Room at the Top is one of several novels and plays of the 1950’s by authors who had been born during the 1920’s. Other works from this group include the plays Look Back in Anger (1956) by John Osborne and A Taste of Honey (1958) by Shelagh Delaney and the novels Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) by Alan Sillitoe, Hurry on Down (1953) by John Wain, and Lucky Jim (1953) by Kingsley Amis. This generation of writers came to be called Angry Young Men largely because of Osborne’s play, although women were also writing. Their themes included the realistic depiction of working-class life and complaints about how little of the social structure government welfare programs had changed. Angry writers rejected both the literary formulas and what they considered to be the deadness of feeling of postwar literature, yet they did not use their writing to espouse causes, as had the authors of the 1930’s. John Braine neither espoused left-wing causes nor challenged the status quo. Osborne made Jimmy Porter, the protagonist of Look Back in Anger, scream and whine about the mediocrity of the era. Braine, in contrast, gave Joe Lampton self-awareness and made him want to find a place in the existing establishment.
Braine certainly did not write Room at the Top with a view to social criticism. He denied that it was the writer’s job to pass judgment on either individuals or on society. The writer is to say what is, not what should be. Thus, Braine believed that novels should be marked by “a vigorous realism”; in this case, he was careful to describe clearly and to fill his descriptions with brand names. Braine himself thought that what drew attention to Room at the Top was its realism, its “true feeling of living in the present, or at least in the just-past Forties.” Braine also believed that writers should write from their own experience. Certainly, one of the novel’s strengths is its clear presentation of life in the north of England.
The novel’s theme is that of the young man who rises in the world by his own...
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