Jimmy Porter is an anti-hero in Look Back in Anger

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Look Back in Anger is a notable literary work by John Osborne. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of Look Back in Anger.


Can Jimmy Porter in “Look Back in Anger” be seen as an anti-hero?

Or, In what sense is Jimmy Porter an unheroic hero? Elucidate.


In John Osborne‘s (1929-1994) iconic play “Look Back in Anger,” first performed in 1956, the central character Jimmy Porter has been a subject of significant critical analysis and debate. He embodies traits of a complex and troubled individual, making him an anti-hero. 

Anti-Hero: An anti-hero is a protagonist who lacks traditional heroic attributes. He might even exhibit morally questionable behavior. After exploring “Look Back in Anger,” Jimmy Porter can be seen as an anti-hero.

Aggressive and Spiteful Nature: Jimmy’s inherent bitterness and anger towards society and its injustices set him apart from the traditional hero archetype. He openly criticizes the hypocrisy and complacency of the upper-middle class.

I hate it, I hate this country like hell. I can’t bear this country anymore, and yet I can’t leave it.

Although his resentment is understandable, given his working-class background and limited opportunities, Jimmy’s anger often leads him to behave in aggressive and spiteful ways. His aggressive and spiteful nature makes it difficult for the audience to sympathize with him fully.

Selfish Motives: A traditional hero is typically sketched as selfless and empathetic, unlike Jimmy’s selfish nature. Jimmy’s actions frequently stem from selfish motives. He projects his frustrations onto those closest to him, particularly his wife, Alison, and best friend, Cliff. Instead of being supportive and understanding, Jimmy tends to manipulate and emotionally blackmail others to fulfill his desires. 

For instance, his relentless criticism of Alison’s family and upbringing is a reflection of his insecurities. He cannot reconcile his working-class roots with Alison’s privileged background. This emotional manipulation further makes him an anti-hero.

Abusive Behaviour: Jimmy’s misogyny (strong dislike of women) and abusive behavior towards Alison vandalize any heroic traits he might possess. He regularly insults his wife to exercise control over her. His resentment towards women, in general, can be seen as an expression of his frustration with the social norms that confine him. However, such behavior cannot be justified or excused, and it highlights his status as an anti-hero.

Jimmy’s Affair with Helena: Jimmy’s affair with Helena, Alison’s friend, serves as another point that reinforces his status as an anti-hero. His affair with Helena becomes a means to hurt Alison and inflict emotional pain upon her. Rather than confronting his issues and trying to resolve the underlying problems, Jimmy seeks solace in an affair. It shows his lack of emotional maturity and responsibility.

Internal Conflicts: An anti-hero often grapples with internal conflicts. Jimmy’s constant state of turmoil and inability to find fulfillment in his relationships contribute to his anti-hero status. Despite his intelligence and potential, he remains trapped in a cycle of anger and self-pity. He is unable to break free from the chains of his past and societal limitations.

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.

In conclusion, Jimmy Porter in “Look Back in Anger” can indeed be seen as an anti-hero due to his bitterness, selfishness, misogyny, and inability to find inner peace. While he possesses some qualities of a hero, his deeply flawed nature and morally questionable actions firmly place him in the realm of an anti-hero. Despite the flaws, Jimmy’s character is often associated with the term “Angry Young Men,” as a powerful critique of post-war society.