Plot Construction of The Play Look Back in Anger

Also Read

A Well-Made Play

      In spite of so many criticisms Look Back in Anger has been considered a play of well-made Plot Construction. A critic regards this as a play of well-made plot with all its climaxes, its tightening and slackening of tension in the right places. As far as its construction is concerned with its division into three acts, it is a traditional play. Technically it’s a good play though it is not free from faults.

The Development of Plot

      The action of the play develops in a logical and coherent manner. In Act I we are introduced to the hero, Jimmy Porter, a dissatisfied youth who is at odds with everyone including his wife, friend, his wife’s family and with the world at large. He raves and rants criticizing everything and anything. In Act II a new character, Helena is introduced. She is an old friend of Alison. In the first scene of this act in heart to heart conversation, Alison gives Helena an account of her miserable life after her marriage with Jimmy. In the same scene, the news of Mrs. Tanner’s illness conies which disturbs Jimmy. Jimmy gets ready to go to London to visit the ailing woman but Alison declines to go with him. In the meantime, Helena interferes with Alison Jim my’s personal life and feels that Alison should not live in that squalid condition in her state as she is pregnant. She sends a telegram to Alison’s father to come immediately and take Alison from there. In Sc. II of the same act we meet Colonel Redfern, Alison’s father. After a brief discussion regarding the: situation, Alison leaves with him, while Helena stays back for one more night. Jimmy returns from London and when he starts to speak in his usual offensive manner Helena slaps him and then immediately kisses him very passionately. In Act III. Sc. I Jimmy is shown to live happily, with Helena as his mistress. Then very unexpectedly at the end of this scene, Alison returns. In Act III Sc. II. Helena leaves Jimmy, and Alison is reconciled to him. Thus the line of development of the plot is very clear.

Dramatic Situation And Unexpected Twist in The Plot

      The elements of conflict, surprise, suspense, climax that are considered to be an essential part of a successful play are all to be found in good measures in Look Back in Anger. The tension begins in the very first act when Jimmy criticizes everything and everybody. His lashing out at people more particularly his offensive remarks about Alison’s family members, his bullying of Alison build up the tension. This tension gains momentum in Act II when Jimmy despite his resentment is compelled to accept Helena as his guest.

      He regards Helena as his “natural enemy” and the verbal skirmishes between Helena and him adds to the tension and the conflict becomes dramatic. Helena’s interference into Jimmy-Alison’s marital life, her influence over Alison (as accused by Jimmy) makes the dramatic conflict more obvious. Alison’s refusal to accompany him to visit the ailing Mrs. Tanner is another aspect of the dramatic conflict. When asked by Jimmy to go with him to London to see Mrs. Tanner, Alison ignored his request and went out with Helena as pre-planned to the Church. After she is gone Jimmy looks about unbelievingly, picks up the teddy bear that symbolizes him and throws it down stage. The toy hits the floor with a thud and makes a rattling, groaning sound which represents his inner conflict, his anguish and pain at having refused by his wife to accompany with him. Alison’s departure from her husband’s home in Act II Scene II is one of the climaxes in the play. Helena’s kissing of Jimmy all of a sudden comes as a big surprise to us. Act III is comparatively free from tension and conflict. Apart from a few criticisms, Jimmy is in a relaxed mood and acts a comic part with Cliff joining in the fun.

      The surprise comes at the end of the scene when a pale and sickly Alison returns unexpectedly. Scene II of Act III is again highly dramatic and full of surprises. Seeing Alison, Helena experiences an inner conflict. Her conscience is aroused and she feels guilty for having stayed as Jimmy’s mistress and announces her decision to leave Jimmy. We also come to know about Alison’s miscarriage. The emotional conversation between Alison and Jimmy which finally leads to their reconciliation has also lots of dramatic significance. The reconciliation between the husband and wife is a surprise in view of the circumstance under which Alison had left her husband. In short, there are a lot of twists and turn of events in the plot which lends a dramatic effect to the play.

Skillful Handling of The Scenes

      Osborne shows his mastery of handling scenes in the play. The ending of each scene is made more effective with a surprise or a dramatic suspense. The audience is left to guess what will happen next. One critic is of the view that Osborne displays his technical maturity in opening the first third acts in identical settings—Helena merely replacing Alison at the ironing board and Alison instead of Helena disrupting the domesticity. This looking glass effect shapes the action into a closed-circle entirely appropriate to its theme. The action of the play begins on a Sunday afternoon which is a necessary static occasion that suits Jimmy’s virtuosity. The Sunday papers, Alison’s ironing board, and the Church-bells serve as to heighten Jimmy’s inner conflict and lash out at the world and against his wife.

Technical Flaws

      Despite proper handling of scenes and skillful presentation, the play is not totally free from technical flaws. For instance, there is a sort of discontinuity in the tirades of Jimmy. Jimmy is often found to be shifting from one subject to another without any apparent connection between what he said previously and what he says afterward. There is no proper link between his criticism of one subject to another. In the first act, he begins his criticism and says that the “Posh” newspapers makes man feel ignorant. Then he criticizes the Bishop of Brambly for his alleged support to the hydrogen bomb, and next cites the case of a woman who in her religious fervor got herself injured seriously in rally. Next, he complains about the monotony of the Sunday routine and with the apathy and lack of enthusiasm of Alison and Cliff, and his great annoyance with Alison’s family members. Act I closes with his criticism of Alison’s sexual passion. In Act II. Jimmy makes some scathing attack on Alison for her determination to go to the Church, denounces Alison’s mother in strongest terms, condemns Helena for her outlook of life.

