On a Sunday evening in April, Jimmy Porter and Cliff Lewis, both working-class men, and Jimmy’s upper-class wife, Alison, are in the attic flat they share. Music is playing on the radio, and while Alison irons, Jimmy and Cliff read the newspapers. From time to time, Jimmy makes acid comments on what he is reading, orders the other two to minister to his needs, or points out Cliff’s defects, in particular his ignorance and his ineffectuality. Jimmy’s worst venom is reserved for his wife, who he says is as vacuous as her mother and father and, like them, incapable of thought. Cliff defends Alison, and she treats him with sisterly affection, pressing his trousers and giving him cigarettes, despite the fact that the doctor and Jimmy have forbidden him to smoke. Furious because Cliff and Alison refuse to fight with him, Jimmy contrasts their lethargy with the energy of his former mistress, Madeline, and of Webster, a gay friend of Alison. He then returns to his verbal attacks on Alison, her family, and her gender, claiming that women’s worst vice is that they are noisy. Increasingly annoyed with both Alison and Cliff, Jimmy turns off the radio, contending that with Alison ironing and Cliff turning the pages of his newspaper, it is impossible to hear the music.
Cliff finally insists that Jimmy apologize to them both, and in the resulting scuffle, the ironing board is knocked down and Alison is burned. Angry at last, she tells Jimmy to leave. He walks out of the room, and while Cliff is treating her injury, she confides in him. She is miserable, she says, and even though she is pregnant, she is seriously considering leaving Jimmy. Jimmy comes back into the room and apologizes to Alison, attempting to explain his behavior as a reaction against his feeling that he is trapped by his love for her; he also acknowledges an abiding anger because Alison has never experienced the pain that he has and cannot understand him. Alison is then called to the telephone downstairs. She returns to report that she has invited an actor friend, Helena Charles, who has just come to town, to stay with them for a few days until she finds a place to live.
Two weeks later, Helena has established herself in the household, and, as Cliff commented, the tension has mounted. It is true that by doing most of the cooking Helena is a great help to Alison; however, she makes no secret of her dislike for Jimmy. She pressures Alison to take immediate action about her situation, either by telling Jimmy about her pregnancy and demanding that he become a responsible member of society or by leaving him and returning to her parents. Jimmy makes no secret of his hatred for Helena, and after Alison announces that she is going to church with her friend, Jimmy...
(The entire section is 1119 words.)