What is the plot of "Look Back in Anger"?
Osborne's Look Back in Anger, a play in three acts, is largely modelled on the Scribean "well-made play". Set in the small attic apartment in the Midlands, the entire action takes place in the restricted drawing-room space of the said apartment.
Jimmy Porter, the angry young Osborne protagonist, is introduced with his wife Alison at the "the ironing board" and his friend Cliff, both Jimmy and Cliff reading the Sunday newspapers. Jimmy is loud, rude and verbally abusive to his wife, Alison. Alison comes from an upper class family that Jimmy abhors and he berates Alison for being too reserved and unfeeling. Jimmy is a university graduate, but works with Cliff, operating a candy stall. The opening situation introduces us to the three main characters and refers to many others who are absentee characters : Alison's parents, her brother Nigel, Jimmy's former girl-friend Madeline, his former friend Hugh and Hugh's mom. Jimmy's aggression towards Alison who belongs to the upper class reaches a flashpoint When Jimmy pushes Alison while she is at the ironing board, and she is burned. Alison confides to Cliff that she is pregnant. She is frightened of Jimmy's reaction to this news, and has not told him. Alison receives a phone-call to know that her actress friend, Helena Charles, is coming to stay at the flat. This typical device to indicate the entry of a new character through a phone-call is quite common in "well-made" plays. In his anger, he curses Alison for her cool demeanor, and wishes that she would have a child and that the child would die so that she could suffer and break her cool demeanor.This serves as a significant pointer in the development of the plot for Alison really suffers a miscarriage to return to her husband in the end to mark the circumambulation of the plot.
Helena arrives, and when Helena has had enough of Jimmy's bitterness toward Alison, she convinces Alison that she should allow her to call Alison's father to take her to the family home. Jimmy receives a phone-call to know that his patroness, Hugh's mom, has had a stroke. Jimmy begs Alison to come with him to see her but Alison goes with Helena to church. Jimmy visits Hugh's mom in the hospital and she dies. Again this is a death of a person he loves just as he, in his boyhood had seen the slow death of his father injured in the Spanish Civil War. Alison's father arrives and leaves with Alison. Helena stays back to initiate a new phase of relationship which contrasts with the Jimmy-Alison relationship .
Several months have passed, and it is another Sunday evening. Helena has stayed back, and Jimmy and Cliff are up to their usual discussion of the Sunday papers. Helena, wearing Jimmy's red shirt and standing by the same ironing board shows a parallelism typical of the plot of a "well-made play". Cliff who has so long served as a buffer between the two opponents, Jimmy and Alison, is now redundant. Cliff leaves Jimmy.
The plot of Osborne's play comes to a rather trite end with the sudden return of Alison some months after her most tragic experience of miscarriage. Helena immediately withdraws leaving Jimmy for his wife, and Jimmy too takes Alison in his embrace to go back to the fantasy world of the bear and the squirrel.
The plot of Osborne's play thus shows the regular "well-made" structure having complications with parallelisms/contrasts, and a circumambulatory finish to satisfy the expectations of the spectators.