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John Osborne

Look Back in Anger


1956

The post-war British Theatre


Founded in 50s London It gave a first opportunity to many young dramatists who produced the kind of noncommercial plays. Theatre not as an escape from the issues of the time, but a way of exploring and understanding them better.

John Osborne - Look Back in Anger

The author (1929-1994)


Jon Osborne was born in London of working class parents. His father died when he was 12. He left school very early and worked as a journalist. He worked as an actor and then as a playwright. 1955 he wrote Look Back in Anger (26 years old). The play was performed in 1956 and had a great success.

John Osborne - Look Back in Anger

Look Back in Anger: between Tradition and Innovation (page 1)


The dramatic structure of the play is quite conventional and seems to follow the traditional pattern: Exposition (of the action); Development (the arriving of an outsider develops and complicates the situation); Resolution (the outsider leaves. Reconciliation of the couple).

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Look Back in Anger: between Tradition and Innovation (page 2)


There is also a reference to Elizabethan theatre (comedy of situation): ridiculous and incongruous situations, a heaping up of mistakes, plots within plots, unexpected meetings.
But the setting, the language and the themes break with the tradition of British drama.
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The structure of the play


The action is a closed circle divided into 3 acts: Act 1 Exposition: Jimmy is living with Alison (who is pregnant but hasnt told him) and Cliff. Act 2 Development: Alison, influenced by her friend Helena, leaves Jimmy. Act 3 Resolution: Jimmy is living with Helena and Cliff. Alison (who has lost her child) comes back to her husband.

John Osborne - Look Back in Anger

The play
The action is divided into 2 acts:

Act 1 Scene 1: (Sunday) Jimmy is living with Alison and a friend, Cliff. Jimmy is drinking tea, Cliff is reading newspapers, Alison is ironing. Alison is pregnant and when she has found the courage to tell her husband, they are interrupted by a telephone call. Its Alisons friend Helena whos going to visit her.

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The play

Scene 2: (Two weeks later. Another Sunday evening) Alison is getting ready to go out with Helena. Jimmy gets furious and begins a melodramatic and touching monologue about his life and his fathers death. Scene 3: (the day after) Colonel Redfern comes to bring his daughter home. He complaints about the past that is gone. Alison leaves and Helena stays.

John Osborne - Look Back in Anger

The play

Scene 1 : (Several months later A Sunday evening)

Act 2

The same scene as in act 1 but this time Helena is ironing. The three start to sing a song and dance. The gag introduces the final ending. Alison comes back.

John Osborne - Look Back in Anger

The play
Scene 2 : (A few minutes later) Helena feels guilty for Alisons miscarriage. She understands she doesnt love Jimmy and leaves him. Jimmys monologue on life and love. And they pity themselves for being in a cruel world full of steel traps lying about everywhere. They dont solve their problems, but are still searching a way of living together.
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Language
Osborne avoided both the conventional upper-class diction and the dystant style of verse drama His language is immediate, genuine, taken from real life full of slang and colloquialisms. It reflects the characters social background (working-classes characters or upper classes characters)

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Humour (page 1)

There is not just linguistic humour but also comedy of situation: reference to Shakespeare

Comedy of Errors.

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Humour (page 2)

gags between the male characters who have formed a comic duo.
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The setting

The setting shows domestic scenes, with stress on the banality of life (kitchen sink drama vs. fashionable settings) Identical settings in Act 1 and Act 3 and identical actions except for the substitution of the female character (a closed-circle technique).
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Time dimension
The symmetry of the play is emphasized by the three acts set on Sunday. Afternoon/evening: the week and the day is almost finished. The use of time reflects the dullness and repetitivity of everyday routine.

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Characters: Jimmy Porter the anti-hero (page 1)


Anti-hero. A man of contradictions. His complexities, inner conflicts, violent speech have become a myth for the young generation. His protest is confused and indiscriminate Motionless: he protests but doesnt do anything to change the situation.

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Jimmy Porter the anti-hero (page 2)


Alienation and Loneliness. Anger for his life experience: he saw his father dying. At the end he understands the meaning of pity for another person, his wife: hes tender with her: Dont. Please dont I

cant () youre a very beautiful squirrel.


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Alison the anti-heroine (page 1)


Upper class girl who left her privileges. Sick and tired of the situation. I cant think

what it was to feel young, really young.


Criticized by Jimmy because she doesnt express her feelings: Oh, my dear wife,

youve got so much to learn. If only something something would happen to you and wake you out of your beauty sleep. If you could have a child and it would die () she hasnt her own kind of passion. She has the passion of a python. She just devours me whole every time.
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Alison the anti-heroine (page 2)


Feels lonely. (to Helena) I was on my own before Influenced by Helena: Youve got to fight him. Fight,

or get out. Otherwise he will kill you. All I want is a little peace. Anti-heroine:Im a conventional girl.

Finally she takes a decision by herself, she comes back and cries out her pain to her husband: I was wrong. I

was wrong! I dont want to be a saint. I want to be a lost cause. Dont you understand? Its gone! Its gone! That that helpless thing inside my body. I thought it was safe, and secure in there. Nothing could take it from me. It was mine, my responsibility. But its lost. Dont you see! Im in the mud at last! Im grovelling! Im crawling! Oh God!
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Cliff

Forms a comic duo with Jimmy. Cliff is the stooge. Calm and apathetic: Helena And all

the time you just sit there, and do nothing!. Cliff Thats right I just sit here.
At the end of the play he decides to leave and do something: have his own family.
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Helena Charles

Upper class like Alison but cant share Jimmys world, except for a short period. To Cliff I dont understand

him, you or any of it. All I know is that none of you seems to know how to behave in a decent, civilised way. Active I had to do something, dear vs passive Jimmy

who protests but doesnt do anything to change things. She betrays her friend but she feels guilty: Suddenly I

see what I have really known all along. That you cant be happy when what youre doing is wrong or is hurting someone else. I cant take part in in all this suffering. I cant!
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Colonel Redfern
Together with Jimmy he represents the contradictions of post-war England: generation gap. Alison: Youre hurt because everything is

changed. Jimmy is hurt because everything is the same. And neither of you can face it. Somethings gone wrong somewhere, hasnt it?
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Themes and the context

Decline of patriarchal families (generation gap): a new generation was agnostic, politically committed, sexually promiscuous) Lack of communication between people (war of sexes). The class war (Social Reforms didnt change the discrepancy between classes: the new generation was better educated but with few possibilities of success).
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AYM (Angry Young Men)

All

this brought a sense of alienation and disillusionment: young peoples anger (Osborne and his Jimmy were among the first AYM) and lack of ideals. Jimmy: I suppose people of our generation arent

able to die for good causes any longer. There arent any good, brave causes left.
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The anti-heroes become the real heroes of our times


Life

to escape from the pain of being alive. And most of all, from love (). Its no good trying to fool yourself about love. You cant fall into it without dirtying up your hands. It takes muscles and guts. And if you cant bear the thought of messing up your nice, clean soul, youd better give up and become a saint. Its either this world or the next.
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and Love. They all want

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The end
A cura di Rosita Giannetti
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