Why Look Back in Anger is Relevant to Present Days?

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The Appeal of The Subject Matter

      Look Back in Anger has been regarded as an expression of the mood and temperament of the post-war youth, their disillusionment, frustration and rebelliousness. Jimmy Porter becomes the mouthpiece of the entire generation of post-war youth in condemning the society, institutions and people. The play had an impact on the audience because of the subject matter. The youths of the time identified themselves, with Jimmy and he had turned into a folk hero. Inspite of the fact that the hero articulated the frustration of the post-war youth of the mid-fifties, the play cuts across the time factor and appeals to all time.

Jimmy a Social Rebel

      Jimmy is projected as an angry young man who does not spare anything and anyone from his scathing remarks. The play is a protest against the contemporary society which had betrayed the young people against an older generation which have let them boor. Jimmy feels he has been ill-treated by the society. Despite his academic qualification, he is unable to secure a good job and is running a sweet stall in partnership with Cliff. He believes that the upper class has denied him a suitable job because of his low origin. He tried his hand at various other occupations like journalism, vacuum cleaner but without success. He finds himself adrift and feels like leading a meaningless existence. He finds fault with each and everything and keeps complaining ceaselessly. He is fed up with the monotony of Sundays and keeps complaining about the routine life—reading newspaper, drinking tea, ironing the clothes.

      Jimmy also revolts against the existing class distinction of the British society. Alison’s parents’ vehement opposition to Alison and Jimmy’s matrimonial alliance left bitter memories on him. He takes out his grudge against the middle class by constantly bullying his wife whom he regards as a hostess of the middle class against whom he has been waging a war of contempt. Alison’s correspondence with her family despite his resentment is considered by him as a defiance and he torments Alison by making most offensive and insulting remarks.

His Criticism of Political and Economic Theorising

      Politics repels Jimmy Nigel, Alison’s brother, is a politician and Jimmy considers him to be devoid of any worth. Ridiculing Nigel, Jimmy says that he is so vague and lazy in his knowledge and yet he is aspiring to become a Cabinet Minister. He sarcastically describes both Alison and Nigel as being sycophantic, phlegmatic and pusillanimous. He condemns Helena and calls her an expert in the new economics—“the economics of the supernatural”. He calls her one of those share-pushes who are spreading all those rumors about a transfer of power. He sarcastically comments that she is one of those people who spends their time mostly “looking forward to the past” and those who sees light only in the ‘dark ages’.

Jimmy’s Contempt for Religious Practices

      Jimmy does not spare anything in his condemnation of the contemporary society. He vehemently opposes religious practices and rituals. He is an atheist and also a non-believer in the Church. He never wanted to get married in a Church. On learning that Alison was going to the Church with Helena, he accuses Alison of being feeble and coming under Helena’s influence. He proudly tells Helena that Alison had left her middle-class habit of visiting the Church on Sundays and says “that the last time she was in a Church was when she was married to me”. He ridicules those who indulge in “midnight invocations of the Coptic Goddess of fertility” and sacrifice innocent animals in the name of religion. He does not approve of the so-called sacrifices that people make. In his opinion people who claim to sacrifice their careers, beliefs, sexual pleasures do so because they never wanted these things in the first place. He even mocks at the Bishop of Brambly.

The Change in Social Context

      This play reflected the moods and temperament of the British youth in the mid-fifties of the 20th century. Much change has occurred since then. The problems and conditions of the present day British society are widely different from what they were in the mid-fifties. The youths of that period were disillusioned with the non-fulfillment of their hopes, the decline and disintegration of the British Empire, especially the Suez crisis and the events in Hungary when the world found itself helpless against Russian aggressiveness. The problem that the English youth faces today is quite different from the nineteen hundred fifties. They may share the disillusionment or despair of Jimmy but the general mood and temperament is quite different.

A Dated Play

      With the change in the social context, much of the basis for Jimmy’s resentment and anger has lost its validity and Look Back in Anger has become a dated play. It can no longer appeal to the English audience of today the way it did in 1956. The change in social and political conditions have resulted in the change of attitudes of the people. The moods and temperament of the people have also gone through phenomenal changes and today’s youth would not respond to this play in the same manner as the whole generation of youth did a few decades back. A character like Colonel Redfern would seem quite unconvincing for his nostalgic talks or Alison as a silent suffering wife would lose significance in todays world.

Permanent Appeal of The Play

      Inspite of so many changes in the social, economic or political fields, certain aspects of Look Back in Anger have an undeniable validity even, today. The play has some relevance to the present-day world in some respects. Look Back in Anger is not one of the greatest English plays and hence it cannot be expected to possess the enduring appeal which great work of literature possess. Despite its average merit the play still holds a kind of appeal to the present-day audience. The speeches of various characters in the play still retain their validity. For instance, Colonel Redfern makes some sensible observations. He disapproves of his daughter’s neutral attitude of not taking sides. His comments on marriage that he always believed was that people married because they were in love is appreciable. He reprimands his daughter for saying that Jimmy had married her to take a revenge on the upper class and like a sensible father comments that revenge and challenges are totally alien to the sanctity of marriage.

      Helena’s speeches in the last scene also have a permanent appeal. Helena stresses on her belief in good and evil and says that it is quite a modern, scientific belief now. Her remark that no one can be happy when he or she is doing something wrong or hurting somebody else has a truth of permanent value.

      Even Jimmy’s comments have a positive and permanent value. He is of the opinion that suffering is an essential part of human existence. He gives an account of how he, as a child watched his father dying, and how that experience had taught him more about love, betrayal, and death at that age that she would probably know all her life.

      He feels Alison needs to suffer so that she can understand the pain of living. He wishes Alison to have a child that dies which would enable her to understand suffering. When Alison finally loses her child through a miscarriage, the experience chastens her and she comes back to regain Jimmy’s love.

      The fundamental need of every human being and their yearning for companionship that is highlighted in the play has a universal and permanent appeal. Every living being craves for a company and none can remain alone. Alison rightly mentions in her note that she would always have a deep loving need of him. Jimmy at that time dismissed her note as a simply sentimental rubbish only to realize later on his dire need of company. After Helena’s desertion, he speaks of his own loneliness and says that the happiest and the strongest creature in this world are the loneliest, like the old bear following his own breath in the dark forest. That is why when Alison finally falls at his feet, he quickly reacts to her, and both play their old favorite game of bears-and-squirrels.

Moral Insight

      The play highlights certain moral insights which are timeless and which will never lose its appeal. The portrayal of characters in this play are convincing enough to contribute to its permanent appeal. The character portrayals are so psychologically true and convincing that they come out alive. Even Cliff who is more like a catalyst than an actual reagent in the action of the play is memorable character because of his quality of fidelity. Cliff offers the value of solidarity and friendship to both Jimmy and Alison. Besides the moral and psychological aspects the brilliant wit of Jimmy also has permanent appeal. His brilliant rhetoric attacking various persons, his sarcastic comments also have a permanent appeal to the audience of all time.

University Questions

Look Back in Anger has become a dated play. Give reasons for your answer.
or
Look Back in Anger has a permanent appeal, Elucidate.
or
Look Back in Anger is relevant to the present day world. Justify.

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