What is the root cause of Jimmy's anger in Look Back in Anger, psychological, nostalgic, or war against society?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jimmy's anger seems largely rooted in his war against society and the way he feels that Britain in the 1950s is inimical to working-class people. Jimmy is a bright but bitter man who has educated himself but who still feels lacking. Even at the beginning of the play, he asks his friend Cliff, "Do the Sunday papers make you feel ignorant?" Jimmy is bitter because, as a working-class person, he has not had the opportunity to be educated, and he resents his wife, Alison, as he believes that she has had an easier life as a member of the middle class. As a result of his bitterness, Jimmy is cruel and has a biting sense of humor. His targets include religious figures, such as the Bishop of Bromley, who denies that there are class differences in England, and Alison's relatively posh family.

Jimmy also says he regrets the passing of the English empire in the following excerpt:

Still, even I regret it somehow, phoney or not. If you've no world of your own, it's rather pleasant to regret the passing of someone else's. I must be getting sentimental. But I must say it's pretty dreary living in the American Age—unless you're an American of course.

However, Jimmy does not really have a sense of nostalgia, as he regards the old British upper-crust ways as "phony." He has no real desire to return to the world of yesteryear, so he is not truly nostalgic.

Jimmy is opposed to most everything and everyone. His sense of anger at society is also perhaps a sign of his mental instability and of a larger psychological issue, but he cloaks his anger in resentment about being from the working class stuck in a society that will not change.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

England had unseated Winston Churchill as Prime Minister in the wake of a Labour party victory on behalf of the working and lower classes of England's society and thereby ushered in social reforms like nationalized health care and the trumpeted end of the class system of divided privilege and opportunity. In reality, Whig factions imposed other limitations that effectively thwarted the overthrow of social control by the privileged upper classes, and the youthful generation all over England was rankling at the inability to reap the new privileges they had been promised. For example, they now had educational opportunity at newly built universities but no high status jobs were forthcoming.

Jimmy's anger is bred of the resultant social war but it is born of the personal psychological agony of watching his father die over six long months after having gone off in the grand spirit of democratic freedom to help fight in the Spanish Civil War as so many idealistic young English people did. Jimmy says that he learned at the age of ten, while watching over his father's death and keeping him company, to be angry and helpless. It is his helplessness that fires the anger into an invective against his wife and the other people he knows, and especially against the upper classes and their (at least sometimes) unearned and undeserved privilege.

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Look Back in Anger

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