Look Back in Anger : summary

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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.


Read the full play summary of John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger“.

Look Back in Anger (1956) is a realist play written by John Osborne (1929-1994). It focuses on the life and marital struggles of an intelligent and educated but disaffected young man of working-class origin, Jimmy Porter, and his equally competent yet impassive upper-middle-class wife Alison.


Jimmy and Alison’s Fight

“Look Back in Anger” opens in Jimmy Porter and Alison Porter’s apartment. It is set in a small town in England in the mid to late 1950s—a lack of working opportunities for the youth in a post-World War II society. Jimmy’s best friend, Cliff Lewis, stays with the married couple. Cliff Lewis is a working-class man. Jimmy and Cliff Lewis come from working-class backgrounds, but Jimmy is more educated. Together, they run a sweet shop. Jimmy’s wife Alison comes from an upper-middle family. But from the beginning of the play, it is seen that Jimmy is an angry young man, unhappy with his condition.

The first act of the play begins on a Sunday morning in April. Jimmy and Cliff Lewis are reading the Sunday paper, and Alison is ironing the clothes. Jimmy is a very hot-tempered person. He is always angry. That is why he is called “Angry Young Man“. He tells Alison and Cliff Lewis all sorts of unpleasant things. He dislikes Cliff Lewis’s working-class background and makes fun of his low intelligence. Cliff Lewis is a quiet man. He does not mind Jimmy’s words. Jimmy also pokes fun at his wife Alison’s upper-middle call background and her comfortable life before marriage. He notes that the world has now entered a gloomy American era. Jimmy has a hard time accepting this. Alison gets annoyed with Jimmy’s babbling and asks him to stop. Jimmy begins to speak more loudly and insultingly. Cliff Lewis starts a friendly tussle with Jimmy, trying to control the situation. In their scuffle, Alison is knocked over. She falls. Jimmy apologizes for the incident, but Alison kicks him out of the room.

Alison gets hurt. Cliff Lewis comforts her, and eventually, they kiss in a friendly manner. Alison tells Cliff Lewis she is pregnant (by Jimmy). But she has not told Jimmy yet. Cliff Lewis tells her to speak to Jimmy. Now, Cliff Lewis leaves the room, and Jimmy enters the room. Jimmy and Alison start playing a game. The name of this game is Bear and Squirrel. Jimmy plays a toy bear, and Alison plays a toy squirrel. It is a game of loving each other. Cliff Lewis returns and tells Alison that her best friend, Helena Charles, has called. Alison goes to talk and comes back, saying Helena is visiting them. Jimmy does not like Helena at all and becomes angry when he hears her coming. Jimmy angrily says he wants Alison to suffer and realize real human suffering. He says that if Alison’s child dies, she will understand Jimmy’s pain.


Arrival of Helena

Two weeks later, Helena comes over, and Alison talks to Helena about Jimmy and her relationship. She tells how they met and used to annoy everyone by attending parties with their friend Hugh Tanner in the earlier days. Hugh and Jimmy are not on good terms now, but Jimmy still loves Hugh’s mother. When Helena asks Alison about the relationship between Alison and Cliff Lewis, Alison says they only have a friendly relationship. Nothing more.

When Cliff Lewis and Jimmy return, Helena tells them that she and Alison are attending church. Jimmy starts talking crudeness and makes fun of Alison’s family again. Helena gets angry and argues with Jimmy. Jimmy says he watched his father die in front of his eyes when he was a child. Jimmy’s father was wounded fighting in the Spanish Civil War and returned to England and died a few days later.

A phone call comes in for Jimmy, and Jimmy walks out. Helena tells Alison that she called Alison’s father and told him to get Alison out of there. Alison agrees and says that she will leave Jimmy the next day when her father comes to pick her up. Meanwhile, Jimmy arrives and informs that Hugh’s mother is very ill and will die at any moment. Jimmy wants to visit her. He tells Alison to come with him to see Hugh’s mother and not go to the church with Helena. Alison packs her things and goes to the church with Helena. Jimmy’s heart breaks at his decision, and he dejectedly sits down on the bed.


Alison and Jimmy’s Temporary Separation

The next afternoon, Alison is packing and talking to her father, Colonel Red Fern, through a phone call. The Colonel is a calm person. He realizes that he does not understand the kind of love between Jimmy and Alison. He admits his and his wife’s behavior is mainly responsible for the separation between his child, Alison, and her husband, Jimmy. The Colonel was a British Army officer in India and had a nostalgia for bygone times. Alison knows if she leaves, Jimmy will suffer. And that is what she wants.

Alison gives a letter to Cliff Lewis to give to Jimmy, writing down why Allison is leaving. Cliff Lewis gets angry and blames Helena for the situation. Jimmy comes back and is shocked. He narrowly collided with the Colonel’s car on the road. After meeting Cliff Lewis, Jimmy does not speak to him. He then reads Alison’s letter and is furious. Helena says Alison is pregnant. Jimmy replies that it does not matter to him. This time, Jimmy insults Helena, and Helena slaps him and then passionately kisses him.


Jimmy and Helena Stay Together

The third act opens a few months later, with Jimmy and Cliff Lewis reading the Sunday paper as before and Helena ironing clothes in the corner of the room. Jimmy and Cliff Lewis are still at loggerheads, and Jimmy harshly criticizes Helena’s religious affairs. Jimmy and Cliff Lewis perform scenes from musicals and comedy shows, but Cliff Lewis says he wants to leave. Jimmy takes it easy, telling Cliff Lewis that he is his good friend and that Jimmy values him more than any other girl—the three plan to go out when Helena returns.


Alison’s Return

This time, Alison returns. Alison and Helena start talking, and Jimmy leaves the room. Jimmy begins to play the trumpet loudly from the background. Alison’s baby is dead, and she looks sick. Helena tells Alison that Alison should be angry at what she did to her. Helena is disturbed by Jimmy’s trumpet playing and asks Jimmy to come to their room. He is devastated when he comes into the room and hears that Alison’s baby has died. Helena tells Jimmy and Alison that she still has morals and should get out of there now. Meanwhile, Alison tries to convince Helena to stay.

But Helena leaves. Jimmy tries to make Alison angry again like before. But Alison tells her that Jimmy wants Alison to suffer. And she suffered a lot, both physically and mentally, after losing her child. Now, Jimmy can understand her pain. He thinks he and Alison are the same now. He begins to treat Alison softly. At the end of the play, Jimmy and Alison hug each other and start playing their old Bear and Squirrel game.