OSBORNE’ S LIFE He was born in 1929 in a London suburb, of a lawer middle-class parents; He was educated in London in a boarding school where he developed apassion for acting and for writing plays, but in 1946 he left school andworked for two trade magazines; In 1948 he became an actor and shortly after an actor-manager, continuing to write his own plays especially during his periodsof unemployment; In 1956 he wrote LOOK BACK IN ANGER, which was produced at theRoyal Court Theatre in London and in 1959 the company of TonyRichardson directed the film version of the book; He also acted on TV (1969) and in several films, he worked as a theatredirector and as a film scriptwriter; During his career he has collected a lot of importants awards: for LookBack In Anger he was declared the “ Most Promising Playwright of theYear” and receved the New York Drama Critics’ Award for the Best Play of1957; He had four wives, and a daughter; He died in 1994.
LOOK BACK IN ANGER Look Back In Anger is a John Osborne’ s play of 1956, that deals with alove triangle involving an intelligent and educated but disaffected youngman of working class origin, Jimmy Porter; his impassive wife of upper-middle-class, Alison; and her haughty best friend, Helena Charles. Thenthere is Cliff, an amiable Welsh lodger who lives with Jimmy and Alison. It was a genuine drama, about real events and people; an authenticpicture of the younger generation in post-war English society; for this itbecame a kind of myth. The play is taut in construction, full of stimulating ideas, and ends in anenigma: Jimmy is overwhelmed by Alison’ s suffering and seems at lastto realize his immaturity, cruelty and excesses; Alison, having suffered somuch, may now feel a closer attachment and a deeper commitment toher difficult husband. This theatrical performance was considered a sort of watershed betweenthe old and the new in the British theatre. What it came through Look back in anger was the disordered talking andcrying of the young of the Fifties.
THE CHARACTERS JIMMY PORTER: he’ s the hero or rather the anti-hero of Look Back inAnger and became the prototype of the “angry young man” because he ishalf-way between disgusted cynism and passionate idealism. He is too feebleto make his protest against society (seem more than a clown’ s gesture), noteven able to clarify himself what is wrong with society, exept that it is full ofhumbug. He is an outsider in ribellion against the whole Establishment whichhe sees personified in his wife and her family. He protests without a definitecause to fight for. The roots of his anger lie in the past, in his father’ s deathand his mother’ s inadequate, and is corrupted by selfishness anddestructiveness, neurotic exaggerations and puerile contradictions: we aremade to feel very clearly that anger can be an indispensable virtue, but also adangerous vice; he has a Messiah complex with a tendency to destroy theworld which he cannot save, but his psycological attitudes show theconsequences of childhood trauma (his father’ s death), a sense of personalfailure, a persecution complex as well as a betrayal complex (he sees Alison’s contacts with her family and friends as a conspiracy against himself); he ismasochist and sadistic (he is cruel to Alison and offensive to Cliff and Helena;he sees love as a conquest and marriage as a revenge); he is also sexuallyimmature and impatient with good manners and vulgar. He has established alove-hate relationship with his wife since he wants to posses her, but at thesame time he is afraid of her and tries to destroy their relationship.
THE CHARACTERS She’ s Jimmy’ s victim, but sheis the strongest of the two: shehas the courage to leave herfamily, support his rudenessetc… She has married him, butdoes not accepts his ideas anddoes not give all of herself toher husband. When she ispregnant, she refuses to playon and leaves Jimmy, she onlycomes back when the child islost and she knows she cannothave another. She is Alison’ scounterpart, she is honest andbelieves in the traditionaldistinction between right andwrong; she recognizes Alisonas Jimmy’ s rightful wife, eventhough she has taken him for alover. She never pretends toaccept Jimmy’ s ideas andnever betrays him. She is ofupper-class.ALISON HELENA
THE CHARACTERS CLIFF: he is a working class uneducated man, he is a pleasantperson who shows none of the neurotic behaviour displayed byJimmy.
THE PLOT The plot is divided in three acts and it takes place in asingle, naturalistic setting. Jimmy Porter is the main character andemerges as the representative of the disappointed British youth ofthe 1950s. He is an embittered university graduate who lives in anattic flat in the Midlands and is selling sweets in a kiosk with hisfriend Cliff; he is married with a daughter of a colonel in British Armyin India, Alison, on whom he vents his violent complaints. His refusalof hipocrisy explains his desire to hurt, and his inability to showtenderness to all around him, but especially his wife. She is pregnantbut unable to tell him.In the second act she decides to leave him, influenced by her friendHelena, an actress.In the last act she returns home after the loss of the baby bymiscarriage, and there is a reconciliation with his husband, whomakes an old play: pretending to bear and squirrel.The plot can be said to be “circular” because the third act starts withthe replay of the first one.
THE “ANGRY YOUNG MEN” These “Angry Young Men” represented a revolt against their age, a rejection oftraditional values and an aspiration to something “different” because all of themhad some quarrel with the events and aspects of the times: the dissolution of the Colonial Empire in 1947/8, with the consequent loss ofpolitical prestige and military importance: even Jimmy Porter feels a nostalgia forthe days of the Empire; the end of the social revolution in 1951, with the return to power of a ChurchillCabinet; the false euphoria of the “New Elizabethan Age”; the political, military and economic decline of Great Britain; the religious, social and educational “Establishment”, and the fact that youngpeople, after tje war, were not included in the dominant class, and oftenremained “outsiders”: Jimmy has studied in a university, but is now sellingsweets in a kiosk. etc…The consequences of the general feeling of disillusionment and impotence wereoften empty rage, social irresponsibility, self-centred attitudes, the rise of theanti-heroes (a whole generation of “malcontents”), the coarsening of thelanguage, the search for honesty, an inabilty to accept the fact ofsuffering, etc…; are attitudes observable in Jimmy Porter.
THE LANGUAGE The language is the most innovative element of the play: it isspontaneous and vital, no longer influenced by middle-classconventions, crude and violent. Jimmy’ s vulgar can be understoodby everybody, so the play was addressed to a wider public; and whenhe or Cliff use vulgar or dialect expressions they always do itconsciously and for an aim. There is also a use ofcolloquialism, comic variations in spelling or pronunciation, technicalexpressions and abbreviations.
BACKGROUND Look Back in Anger was strongly autobiographical, and it is based onOsbornes unhappy marriage with Pamela Lane: while Osborneaspired towards a success’ s career in theatre, Lane had morepractical and materialistic aspiration, not taking Osbornes ambitionsseriously. It also contains much of Osbornes precedent life. Jimmystirades against the mediocrity of middle-class, personified his hatedagainst his mother Nellie Beatrice.