Look Back in Anger

This article describes about about the state of Britain after the Second World War and the changed state of the British after losing power and not being a major empire of the world.

Britain after the Second World War was no more the greatest empire on earth. She lost all her colonies one by one, and thus shorn of dignity, had to reconcile to a meagre Commonwealth. The capitalist America and the socialist Soviet Russia emerged colossally in the world politics. This fluxed circumstances surely demanded a different role from Britain, but the Conservatives under Winston Churchill refused to accept the reality. Nevertheless, the younger generation, voiced by Jimmy Porter in the play, was more realistic in approach. In 1945, they elected Clement Attlee and his Labour party to power. The new government presided over the nationalization of major British industries and the granting of independence to India, thus positively looked forward to convert the British Empire into the Commonwealth of Nations.
The English aristocracy, like the Monarchy, was so far considered quite infallible. Coming from the Oxbridge universities, the elite were above questions natural leaders of the people. In Look Back in Anger, Alison's brother Nigel belongs to this group. Nevertheless, the post-War English common challenged their authority and formed a general hatred to them. Osborne reflects this through Jimmy's harsh comments about Alison and Nigel as well as their father Colonel Redfern.
Economically, Britain also suffered. Her colonies were all gone one after another, and the British monopoly in assured foreign markets came to an end. Moreover, with Egypt nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956, most of the new markets also went beyond her reach. Britain proclaimed war against Egypt for this unilateral decision. Throughout critical of the British designs in the canal, the youth reacted sharply to this wanton attack. Situations turned only worse when the British army fell to the allied forces of Egypt and Soviet Russia.
Meanwhile, the Labour Government announced a series of Welfare State measures. A large number of educational institutions, including the Redbrick universities, were set up for the deprived. The ideological expertise of the elite thus oozed down to some of the working class like Jimmy Porter. However, they failed to find themselves a place in the existing social format. Like the protagonist, peddling candy in the streets despite being a university graduate, most of them had to earn their livings in such ways they could have easily managed even without any education. They were frustrated for being reconciled to plebian lifestyles in spite of their degrees. The solidarity they used to feel at their homes and with their friends was gone. This conflict of the educated and the uneducated, among such first generation literates, was a common feature. Naturally, this led to social tensions.
This utter hopelessness and unorganised resentment was first expressed through literature. Look Back in Anger represents the despair and anger of the post-war youth, feeling betrayed and irrevocably ruined by its elders. Fittingly, Jimmy remarks – "I suppose people of our generation aren't able to die for good causes any longer. We had all that done for us, in the thirties and the forties, when we were still kids. There aren't any good, brave causes left." In bullying Alison, Jimmy is certainly getting an easy revenge on the middle and upper middle classes he detests. He divides the Sunday papers into 'posh' and 'wet' categories. Just like his jazz music, he originates from the working people, and never wants to stick within the bound perimeters of convention. His sheer hatred becomes evident from the behaviour of Jimmy and Hugh at the parties of those middle class people. Jimmy also hates his in-laws for belonging to that middle class. He wants Alison to get herself absorbed in his way of living and thinking, and when she fails to adjust herself according to Jimmy's desire, he raves and rants at her.
Jimmy is enraged by the dull monotony and the lack of imaginative response he meets everywhere. He is haunted by the stagnant boredom of depressing Sundays when "even the book reviews seem to be the same as last week's." This monotony leads to the drowsiness Jimmy is angry about – "Old Porter talks, and everyone turns over and goes to sleep. And Mrs. Porter gets 'em all going with the first yawn." This clearly alludes to the struggle by the enthusiastic youth to awaken England from her narcosis emanating from the press, the clergy, the political parties, and also from the media. Jimmy wonders if this is hardly a life. He represents a class that often forgets its 'actually alive' human entity. All he wants is "a little ordinary human enthusiasm." Eagerly he looks for a change, but nothing happens in the utterly hopeless English life of the 1950's.
Look Back in Anger alludes to many topical things and situations. Easily we can repaint the contemporary England through references to the social system, public school education, H-Bomb, Sunday papers, Sunday cinema audiences, Conservative Members of the Parliament, the French novelist Andre Gide, the General Election and so forth. Nevertheless, they have been interpreted from Jimmy's point of view.
Repeatedly Osborne has attacked the contemporary society in his plays. In Epitaph for George Dillon, he portrays the destruction of the protagonist, an emotional and seemingly intelligent actor cum playwright, by a decadent and mercenary society. Admissible Evidence deals with a sensitive man Mill Maitland's predicament in a hopelessly complicated industrial society, his inability to accept contemporary bourgeois values, and his vain revolt against them. Maitland's failure is actually the failure of his generation, the failure of the Welfare state. George Dillon, Mill Maitland or Jimmy Porter – all of them speak more or less the same language of frustration and resentment of the post-war English youth.

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