John Osborne

Start Free Trial

Student Question

How does the play Look Back in Anger portray the "angry young man" image?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The term "Angry Young Man" was coined in reference to John Osborne, the author of the 1956 play Look Back in Anger. The play was rejected by every agent and theatre in London before Osborne sent it to the newly formed English Stage Company at Royal Court Theatre. English Stage Company had been formed precisely to give a platform to young contemporary playwrights with innovative plays who were unlikely to gain acceptance at London's commercial theatrical center, the West End (synonymous with New York's Broadway).

When Osborne's play first opened, the reception was negative. Audience members generally responded very badly to Jimmy's volatile character, though some individuals recognized in the emotional play the truthful rendition of the condition of young men in post-world war England. The BBC changed the fate of Look Back in Anger when it ran an excerpt of the play. Attendance soared, and the play came to be advertised by describing John Osborne as the "Angry Young Man," thus equating him with Jimmy and with the predicament facing young men in the 1950s.

The term was then reversed to describe such young men in England who identified with Jimmy and suffered his experience in one way or another. They, like Jimmy, had to find a way to reconcile individuality and humanity with irrational pain and suffering, always an inescapable reality as England rebuilt itself from the rubble of war.

These young men had to find a way to make a place for themselves in a world where the hierarchy of class distinctions was coming to a close--though not without a no-holds barred fight from the upper classes. They had to find a way to make a place for themselves in a world where the upper classes went out kicking by placing price controls on goods to prevent upward economic mobility. They had to find their way in a world where the Victorian and Post-World War II role of repression and subordination of women seem to create an unbridgeable gulf between men and women as with Jimmy and Alison.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial