How can the central character, Jimmy Porter, be defined in Look Back in Anger, and is he the narrator?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Look Back in Anger is the first play by playwright John Osborne, which means, of course, that as a play (also called drama) there is no narrator. Therefore the characters' dialogue in combination with the set and costuming and action tell and show all that the narrator in a narrative story (novel or short story) would tell. Jimmy Porter is the central character and is defined by where he is, how he looks, what his actions are (like ripping the newspaper from Cliff's hands), what he says (like demanding another pot of tea be made for him and all his insults).

The play opens in a room where three people, Jimmy, Cliff, and Alison, are passing the time. Jimmy and Cliff are reading newspapers. Alison is ironing. Jimmy is hidden by the newspaper he is reading, as is Cliff. Alison is the picture of impoverished, tarnished, past elegance and wealth. Jimmy's first action is to throw his paper down to reveal a thin man in a worn tweed jacket and flannel slacks, indicating financial limitations.

Jimmy's first words in the play reveal his discontent in life:

"Why do I do this every Sunday? Even the book reviews are the same as last week's. Different books--same reviews."

He goes on to insult first Cliff and then Alison, saying Cliff is ignorant and stupid and that Alison hasn't had a thought in years. Oddly, both cliff and Alison humor his ill-treatment of them.

Playwright John Osborne describes Jimmy in the directorial notes preceding the play as "a disconcerting mixture" of many antithetical qualities, few of them pleasant: "of sincerity and ... malice, of tenderness and ... cruelty," and restless, importunate (persistent) pride that is alienating and "blistering."