John Osborne was born in London in 1929. Expelled from a public school at fifteen, he was mainly self-educated. Before starting a career as a playwright, he worked as a journalist and an actor. He died in 1994.
In 1950s the Angry Young Men movement, from the title of Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, had begun and he became the leading figure. Although he was regarded by some critics as a left-wing dramatist, Osborne never seriously committed himself to any political party or activity.
Look Back in Anger is about Jimmy, a university graduate who is constantly frustrated and angered by what surrounds him and his life. When it came out in 1955 the play seemed revolutionary because of its crude, violent, rough and harsh but also colloquial language, the accurate realism of the setting, the allusions to contemporary British life and its fierce criticism of the establishment; but it was received with great enthusiasm because it gave voice to the disappointment of the fifty generation, their anti-war ideas and their frustration against the older generation.
The action takes place in an anonymous Midland town in 1950s and revolves around the lives of three young people, who share a squalid one-room flat: Jimmy Porter, his wife Alison and Cliff Lewis.
Following the advice of her friend Helena, Alison leaves Jimmy and goes back to her family, without telling him she is pregnant. Jimmy and Helena have a passionate love affair.
Alison comes back a few months later: she has lost her baby.
The first act entirely focuses on Jimmy: he feels isolated because he is dissatisfied with his own life and in particular with the way he spend his Sundays (“Reading the papers, drinking team ironing”).
He feels his youth slipping away and he is unable to do anything about that.
His loneliness often gives rise to sharp irony and sarcasm: he expresses anger and contempt towards everybody and everything, showing a neurotic sensitivity, a nostalgia for a world of certainties and the refusal to surrender to a compromise with the new age of indifference. Jimmy admires the rich humanity of working-class and attacks the insensitivity and the lack of values of the upper class.
Jimmy is an intellectual man who comes from a poor social background and opts for a working-class style of life; he is rude, aggressive, irritating and dissatisfied: the targets of his dissatisfaction are his wife Alison, a young woman of upper class origin, because her apathy, her indifference and her lack of enthusiasm, but also the upper class with its romantic past and the squalor of present, that Jimmy calls the American Age.
So he represents the rebellion against the feeling of failure he embodies and middle-class values that he cannot share.
Cliff, an uneducated lower-class young man, is patient and calm and tries to protect Alison from her husband.