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The cultural backdrop to the play is the rise and fall of the British empire. The beginning of the twentieth century saw the peak of power and influence of British colonialism. By the 1950's, two World Wars, which devastated the British economy, and the rise of the United States as the new world military and political power meant that the British empire had entered a steep decline. Jimmy Porter is representative of an entire culture that remained nostalgic for this past glory. He idealizes the worthy causes of the past even while he mocks those who cannot understand why the times have changed as much as they have.
Look Back in Anger is a play that appeared in a time of crucial transition from Britain's Victorian past into the modern twentieth century. Jimmy's rage and anger is his expression of pent-up emotion and his need for life in a world that has become listless and uninteresting. That anger became a symbol of the rebellion against the political and social malaise of British culture. His anger is destructive to those around him and the psychological violence of the play received a great deal of criticism. Critics today agree, however, that the play is central to an understanding of British life in the twentieth century and, thus, a crucial piece of literature in the British canon.