Look Back in Anger Suggested Essays
by John Osborne
Suggested Essay Questions
What themes of the play are represented by Osborne’s meticulous description of the Porter’s attic apartment?
Look Bak in Anger is considered to be a “Kitchen Sink drama.” This means that it is a play that delves into the deep meanings and psychology of ordinary British characters and their everyday working class lives. Osborne’s description of the Porter’s attic apartment is meant to express the theme of tranquil domesticity and working class life. In effect, Osborne is attempting to frame the Porter’s lives as simple and ordinary. This is contrasted, however, by JImmy’s deep anger. This theme in the play suggests that nothing is as ordinary as it might seem on the surface.
What does Jimmy and Alison’s playful game of bear and squirrel represent?
Alison describes their game of bear and squirrel as the only way the two have found to cope with the anger and viciousness that both direct towards each other. The closing lines of the play is the best representation of this: Alison has returned to show Jimmy that she has suffered greatly after losing their child to miscarriage. Both have now undergone intense suffering in their lives. They find that the real world is harsh and unforgiving and so they create a fantasy world to live in. This is also Osborne’s self-referential moment; the playwright engages in this same work of the creation of fantasy worlds. Theater, no matter how realistic, is also an escape from the real world.
Why or why not is Helena Charles the moral compass of the play?
Helena Charles is the play’s moral compass. Though her behavior might suggest otherwise, Helena’s strong sense of right and wrong allows her to make a final judgment in the play’s last act that her relationship with Jimmy is an illusion of love. Helena’s morality is contrasted with Jimmy’s moral subjectivity. Jimmy sees a moral bankruptcy in the modern world and is nostalgic for a time when previous generations were able to make firm judgments on the right and the wrong.
Though Jimmy is antagonistic towards those that reminisce for England's past, he also has a strong sense of nostalgia for previous ages. Why do you think this is the case?
In British history, the Edwardian Age is considered to be a high water mark for British culture in the twentieth century. Jimmy sees the Edwardian generation as the last generation that was able to determine and fight for worthy causes. Jimmy alludes to British colonial expansion and the bravery of British soldiers in two World Wars as examples of this. In comparison, Jimmy sees the modern world as a morally and socially bankrupt culture. British influence has waned and Britons no longer have a stake in world affairs or intellectual pursuits. Thus, he sees himself as a product of this earlier Edwardian Age. He feels trapped in the modern world.
What imagery does Osborne use to explore the ideas of modern chivalry?
Osborne uses imagery of knights, a medieval British institution of soldiers, to explore themes of modern chivalry. Alison describes Jimmy in chivalrous terms, but it is not an admiring view. The audience sees that Osborne takes a very pessimistic view of modern chivalrous action. Jimmy is described as a knight in tarnished armor who bluntly swings his weapons of hate and anger, destroying anything and anyone around him. Osborne attributes this loss of chivalry to a feminization of modern culture that steals the ideals of masculinity from the play’s male characters.
Do you believe that Osborne is misogynistic in the play?
Critics have been divided over whether Look Back in Anger is a misogynistic work of art. Those that believe that it is see Jimmy’s intense anger directed at both his wife and older women as being proof that Osborne blames the malaise of modern society on the growing place and influence of women in society. Jimmy’s extreme language, especially in his depictions of the ways in which he wishes Alison’s mother would die, seem to suggest that the play harbors and deep mistrust for women. It should be noted, however, that it is Helena that proves to be the most principled character in the play. This suggests that Osborne saw a complicated relationship between British society and women’s influence.
What is the purpose of Cliff’s character in the play?
Cliff represents two sides of the relationship between Jimmy and Alison. For Alison, Cliff provides the masculine affection and tenderness that Jimmy is incapable of providing for his wife. For Jimmy, Cliff provides masculine friendship and understanding, things that Jimmy cannot find in his relationship with his wife. Cliff’s absence at the play’s end, and Jimmy and Alison’s reversion into a fantasy world, suggest that Cliff was the character that connected Jimmy and Alison to the real world. Without him, these characters have no choice but to escape the hardships and loneliness of real life and descend into a fantasy world.
Why does Jimmy see suffering as a crucial event for living a “real” life?
Throughout the play, Jimmy is chiefly concerned with living a full and real life. This is a life of emotion and experience. He feels as though he is being kept from living such a life because of his domestic ties to Alison. He believes that she has not been born into the real world because she has not undergone the intense suffering that he has. Therefore, in Jimmy’s estimation, she cannot feel real emotion. Jimmy’s suffering first occurred when he witnessed the death of his father. Alison is born into Jimmy’s world of emotion and suffering after her miscarriage of their child. In a larger sense, Alison represents the feminine domestic life of working class England. Osborne sees this part of society as lacking in energy and emotion.
Discuss Osborne’s view of religion in the play?
In the play, Jimmy sees organized traditional Anglican religion as the antithesis of everything he believes in. The modern world, he believes, is a world of moral subjectivity. The church offers a worldview in which there is clear right and wrong, salvation and damnation, and this is a world that Jimmy simply believes no longer exists. Jimmy’s relationship to religion is more complicated, however, because he does allude to African American evangelical religion as an example of pure emotion. It is probable that Jimmy does not value the morality or spirituality of African American religion as much as he values the way in which such religious expression gives voice to real and true emotion.
As Alison prepares to leave, she tells her father that, “You’re hurt because everything is changed. Jimmy is hurt because everything is the same. And neither of you can face it.” What does Alison mean by this?
One of the play’s over-arching themes is the relationship between the past and the present. It can be said that Alison’s father, Colonel Redfern, and Jimmy represent two sides of the same coin. Both are nostalgic for a past that no longer exists and that was probably not as idealistic as either understands it to be. Jimmy sees the Colonel’s generation as both the last great generation of noble characters, but also as a failure because they did not pass on a vibrant culture full of life and meaning. The Colonel is hurt because Jimmy’s generation seems to lack objectivity and morality of a his age. In both cases, the past and present weave a complicated web of nostalgia, memory, and meaning.
Look Back in Anger Essays and Related Content
- Look Back in Anger: Major Themes
- Look Back in Anger: Questions
- Look Back in Anger: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- John Osborne: Biography
- Look Back in Anger Summary
- About Look Back in Anger
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Act I (pages 1 - 25)
- Summary and Analysis of Act I (pages 26 - 38)
- Summary and Analysis of Act II - Scene I (Pages 39 - 49)
- Summary and Analysis of Act II - Scene I (Pages 50 - 63)
- Summary and Analysis of Act II - Scene II
- Summary and Analysis of Act III - Scene I
- Summary and Analysis of Act III - Scene II
- The Kitchen Sink Drama: Perspectives and Criticism
- Related Links on Look Back in Anger
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources