Look Back in Anger established John Osborne as the leader and prototype of the so-called Angry Young Men, a group of British playwrights and novelists of the 1950’s who shared leftist or even anarchic political views and wrote to express their disillusionment with the status quo. Although Look Back in Anger is not as unconventional or original as it initially appeared to be—its popular and critical success must be attributed in part to the fact that it appeared after one of the dullest decades in British theater—it is nevertheless of more than merely historical importance.
Osborne’s greatest strengths are in dialogue and characterization. Except for entrances, exits, and an occasional kiss, slap, or scuffle, there is little physical action in Look Back in Anger. Instead, the real drama is found in the verbal interplay between the characters. It is also interesting that in this play, as is generally true of Osborne’s works, there is only one character with a real gift for language. Cliff and Alison, who are both at the mercy of Jimmy’s sharper wit, feel they can fight back only by refusing to respond to his insults. Helena at first exhibits some cleverness, but once Jimmy has chained her to the bed and the ironing board, she simply works at being a good audience for him.
It has been noted that the most dramatic, and indeed the most hilarious, segments of Look Back in Anger are Jimmy’s monologues. This is, of course, consistent with the fact that Look Back in Anger is essentially a one-character play—something that is also true...
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