John Osborne, “Look Back In Anger”

1956

Working-class Jimmy Porter lives with his wife Alison (middle-class) in a cramped flat. She confesses to friend Cliff that she’s pregnant but can’t seem to tell Jimmy. Jimmy and Cliff go out into the space of the city, but can’t gain real employment or a sense of freedom or purpose. The tensest scenes unfold in the constrained space of the flat, beginning with the fight as Alison irons and Jimmy berates her, saying he hopes she will get pregnant and lose the child. Alison’s friend, Helena Charles, comes to visit. Jimmy despises her, and as the fights escalate, Helena eventually sends for Alison’s higher-class father to come collect her. In the next Act, we see that Helena has moved in with Jimmy and is now standing at her place at the ironing board, filling the same passive role as Alison. We learn Alison has lost the baby in a cruel fulfillment of Jimmy’s wish. He leaves Helena and comes to the station to find Alison. The play ends as Jimmy and Alison play “bear and squirrel,” in a moment of truce that is nevertheless uneasy, much like the ending of A Streetcar Named Desire. In fact, the play as a whole seems like a rewriting of Williams’ play in a national project of the British postwar depression, versus the regional decay of the South lingering despite the rest of the country’s success, as in the earlier American play. Some of the parallels include issues of class (the women being arrogant and of a higher social rank in both plays), pregnancy and motherhood, abuse, domestic space, alcoholism, and depression. There is even a touch of bad vaudeville to Jimmy’s performance.

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