Look Back in Anger

by John Osborne

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How does Look Back in Anger protest contemporary English society?

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Look Back in Anger can be considered a play of protest against contemporary English society in that it presents the separations and conflicts between classes. The play critiques both the upper class and the working class (especially in Jimmy's unbalanced excess), as well as England's failure to appreciate and learn from its history.

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John Osborne's Look Back in Anger is a protest against an English society that is still dominated by class separation and conflict. Jimmy Porter is an extremely angry man from a working-class background. His wife, Alison, is upper-class, and Jimmy believes that she, like other upper-class people, don't know what it really means to feel or to suffer. He claims that because of his lower-class upbringing, he is more alive than Alison.

Later in the play, Alison tells her friend Helena how Jimmy and friend Hugh Tanner, also a member of the working class, would go on “raids” to parties given by her upper class friends. Alison often felt like “a hostage from those sections of society they had declared war on.” Helena is rather surprised that Alison ever married Jimmy, but Alison explains that Jimmy was determined to marry her mostly because her parents disapproved, and he wanted to spite them. Again, class conflict comes to the foreground.

Jimmy is also obsessed with England's past, which he believes was much better than contemporary society. He honors the memory of his father, who died from wounds he got during the Spanish Civil War, and he firmly believes that England has lost much of the power it ever had. It has grown weak and ineffective, mostly due to the corruption of the upper class.

Many of Jimmy's ideas are certainly a protest against English society, but the protest Osborne incorporates into the play actually runs deeper. Osborne, by presenting Jimmy's excessive anger and occasional cruelty, is also criticizing this class of angry young men who actually pride themselves on being better than others because they are part of the working class. At the same time, Osborne is likely criticizing England's growing weakness and failure to learn from and honor its past. Again though, Jimmy is excessive in his focus on the past to the exclusion of acknowledging the progress made and the good things in contemporary society, and the author seems to be pointing this out as well.

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