The play is criticised as being a vehicle for Jimmy Porter with other characters peripheral and superfluous. Do you agree?

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Clair Peach

English Literature

The play is criticised as being a vehicle for Jimmy Porter with other characters peripheral and superfluous. Do you agree?

The play 'Look Back In Anger' was published in 1956 and staged to great acclaim. The play focuses on the story of one unusual household, the household of Jimmy Porter, his wife Alison and their housemate Cliff. Further characters are Helena, the friend who comes to stay with them, Alison's father and mother, and Jimmy's friend Mrs Tanner. The characters of Mrs Tanner and Alison's mother do not have any lines or personal presence, yet are developed sufficiently enough to give them a pivotal role in the dynamics of the play.

The question asks whether the play is a vehicle for Jimmy, with the other characters being peripheral and superfluous. My response is that far from being so, Jimmy is defined by the other characters, just as any rebel is defined by that which is revolting against. Without Alison, Cliff and Helena, Jimmy and the play simply would cease to exist: the angry young man would have nothing to be angry about. In fact, Jimmy is a parasite on the other characters, and gets all his identity and meaning from them alone.

The plot of the play depicts how each of these factors moves into his life and finds a role, but is found to be unsatisfying and unchallenging and discarded for the next phase.

The play focuses on three days in their lives. The Sunday evening of the first act is where Jimmy's angst and the general history and dynamics of the family unit are revealed. In the second act we watch as the status quo crumbles, unhinged by the influences of Helena. In this act, Alison leaves Jimmy and the marriage, and is replaced in the marital bed by her friend Helena. The third act has the purpose of a resolution, returning a now changed Alison to the unit, and witnessing the departure of both Helena and Cliff.

There are many interpretations of the play, but the one I will focus on in order to answer the question in the title focuses on the play attempting to define the angst of the angry young man. Jimmy represents young males, and each character in his household represents one of the characteristics he is rebelling against. In order to understand this, we will look at each character in turn in an attempt to understand their personal dynamics, and establish whether they are superfluous or in fact essential components of the play.

The main character, Jimmy, is extremely complex. He is classically the 'angry young man' of the 1950's, as characterized in film by actors such as Marlon Brando and James Dean. The angry young man phenomenon defined the angst of an era in which young men felt trapped between the dutiful, rigorously defined role models of the Edwardian and war eras, and the reality of a world becoming increasingly modern; the old conventions of marriage began to be challenged as divorce became more acceptable, women became more educated and achieving, and religion began to be superfluous in the lives of many. The bright new world promised during war time became a reality of rationing, temporary housing and disillusionment. American McCarthyism filtered to the UK, restricting the expression of such disillusionment through political means- in the Eighties, another time of unrest as capitalism became a dominant force, political dissatisfaction could be expressed through membership of left wing organisations. Instead, young men began to rebel simply against society- dropping out and leading deliberately pointless lives, affected so deeply by a society in which nothing improved with sacrifice, and in which they personally could effect no change.
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However, although Jimmy is complex, he is also easily categorized, something that is not necessarily true of all the other characters in the play.

Alison is another significant character in this play, and far less simple to define. She occupies the place of wife and certainly seems to fulfil the obligations attached to such a role; as the play opens she is seen ironing, and at the start of Act 2, she is preparing dinner for her 'family'. She is also pregnant, at a time when contraception was limited and marriage and providing children, as opposed to ...

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