Look Back in Anger

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Themes and Colors
Class and Education Theme Icon
Suffering and Anger vs. Complacency Theme Icon
Disillusionment and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Love and Innocence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Look Back in Anger, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Look Back in Anger was published in the post World War II period in England, in 1956. In 1944, The British Mass Education Act had made secondary education free for everyone in the country. This meant that whole new swaths of British society were now equipped to write about their lives. John Osborne was one of these. His play broke into a world of British theater that had previously been a polite, upper class environment…

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Suffering and anger are highly associated with lower class-ness in the play, and complacency with upper class-ness. Jimmy believes that lower class people, who have suffered as he has, have an insight on the world that upper class people lack. He berates Alison for lacking “enthusiasm” and “curiosity.” He suggests that her complacency makes her less human, less connected to life than he is. He sees this suffering and anger as an important part of…

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Look Back in Anger is the archetypical play of the “angry young men” movement in British theater, which was marked by working class authors writing plays about their disillusionment with British society. In Osborne’s play, we see this in Jimmy’s sense of political emptiness. Jimmy complains that, in the Britain of the 1950s, “there aren’t any good, brave causes left.” Helena observes that he was born in the wrong time—“he thinks he’s still in…

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During World War II, many British women had stepped into new roles in the labor force. After the war ended, most were expected to move back into their traditional roles in the household, but many still held jobs outside the home. The play takes a conflicted view of gender that parallels these shifting dynamics. On the one hand, Jimmy’s angry, destructive, and typically masculine energy drives much of the action and dialogue. On the…

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Jimmy believes that love is pain. He scorns Cliff and Alison’s love for each other, which is a gentle sort of fondness that doesn’t correspond to his own brand of passionate, angry feeling. When Helena decides, suddenly, to leave him at the end of the play, Jimmy reacts with scorn and derision. Love, he says, takes strength and guts. It’s not soft and gentle. To some extent, Jimmy’s definition of love has to do…

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