Chicken Soup with Barley Essay - Critical Essays

Arnold Wesker

Critical Context

Chicken Soup with Barley and the other plays of the trilogy—Roots and I’m Talking About Jerusalem—deal, directly or indirectly, with other members of the Kahn family and the analysis of prewar communist beliefs in a postwar era. The trilogy fits into the context of the resurgence of British drama in the mid-1950’s, after several decades of stylized upper-class comedy and farce. Wesker was one of the first of a continuing stream of British dramatists who placed their work in lower-class milieus, writing on specifically social issues and trying to come to terms with the enormous changes subsequent to World War II. Wesker himself states that he wrote Chicken Soup with Barley after seeing John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (pr. 1956, pb. 1957). The free expression of working-class language, tensions, and emotions, written from the inside, revitalized the British theater.

Many of these “angry young men,” as this group was often called by contemporaries, were not politically committed, even though there was often a leftward direction to their social criticism. Wesker, however, was both politically committed and active. There is a certain didactic element in his work, and an attempt at historical and social analysis. The characters in this play know what they believe and why, and also why they change. It is interesting that in the years following this play Wesker helped initiate Centre 42, an arts and...

(The entire section is 437 words.)