John Osborne
Look Back in Anger
1956
The post-war British Theatre
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Founded in 50’s London
It gave a first opportunity to
many young dramatists who
produced the kind of “noncommercial” plays.
Theatre not as an escape
from the issues of the time,
but a way of exploring and
understanding them better.
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The author (1929-1994)
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Jon Osborne was born in London of
working class parents.
His father died when he was 12.
He left school very early and worked
as a journalist.
He worked as an actor and then as a
playwright.
1955 he wrote Look Back in Anger
(26 years old).
The play was performed in 1956 and
had a great success.
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Look Back in Anger: between
Tradition and Innovation (page 1)
The dramatic structure of the play is quite
conventional and seems to follow the
traditional pattern:
Exposition (of the action);
Development (the arriving of an outsider
develops and complicates the situation);
 Resolution (the outsider leaves.
Reconciliation of the couple).
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Look Back in Anger: between
Tradition and Innovation (page 2)
There is also a reference to Elizabethan theatre
(comedy of situation): ridiculous and
incongruous situations, a heaping up of
mistakes, plots within plots, unexpected
meetings.
But the setting, the language and the themes
break with the tradition of British drama.
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The structure of the play
The action is a closed circle divided into 3 acts:
 Act 1 Exposition: Jimmy is living with Alison
(who is pregnant but hasn’t told him) and Cliff.
 Act 2 Development: Alison, influenced by her
friend Helena, leaves Jimmy.
 Act 3 Resolution: Jimmy is living with Helena
and Cliff. Alison (who has lost her child) comes
back to her husband.
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The play
The action is divided
into 2 acts:
Act 1 Scene 1: (Sunday)
Jimmy is living with Alison and a friend, Cliff. Jimmy is
drinking tea, Cliff is reading newspapers, Alison is ironing.
Alison is pregnant and when she has found the courage to tell
her husband, they are interrupted by a telephone call. It’s
Alison’s friend Helena who’s going to visit her.
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The play
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Scene 2: (Two weeks later. Another Sunday evening)
Alison is getting ready to go out with Helena. Jimmy
gets furious and begins a melodramatic and touching
monologue about his life and his father’s death.
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Scene 3: (the day after)
Colonel Redfern comes to bring his daughter home.
He complaints about the past that is gone. Alison
leaves and Helena stays.
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The play
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Act 2
Scene 1 : (Several months later – A Sunday evening)
The same scene as in act 1 but this time Helena is ironing.
The three start to sing a song and dance. The gag
introduces the final ending. Alison comes back.
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The play
Scene 2 : (A few minutes later)
 Helena feels guilty for Alison’s
miscarriage. She understands
she doesn’t love Jimmy and
leaves him.
 Jimmy’s monologue on life and
love.
 And they pity themselves for
being in a “cruel” world “full of
steel traps lying about
everywhere”. They don’t solve
their problems, but are still
searching a way of living
together.
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Language
Osborne avoided both the conventional
upper-class diction and the dystant style
of verse drama
 His language is immediate, genuine, taken
from real life full of slang and
colloquialisms.
 It reflects the characters’ social
background (working-classes characters or
upper classes characters)
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Humour (page 1)
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There is not just
linguistic humour
but also comedy of
situation: reference
to Shakespeare
Comedy of Errors.
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Humour (page 2)
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gags between the male characters who
have formed a comic duo.
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The setting
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The setting shows domestic scenes, with stress on the
banality of life (kitchen sink drama vs. fashionable
settings)
Identical settings in Act 1 and Act 3 and identical
actions except for the substitution of the female
character (a closed-circle technique).
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Time dimension
The symmetry of the play is emphasized
by the three acts set on Sunday.
 Afternoon/evening: the week and the day
is almost finished.
 The use of time reflects the dullness and
repetitivity of everyday routine.
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Characters:
Jimmy Porter the anti-hero (page 1)
Anti-hero.
