Look Back in Anger

by John Osborne

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What was the "angry young men" movement, and how does Look Back in Anger exemplify it?

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The so-called "angry young men" movement grew in the wake of World War II. Young British men in the postwar world were growing restless with lingering social inequalities and injustices. Privileges the upper classes had over the working classes and the hypocrisies of middle-class morality systems frustrated them. From the working and middle classes sprung up a group of writers who explored these feelings. Among them was John Osbourne, the writer of Look Back in Anger.

Look Back in Anger is perhaps the quintessential "angry young man" work of art. Its protagonist, the sardonic and frustrated Jimmy Porter, exists in a perpetual state of rage at the world he lives in. Despite his intelligence and drive, he is trapped working at a confectionary stand due to class-based limitations. He feels that society's push for people to accept the status quo and live conventional lives prevents individuals from realizing their true potential or really experiencing life. He takes out his frustrations on his long-suffering wife Alison, who in Jimmy's eyes represents the repressed, impassive middle-class morality Jimmy openly loathes.

Despite his tirade against long-standing systems of class inequality, Jimmy romanticizes certain elements of prewar culture. Especially magnetic to him was the existence of the British Empire. He longs for a time when a man could join the army and go out into the wider world with the goal of expanding the empire. The modern world lacks that same sense of purpose, or so Jimmy feels. He says that there "aren't any good, brave causes left." Overall, the play is a snapshot of the alienation and frustration felt by postwar British youth. The movement foreshadows the even more radical youth culture to come in the 1960s.

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