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, and brought a new angry energy and previously unencountered point-of-view to the stage that startled some theatergoers. We see evidence of that new class mobility, and the new reality it created, in the play. Jimmy Porter comes from a working class background, but has been highly educated. He went to a university (though not one of Britain’s finest— his upper class wife, Alison, notes that it was “not even red brick, but white tile.”) And though Jimmy went to a university, he is still stuck running a sweet stall. He has in some ways left his background behind, but he also doesn’t feel fully comfortable and hasn’t been accepted into the upper classes. He uses big words and reads the newspaper, but he sometimes has to look those words up in a dictionary, and he says that the Sunday papers make him feel ignorant.
Alison and Jimmy’s relationship is the main place where class tension unfolds. Alison comes from an upper class background very different from Jimmy’s. Both portray the struggle between the classes in military terms, focusing on the ways that these two sectors of society fail to blend. Jimmy and his friend Hugh see her as a “hostage,” and they spend time in the early years of Alison and Jimmy’s marriage going to upper class parties to “plunder” food and drink. Though Alison and Jimmy try to make their relationship work in the end, we get the sense that it’s built on shaky ground, and that they might fall back into the cycle of anger and fighting that they enact throughout the play. Alison and Jimmy may make their relationship work for now, but the divisions between them run too deep to ever fully heal. In Look Back in Anger, truces across class boundaries are ultimately brief and inadequate.
Class and Education ThemeTracker
Class and Education Quotes in Look Back in Anger
He is a disconcerting mixture of sincerity and cheerful malice, of tenderness and freebooting cruelty; restless, importunate, full of pride, a combination which alienates the sensitive and insensitive alike. Blistering honesty, or apparent honesty, like his, makes few friends. To many he may seem sensitive to the point of vulgarity. To others, he is simply a loudmouth. To be as vehement as he is is to be almost non-committal.
Pusillanimous. Adjective. Wanting of firmness of mind, of small courage, having a little mind, mean spirited, cowardly, timid of mind. From the Latin pusillus, very little, and animus, the mind. That’s my wife! That’s her, isn’t it? Behold the Lady Pusillanimous.
Everything about him seemed to burn, his face, the edges of his hair glistened and seemed to spring off his head, and his eyes were so blue and full of sun. He looked so young and frail, in spite of the tired line of his mouth.
One day, when I’m no longer spending my days running a sweet-stall, I may write a book about us all…and it won’t be recollected in tranquility either, picking daffodils with Auntie Wordsworth. It’ll be recollected in fire, and blood. My blood.
Where I come from, we’re used to brawling and excitement. Perhaps I even enjoy being in the thick of it. I love these two people very much. And I pity all of us.