Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

When John Osborne’s Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger (1956) was graduated from a Redbrick university in the bleak midlands of England, he had no outlet for his energy and intellect except as operator of a sweets stall and as angry tormentor of his wife and of a good friend who lived with them. His articulate but raw anger gave a name to the British antihero of the 1950’s. From the same background, Howard Kirk, nearly a generation later, is no longer the angry young man but an aggressively intolerant academic bully who manipulates the societal changes of the 1960’s to his personal and professional advantage. Determined to make the historical process work for him, he transforms the anger of an earlier generation into cunning manipulation. Self-consciously, he and Barbara deconstruct traditional social and academic patterns.

The larger theme of the novel involves the additional tier to the English higher education system that universities such as Watermouth represent. Bradbury devotes pages to descriptions of the modernist architecture, determined by one Millington Harsent, radical educationalist, former political scientist and vice chancellor. Harsent suffers from an “Edifice Complex,” especially the style of the futurist architect Jop Kaakinen. The social science building is a high glass tower, and its rooms are “stark, simple, repetitious, each one an exemplary instance of the others.” Their standard furniture includes “one...

(The entire section is 434 words.)