Look Back in Anger : themes

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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.


“Look Back in Anger” is a groundbreaking realist play by John Osborne. It is often considered a seminal work in the “kitchen sink drama” genre, which emerged in post-World War II Britain and focused on the lives of working-class individuals.

Here are the dominant themes of “Look Back in Anger“.

Class Struggle

One of the most prominent themes in “Look Back in Anger” is class struggle. The play presents the stark contrast between the working-class Jimmy Porter and the upper-middle-class Alison and her family. Their marriage echoes the tension between their different social backgrounds. Jimmy feels alienated by Alison’s upper-class friends and her family’s wealth. His anger and resentment are rooted in social injustice and the barriers created by class distinctions.

Jimmy comes from a working-class background. He is an educated young man who is reduced to running a sweet stall due to the lack of job opportunities. He lives in a run-down working-class building with his wife Alison and friend Cliff Lewis. Jimmy resents the upper class because all the suffering is only for the lower, working-class people. He is the “Angry Young Man” in the play.

Love and Relationship

Jimmy and Alison’s relationship is marked by constant conflict despite their love. Jimmy’s working-class background and bitterness about society’s injustices lead to frequent clashes with Alison, who comes from a more privileged background. Their arguments are often intense and full of anger.

In the play, Alison tells her father, Colonel Redfern, that Jimmy only married her for revenge against the upper classes. The love and passion between Jimmy and Alison were partly based on the sense of class competition. As a result, Alison survives in a challenging marriage with a difficult man Jimmy.

However, Jimmy and Alison love each other from their heart, which keeps them and brings them back together. The two show affection and love to each other when they play their Bear and Squirrel game. The Bear and Squirrel game is a powerful symbol. Osborne suggests that in a society affected by class tension and lack of opportunity for the working class, love is only possible in a dehumanized state. In the final scene, Jimmy describes their game as a retreat from organized society. They will be “together in our bear’s cave, or our squirrel’s drey.”

Gender Roles and Sexuality

“Look Back in Anger” shows the changing dynamics of gender roles in post-World War II England. Jimmy’s masculine energy, anger, and resentment drive much of the action and dialogue. However, women are given agency. Female characters act in their own interests, independently of men, as both Alison and Helena leave Jimmy.

Jimmy’s character symbolizes a generation of men who felt alienated and stifled by traditional male roles. His anger and frustration stem from his perception of a world that confines him to a mundane job and offers little room for his intellectual and emotional expression.

Jimmy’s wife, Alison, is presented as a more traditional, submissive figure. Her character represents the societal expectations of women in the 1950s, where they were primarily seen as homemakers and caregivers. Helena, Alison’s friend and later Jimmy’s love interest, further complicates the gender dynamics in the play. She represents a more modern, independent woman, not conforming to the traditional female role. However, Helena is attracted by Jimmy’s masculinity. In the play, women are sketched as having a destructive power over men. Jimmy likens his wife Alison’s sexual passion to a python that eats its prey whole. At the end of the play, he says that he and Cliff will both inevitably be “butchered by women.”