Look Back in Anger

Suffering and Anger vs. Complacency Theme Analysis

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.
Suffering and Anger vs. Complacency Theme Icon

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 his identity. At a climactic moment in the play, Alison says of Jimmy, “don’t try and take his suffering away from him—he’d be lost without it.”

In the end, Alison finally experiences the suffering that Jimmy thinks she has been lacking: she loses their child to a miscarriage. This, she believes, forces her to experience the fire of emotion that Jimmy had always wished she had. But the play leaves us unsure whether their suffering will actually lead to any redemptive knowledge. The circular structure of the play—the beginning of the first and third acts mirror each other—undermines the sense that Jimmy’s life is really as dynamic as he suggests that it is. He seems to be stuck in a routine. Osborne’s voice in the play, seen in his stage directions, also tells us that Jimmy’s fiery energy can be self-defeating. In his first stage direction describing Jimmy, Osborne writes, “to be as vehement as he is is to be almost non-committal.” When Alison finally breaks down and tells him that she wants to be “corrupt and futile,” Jimmy can only “watch her helplessly.” The play ultimately suggests that Jimmy’s anger is an expression of his social discontentment and suffering, but not an answer to his problems. He doesn’t channel it in any political direction, joining a party or holding meetings or organizing his similarly angry friends, or even conceive of any way that it can be channeled. Though it springs from a moral fervor, it dissolves into a diffuse attack on many fronts, rather than pointedly targeting and taking down any oppressive systems.

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Suffering and Anger vs. Complacency ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Suffering and Anger vs. Complacency appears in each scene of Look Back in Anger. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Suffering and Anger vs. Complacency Quotes in Look Back in Anger

Below you will find the important quotes in Look Back in Anger related to the theme of Suffering and Anger vs. Complacency.
Act 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 9-10
Explanation and Analysis:

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Oh heavens, how I long for a little ordinary human enthusiasm. Just enthusiasm—that’s all. I want to hear a warm, thrilling voice cry out Hallelujah! Hallelujah! I’m alive! I’ve an idea. Why don’t we have a little game? Let’s pretend that we’re human beings, and that we’re actually alive.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter, Cliff Lewis
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

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I don’t think I’d have the courage to live on my own again—in spite of everything. I’m pretty rough, and pretty ordinary really, and I’d seem worse on my own. And you get fond of people too, worse luck.

Related Characters: Cliff Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

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Alison: He actually taunted me about my virginity. He was quite angry about it, as if I had deceived him in some strange way. He seemed to think an untouched woman would defile him.
Cliff: I’ve never heard you talking like this about him. He’d be quite pleased.

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Cliff Lewis (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

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There’s hardly a moment when I’m not—watching and wanting you. I’ve got to hit out somehow. Nearly four years of being in the same room with you, night and day, and I still can’t stop my sweat breaking out when I see you doing—something as ordinary as leaning over an ironing board. Trouble is—Trouble is you get used to people.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

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If you could have a child, and it would die. Let it grow, let a recognisable human face emerge from that little mass of indiarubber and wrinkles. Please—if only I could watch you face that. I wonder if you might even become a recognisable human being yourself.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

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She’ll go on sleeping and devouring until there’s nothing left of me.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

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We could become little furry creatures with little furry brains. Full of dumb, uncomplicated affection for each other…And now, even they are dead, poor little silly animals. They were all love, and no brains.

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Related Symbols: Bear and Squirrel
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter, Cliff Lewis, Helena Charles
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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Oh, don’t try and take his suffering away from him. He’d be lost without it.

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

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Anyone who’s never watched somebody die is suffering from a pretty bad case of virginity.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Helena Charles
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

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I rage, and shout my head off, and everyone thinks “poor chap!” or “what an objectionable young man!” But that girl there can twist your arm off with her silence.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Cliff Lewis (speaker), Jimmy Porter, Alison Porter
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

I think you may take after me a little, my dear. You like to sit on the fence because it’s comfortable and more peaceful.

Related Characters: Colonel Redfern (speaker), Alison Porter
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

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I always believed that people married each other because they were in love. That always seemed a good enough reason to me. But apparently, that’s too simple for young people nowadays. They have to talk about challenges and revenge. I just can’t believe that love between men and women is really like that.

Related Characters: Colonel Redfern (speaker), Jimmy Porter, Alison Porter
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

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You’re hurt because everything is changed. Jimmy is hurt because everything is the same. And neither of you can face it. Something’s gone wrong somewhere, hasn’t it?

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter, Colonel Redfern
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

I suppose people of our generation aren’t able to die for good causes any longer. We had all that done for us, in the thirties and the forties, when we were still kids. There aren’t any good, brave causes left.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker), Cliff Lewis
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

The heaviest, strongest creatures in this world seem to be the loneliest.

Related Characters: Jimmy Porter (speaker)
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

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I don’t want to be neutral, I don’t want to be a saint. I want to be a lost cause. I want to be corrupt and futile!

Related Characters: Alison Porter (speaker), Jimmy Porter
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.