A man of contradictions.
His complexities, inner
conflicts, violent speech
have become a myth for
the young generation.
 His protest is confused and
indiscriminate
 Motionless: he protests but
doesn’t do anything to
change the situation.
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Jimmy Porter the anti-hero (page 2)
Alienation and Loneliness.
 Anger for his life experience: he saw his
father dying.
 At the end he understands the meaning of
pity for another person, his wife: he’s
tender with her: “Don’t. Please dont’… I
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can’t (…) you’re a very beautiful squirrel.”
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Alison the anti-heroine (page 1)
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Upper class girl who left her privileges.
Sick and tired of the situation. “I can’t think
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Criticized by Jimmy because she doesn’t
express her feelings: “Oh, my dear wife,
what it was to feel young, really young”.
you’ve got so much to learn. If only something
… something would happen to you and wake
you out of your beauty sleep. If you could
have a child and it would die (…) she hasn’t
her own kind of passion. She has the passion
of a python. She just devours me whole every
time”.
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Alison the anti-heroine (page 2)
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Feels lonely. (to Helena) “I was on my own before”
Influenced by Helena: “You’ve got to fight him. Fight,
or get out. Otherwise he will kill you”.
“All I want is a little peace”.
Anti-heroine:“I’m a conventional girl”.
Finally she takes a decision by herself, she comes back
and cries out her pain to her husband: “I was wrong. I
was wrong! I don’t want to be a saint. I want to be a
lost cause. Don’t you understand? It’s gone! It’s gone!
That … that helpless thing inside my body. I thought it
was safe, and secure in there. Nothing could take it
from me. It was mine, my responsibility. But it’s lost.
Don’t you see! I’m in the mud at last! I’m grovelling!
I’m crawling! Oh God!”
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Cliff
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Forms a comic duo with Jimmy. Cliff
is the stooge.
Calm and apathetic: Helena “And all
the time you just sit there, and do
nothing!”. Cliff “That’s right I just sit
here”.
At the end of the play he decides to
leave and do something: have his
own family.
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Helena Charles
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Upper class like Alison but can’t share Jimmy’s world,
except for a short period. To Cliff “I don’t understand
him, you or any of it. All I know is that none of you
seems to know how to behave in a decent, civilised
way”.
Active “I had to do something, dear” vs passive Jimmy
who protests but doesn’t do anything to change
things.
She betrays her friend but she feels guilty: “Suddenly I
see what I have really known all along. That you can’t
be happy when what you’re doing is wrong or is
hurting someone else. I can’t take part in… in all this
suffering. I can’t!”
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Colonel Redfern
Together with Jimmy he represents the
contradictions of post-war England:
generation gap.
 Alison: “You’re hurt because everything is
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changed. Jimmy is hurt because
everything is the same. And neither of you
can face it. Something’s gone wrong
somewhere, hasn’t it?”
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Themes and the context
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Decline of patriarchal families
(generation gap): a new generation was
agnostic, politically committed, sexually
promiscuous)
Lack of communication between people
(war of sexes).
The class war (Social Reforms didn’t
change the discrepancy between classes:
the new generation was better educated
but with few possibilities of success).
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AYM (Angry Young Men)
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this brought a sense of alienation and
disillusionment: young people’s anger (Osborne and
his Jimmy were among the first AYM) and lack of
ideals.
Jimmy: “I suppose people of our generation aren’t
able to die for good causes any longer. There aren’t
any good, brave causes left. “
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The anti-heroes become the real
heroes of our times
Life
and Love. They all want
to escape from the pain of
being alive. And most of all,
from love (…). It’s no good
trying to fool yourself about
love. You can’t fall into it
without dirtying up your
hands. It takes muscles and
guts. And if you can’t bear
the thought of messing up
your nice, clean soul, you’d
better give up and become a
saint. It’s either this world or
the next.
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The end
A cura di Rosita Giannetti
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