of the twentieth-century society. People feel that women are quite insignificant. They feel that she is a burden on man. Jimmy speaks of Alison’s passion in these words: “She just devours me whole every time, as if I were some over large rabbit,” etc.

       In the plot development of this play the hero Jimmy has not fixed motives and ideas. His idiosyncrasies and whims do not make the women happy and cheerful. The sexual disturbance, between Jimmy and Alison, shows that women are symbols of frustrating society. There is no healthy atmosphere in Jimmy’s apartment. He keeps on criticizing his wife for the slightest fault. He is shifting from one woman to another i.e. Alison to Helena and then back to Helena. So we find the stupid establishment back of causes and general emotional in capacity. In story we find emotional disintegration. Hence we justify that women are the symbol of the frustrated society.

      Alison has left her husband. She is in a family way. She is staying with her father. Meanwhile, Jimmy has started a sexual relationship with Helena. He is frustrated, but his attitude should be very healthy. It indicates that he feels his wife is not a good companion although she is about to give birth to a child. The congenial atmosphere at the Porter’s apartment appears when we feel women do not give us solace. This is a negative approach to life, but there should be a positive approach that she is a perpetual partner. We feel pleasure in the end when they have, reconciled themselves after the game of bears-and-squirrels. They have started living cheerfully with Helena leaving Jimmy forever. This story is based on naturalism and realism. Our natural feelings are refuted in every speech of the characters of the play.

Class-war and Sex-war

      The play seems to be a response of underprivileged British youth to the structure and spirit of the Welfare state. The younger generation identifies themselves in the “angry young man’ i.e. Jimmy. He feels that life has been unfair to him. His inability to secure a good job in spite of being a University graduate makes him all the more aggressive. Perhaps he believes that he has been deprived of the privileges for his low origin. These beliefs have led Jimmy to declare a war on the upper class whom he considers to be his opponent and treats Alison as the hostess. He continuously bullies his wife by making offensive and rather crude remarks against her family members. His rhetoric condemnation of Alison’s mother whom he regards as the representative of the upper middle class, his gibes at brother-in-law Nigel, his partnership with Hugh in debunking and desecrating upper-class gathering can be perceived as tactics in his class warfare.

      In a famous speech in which Jimmy laments the absence of a good cause. He accuses women of bleeding men to death. He says that men are not able to die of any good causes because there is no good causes left in the world. He sarcastically comments that there is nothing, no good causes to die for except butchered by women. He accuses his wife having the passion of a “python” and devouring him as if he was an “oversized rabbit.”

The Crisis of Isolation and Terror

      The hero Jimmy a crude man of working class background keeps harassing his wife by his offensive remarks hurled against her family members. He is projected as an energetic young man who is never tired of criticizing and carrying on his verbal assault against people and institutions. But when it comes to emotional strength, he does not live up to the mark. On Alison's unexpected arrival in the last scene, Helena is ready to desert him. On hearing about Helena’s decision he is stunned. The fear of loneliness grips him. He then turns to Alison. In a pathetic love he says to her that the voice that cries out in pain is not necessarily that of a weak creature. Sometimes the strongest animal cries out in pain because he finds himself absolutely lonely and companionless. The fear of isolation haunts Jimmy which made him patch up the differences with his wife who walked out on him months ago. Alison on the other hand had undergone the tragic suffering of losing her child through miscarriage. She has gone through the trauma of loneliness. During the month of separation from Jimmy, Alison faced the crisis of isolation and to free herself from the grip of loneliness she had returned. The loneliness phobia or the fear of isolation does not spare Cliff who says that the house would lose much of its charm in Alison’s absence.

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