This article captures the themes in Look Back In Anger and sites examples of each theme in the play. Themes in Look Back In Anger include loss of lives and childhood, gender roles, etc. John Osborne depicts the themes in the character roles and events in the play.
Themes in Look Back In Anger by John Osborne
Look Back In Anger, written in 1956 by John Osborne, explores the theme of anger, social stratification, gender roles, and lots more. The play is set in English at the time Great Britain had begun to lose her centuries of hegemonic lead of the world to emerge more powerful America.
The character of Jimmy resents the American takeover of power, which leads to the relegation of Great Britain to the bottom, and denies some life-changing opportunities for its citizens.
Loss of lives and childhood.
In Jimmy’s belief, one has to suffer to reason properly and to have true human emotion. When Alison defies his order to follow Helena to church, he begins his tirades and accuses the upper-middle-class upbringing of Alison and Helena, especially Alison, as the cause of their impassiveness. As they seem ignorant of his allusion, he resorts to telling them explicitly about the death of his father. He described how he watched him die in pain as a ten-year-old boy.
His father returned with wounds from the Spanish Civil War and died shortly thereafter. Jimmy watching his father die excruciatingly signifies how he lost his childhood. According to him, that experience alone will wipe off all the pitiable experiences of both Alison and Helena.
In Alison’s case, she thinks she lost her childhood by overgrowing her age to marry Jimmy and spent her youthful days in a marriage with cruel him.
Another loss of life could be seen when Hugh’s mother died. Jimmy mourned her resenting Alison’s refusal to accompany him to see her on her deathbed. He thinks Alison’s decision is influenced by class.
The Collapse of Britain as a world power
The play is set in the wake of the cold war and after the devastating World War Two. Although Great Britain came out of the war victorious, it lost its centuries of the world lead to the United States, specifically in the Western sphere.
Colonel Rednerf embodies the old world order and the decline of British power. The 60-year-old Rednerf feels nostalgic for his forty years of military service for Great Britain in India. He thinks that time was his best. While the world is almost utterly controlled by America, the people failed to decipher what resulted in such a regrettable occurrence.
Social stratification and education
Jimmy’s marriage with Alison was almost foiled by her parents, who see no value in the working-class Jimmy. Alison was born into the upper-middle class, so while they dated, Alison’s mother derided the relationship between Jimmy and Alison, all because Jimmy was working-class. She joined forces with Rednerf to push a wedge between the two lovebirds, making Jimmy more determined to marry Alison.
Jimmy often connects the social strata with education and believes that education is positioned to prevent working-class people like him from excelling in the upper class. Although Jimmy is well-read and graduated from the white-tile university, he thinks he didn’t attend the right university that could have given him the kind of connection he needed to succeed in life. Class determines the university one can attend and where one can work at that time in England. So Jimmy believes the establishment deprived him of the chance to attend the prestigious university that could have offered him the ground to make connections with upper-middle-class people.
Frustrated and angry at the establishment, he resorted to taunting Alison’s family, especially Nigel, Alison’s brother. Nigel is an MP in the British Parliamentary, and Jimmy thinks an indecisive person like Nigel, if not for his upper-middle-class background, wouldn’t see a way into the Parliament. Nigel attended a prestigious university in England, where he made connections that enabled him to make it into Parliament. Jimmy, here, thinks he has leadership charisma and is more intelligent than Nigel, but the establishment relegated him, Jimmy, to tending to candy stalls.
Jimmy is portrayed as the angry young man in the play right from the first act to virtually the last one. Tired of the unexpected boring world always around him, Jimmy took a swipe at everyone around, aiming to prod them into action since they lack the enthusiasm he thinks every rational human being should possess.
He repented from being disappointed at the loose writing of the Sunday Newspaper to taunting Alison’s upper-middle-class family and Cliff’s working-class background. He thinks both Alison and Cliff are lifeless for being phlegmatic. For him, he was the only rational and right-thinking fellow in the apartment. He frequently accused Alison’s upper-class upbringing as the utter cause of her impassiveness. He wishes she gives birth to a child and watches the child die to enable her to feel pain for once, and then she can understand him better.
Jimmy’s anger is fueled by the social stratification in the British system. Jimmy believes the establishment positioned the upper-middle-class the way they will continue to dominate and forever keep the working-class at the bottom. The class war unfolds in the attic apartment shared by Jimmy, Alison, and Cliff, where the seemingly frustrated Jimmy frequently insults Alison’s upper-class family for being a boon of the establishment.
Alison’s father served as a colonel for most of his life in India, and his son, Nigel, is a member of the Cabinet. So, Jimmy thinks Nigel’s upper-middle-class projects him ahead of him, a working-class Brit, so he lashes out at Alison’s family to vent his grief against the establishment.
The character of Jimmy is stuffed with anger, passiveness, and vigor, which represents the inherent nature of man in contrast to the phlegmatic character of Alison.
At the time the play was set, Britain was on track to regaining itself from the loss of the war. The war efforts desperately needed workers to replace those who had enlisted in the army, making companies resort to employing women for the first time.
After the war, women couldn’t be pushed into going back to their usual domestic work, bequeathing them the freedom to make a choice, and this could be seen in Alison’s insistence to marry Jimmy against her parents’ will.
Osborne links feminism to the upper-middle class. For example, Alison and Helena are all upper-middle-class. And relegates the male characters to the working class – that could be seen in Jimmy, Cliff, and Hugh. Also, the play presents women as a beast to men.
Can you identify other themes in the play – Looking Back in Anger? Share your ideas and other examples of the themes in Looking back in anger in the comment box below.
Written by Ikechukwu Nweke
Reviewer: Chinyere Nwosu