What is the social background of Osborne's drama Look Back in Anger?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is a clearly a sense of social immediacy in the setting of Look Back in Anger.

As is true of much literature, Look Back in Anger is a strong mirror of the changing times of the setting in England. Certainly, the dissatisfaction and disillusionment of many after World War II and the political feelings regarding the new Labour Party's failed efforts to build a welfare system that would improve social conditions are also reflected. After the defeat of the Labour Party in 1951 and the restoration of the Conservative Party, many English felt that there was virtually no difference between the two political parties.

Reflecting the disillusionment of many British citizens, Jimmy Porter, in one of his more significant speeches, declares that people of his generation cannot feel a sense of value in fighting because "[T]here are no good, brave causes left in the world."

Also reflected in the play is the malaise of many young adults in their thirties, labelled "angry young men," who find that the new world envisioned by them has not materialized. Jimmy Porter embodies their disillusionment, cynicism, and rejection of the "official" attitude along with their fear of a nuclear bomb. Much like Hemingway's main characters, Jimmy expresses a certain nihilism:

If the big bang does come, and we all get killed off, it won't be in aid of the old-fashioned, grand design. It'll just be for the Brave New-noting-very-much-thank-you. About as pointless and inglorious as stepping in front of a bus.

There is also a war waged with the class distinctions in the social setting of these "angry young men" as represented by Jimmy Porter. Jimmy rails against social distinctions as he criticizes his wife's upper-class family. For instance, he derogates his wife's father for living in the past and being out of touch. His brother-in-law Nigel does not escape his criticism, either. Satirically, Jimmy declares that Nigel's ignorance of life and ordinary human beings is so nebulous that he will probably become a Cabinet Minister.

kc4u | Student

Look Back in Anger by John Osborne is a play of the 50s, after World War II and the social scene was rather complex. The world was still recovering from the devastation (economic, human, psycho-moral and so on) of the two World Wars. There was economic depression, end of the imperial era, the beginning of the Cold War, England's dis-empowerment in the political landscape in the post-war context. All this gave the birth to a school of writing that came to be known as the Angry Young Man school. Apart from Osborne's play, other works in the school were Kingsly Amis's Lucky Jim and Allain Sillitoe's novela and some of Arnold Wesker's plays.

This was a kind of Left Wing writing that exposed the social evils, the greed of the power-structure and vented out its acute anger at all this. Porter's anger in the play is  directed likewise. His private anger is also a Freudian compensation for the public. His patriarchal ego being undermined in the fall of the British imperial structure, the problem of educated men being unemployed, the reign of inequality and poverty and all that provokes Porter's reactions in the play.

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Look Back in Anger

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