      After condemning Alison’s mother in a rhetorical speech, next he recalls the bitter experience of his childhood, his father’s death which had taught him all about love, betrayal and death. In Act III, Jimmy ridicules the religious practices of man like the midnight invocation of the Coptic Goddess of fertility; he laments that there is no brave causes left in the world. He accuses women of bleeding man to death and also bothering men; he alleges that everybody wants to escape the pain of being alive and especially from the pain of loving. There is no link between Jimmy’s numerous speeches which relate to different persons and different topics. His speeches without the proper links is appropriate to strike the reader as the ravings of a disordered mind.

The Theatrical Effect

      The author’s intention behind the dispiritedness and discontinuity in the speeches of Jimmy seems to depict Jimmy as a confused personality. Jimmy was conceived by the author as a spokesman of the disillusioned and frustrated, post war-youth. So it was necessary for Osborne to depict Jimmy as bewildered by the situation in which he found himself. Unable to secure a suitable job despite his university degree, Jimmy feels that society has not given him his due rights and is full of resentment against the society He resented the class-distinction which were responsible for the opposition of Alison’s parents to marrying him. The bitter memory of his father’s death is also a reason for his angry temperament. It is this embittered state of mind which makes him aggressive and attack everybody and every institution. His attack on the Church, the grotesque religious practices, on politicians, on the middle class, on the press and the news papers for their irrelevant news and idle gossips, his tirades against women in general—are all prompted by his sense of grievance against the world. The disconnected tirades are used by the author to produce a special effect on the character of Jimmy.

The Ending of The Play - Its Appropriateness

      The ending of the play has faced the criticism of being unsatisfactory. Critics are of the view that the final scene where the reconciliation between the husband and wife is both improbable and implausible. But critically scrutinized it becomes clear that there is a strong psychological basis for the reconciliation. Alison had suffered greatly on account of her miscarriage. She has been chastised by the misfortune. On the other hand Jimmy too has been deserted by Helena. Helena’s decision to leave him all of a sudden shocks him beyond words. Cliff his constant companion, his partner at the sweet stall is about to leave him to start something on his own, he has already lost Mrs. Tanner, Hugh’s mother whom he holds in highest esteem. In this, forlorn state he compares himself to the old bear who follows its own breath in the dark forest, with no warm pack, no herd to comfort him. He pathetically says to Alison: “I may be a lost cause, but I thought if you loved me, it needn’t matter”. These words of Jimmy have a profound effect on Alison who herself is in a distraught state of mind. Thus the reconciliation not only seems natural but inevitable as well. The symbolism of the bears-and-squirrels game also has its share in making the reconciliation inevitable. At the crucial moment, both of them think about the game they used to play which always eased their pain.

The Dramatic Imbalance

      The play also has been criticized on account of dramatic imbalance. The charge against the structure of the play is that too much attention has been paid to the hero who has overshadowed the other character scaling down their relative importance in the play. So much importance has been paid in the portrayal of Jimmy that the other characters are reduced to passive listeners. Most of the rhetorical speeches are attributed to Jimmy, he is the principal talker which makes us feel that there is a dramatic imbalance in the play. The passivity of the supporting character thus have weakened the structure of the play. The supporting characters have been dwindled in their significance and are too feeble to support Jimmy and his anger. But the author deliberately intended to make Jimmy the center of attention of the audience and the principal interest of the play. It was the author’s deliberate attempt that the other characters were reduced to sub-ordinate characters. Jimmy was intended by the author to represent a whole generation. Hence this so-called dramatic imbalance was inevitable for the success of the play.

Symbolism In The Play

      The bears-and-squirrels game offers Jimmy and Alison a solace which they can never get in their marital life. The game symbolizes their uncomplicated love for each other. It offers to them an escape from the harsh world of reality and from the incompatibility of their marital life. Apart from this, the other symbolic devices used in the play are—the trumpet that Jimmy plays on and the ironing board. The noise of the trumpet contributes to the atmosphere of breaking nerves and Alison’s ceaseless ironing helps to aggravate monotony of existence and Jimmy’s boredom.

      The sound of the Church-bells disturbs Jimmy with a vague suggestion of the existence of a world other than the one he lives in. It makes him realize the existence of the spiritual world in which he does not believe in.


      Look Back in Anger is undoubtedly a realistic play. Its characters are convincing and the events and situations are credible. It has been alleged of lacking in dramatic conflict which is untrue. Jimmy’s dominance over other characters in the play can hardly be denied, but it would be wrong to regard the other characters as mere non-entities. In spite of their lesser stage presence the other characters are no less significant in terms of their contribution to the development of the plot. Helena is a powerful figure, a woman of guts and courage. In her confrontation with Jimmy shows her guts. Her verbal skirmish with Jimmy, her slapping him (though she eventually kisses him), her becoming Jimmy’s mistress in defiance of social norms and her subsequent decision to leave Jimmy in the event of Alison’s unexpected return—all these reveal her inner strength. Jimmy’s conflicts with both Alison and Helena are quite real which gives rise to tension and conflict in the play.

      In spite of the sharp criticism as regards its structure, the appropriateness of the ending and the play proved to be a successful one.

University Questions

“A formal, rather old-fashioned play”. Do you agree with John Osborne’s later judgment of his play?
Write a note on the plot construction of Look Back in Anger.
Look Back in Anger is a muddled play. Justify.
Point out the technical merits and demerits of the play Look Back in Anger
Look Back in Anger is a well-made play. Justify.

Previous Post Next Post