Look Back in Anger

by John Osborne

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Look Back in Anger Characters

The main characters in Look Back in Anger are Jimmy Porter, Alison Porter, Cliff Lewis, and Helena Charles.

  • Jimmy Porter is a well-educated, working-class young man who runs a candy stand. He often lashes out in anger and resentment toward those around him.
  • Alison Porter is Jimmy’s wife. She comes from an upper-class family and is resigned to Jimmy’s outbursts of cruelty.
  • Cliff Lewis is Jimmy and Alison’s friend and flatmate. He and Alison share an affectionate relationship.
  • Helena Charles is Alison’s friend, who briefly has a relationship with Jimmy.

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Characters

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Jimmy Porter

Jimmy Porter is one of the main characters of Look Back in Anger. He is married to Alison Porter.

A very smart young man from a working-class background, Jimmy is well-educated but has ultimately settled into running a sweets stand to support his family. He is keenly aware of class dynamics and particularly the socioeconomic difference between his family and Alison’s. He is deeply resentful of those in power who appear oblivious to the suffering of the laboring class.

Jimmy is also incredibly volatile, and his abuse constitutes the central drama of the play. Though he is occasionally loving toward the others in his life, he is far more often deeply cruel and malicious. He is prone to complaining, often instigating small arguments and then deliberately escalating them bit by bit into long, discursive tirades. He does this for sport, agitating others to entertain himself and often treating those around him as scapegoats for what he perceives to be the world’s greater ills.

Jimmy’s preoccupations with his unresolved losses significantly impact both his happiness and his relationships with others. He uses his grief over his late father (and, later, the convalescence of Hugh’s mother) as the catalyst for his outbursts about unrelated things. This grief keeps him somewhat detached—when Alison has a miscarriage, Jimmy barely reacts. Compared to the losses he finds more tangible, an unborn child barely registers.

Though he does purport to love Alison, Jimmy also finds her easy to replace. He begins an intimate relationship with Helena the same day Alison leaves, and when Alison returns, he switches back again without much outward reflection. In the play’s final scene, it’s revealed that Jimmy thinks of himself as a “lost cause.”

Alison Porter

Alison Porter is Jimmy Porter’s wife.

Alison is portrayed as both jaded and passive, resigned to unhappiness with a graceful malaise. To what extent this may predate her relationship with Jimmy is unclear, as much of her narrative arc is predicated on her exhaustion with him after years of abuse.

As a result of this abuse, Alison has few relationships remaining from before her marriage. Her relationship with Cliff, though, is both close and unusual—they are physically intimate in a non-sexual way, often kissing and embracing as a romantic couple might.

Alison is from an upper-class background, and this is cited as a long-standing point of tension in her marriage. Her parents were so averse to her marriage that they insisted she sign away her portion of the family’s wealth before the wedding. When her father, Colonel Redfern, arrives to take her home, he reveals that he regrets the severity with which they opposed Jimmy and Alison’s nuptials, as he believes it caused the rift between Alison and her parents.

Though Jimmy is cruel to everyone in his orbit, Alison often bears the harshest cruelty. During an early scene, Jimmy accuses her of naivety and wishes a tragedy on her so that she might grow up. He cites the loss of a child as an example, not knowing that she hasn’t yet told him she’s pregnant. When she later miscarries, she is devastated. At the play’s close, her grief becomes an avenue through which she can newly relate to him.

Cliff Lewis

Cliff Lewis is Jimmy and Alison’s flatmate and friend. Along with Jimmy, he works at the sweets stand.

Cliff is good-natured and easygoing, and is very close with both of the Porters. Though he bears plenty of abuse from Jimmy himself, he also often steps in as Alison’s protector when Jimmy goes too far. Until Helena arrives, he also fills the...

(This entire section contains 777 words.)

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role of her confidant. Cliff is the first to learn of Alison’s pregnancy and encourages her to tell Jimmy.

Cliff and Alison have an unusually physically intimate relationship for platonic friends, and it startles those from outside the household.

It’s ultimately revealed that Cliff doesn’t really care for Helena, though this seems truly apparent only to Jimmy—unlike his friend, he prefers to keep his resentments to himself.

Helena Charles

Helena Charles is a friend of Alison’s who, needing lodging, arrives unexpectedly to stay at the house.

Helena is an accomplished performer, with an authoritative air about her. When she arrives at the Porter home, her influence allows Alison to recognize her unhappiness and finally leave Jimmy. Surprising everyone, herself included, Helena stays at the house and eventually begins a relationship with him.

Unlike Alison, Helena ultimately struggles to adapt passively to life with Jimmy. When Alison returns, she realizes she’s done something wrong and leaves.

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