Class Consciousness And Conjugal Relations In John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger (1957)

3238 words - 13 pages

It is generally suggested that Britain is essentially a class-conscious society where the upper classes are considerably preoccupied with the view of social position, the language and manners. It is sensitivity of people to gradations of prestige, the ritual and etiquette of inter-personal relationships within and across the lines that divide the population in form of social hierarchy. British literature throughout the Victorian period in particular and the twentieth century in general is a reflection of this manifestation of British society. The class-consciousness or social hierarchy has continued to plague the British society through the turbulent years and is still a phenomenon to reckon with. Alan Carter aptly observes, “In Britain they have inherited a society riddled from top to bottom with class barriers and petty snobberies, an establishment still powerfully entrenched, and a royal family still regarded as a British status symbol long after the rest of the world had got rid of even laughing at our pretensions”( 20). In the Post-War Britain, the successive governments initiated a horde of social measures to create a just and egalitarian society, but class continued to be principal feature of the British society. John Osborne responded to this social malaise and dramatized it faithfully and artistically in his plays. He neither condemns the upper class nor glorifies the working class, but places both the classes in a critical perspective, highlighting their virtues and weaknesses.

In Look Back in Anger, Osborne dramatizes how acute class consciousness makes roads into the conjugal relationships between the spouses from the diametrically different social strata of British society. Jimmy Porter, a graduate from the working class, and Alison Redfern, a well-bred and educated girl from the upper class, get married, anticipating the chances of realization of their respective needs in each other. It is assumed that the marriage is a part of Jimmy’s attempt to climb up the ladder of social hierarchy. On the other hand, Alison perceives the potent prospects of a true companionship in Jimmy, as she feels lonely and alienated in her own family where the brother is “busy getting himself into parliament,” (LBA 143) and the father is “remote and rather irritable” (LBA 45). The love between Jimmy and Alison is understood to be a version of the Medieval Romance in which Jimmy plays the role of “a knight in shining armour” (LBA 45) to unshackle his woman love from “the confinement of eight bed-roomed castle” (LBA 51). They get married in a hurry despite strong opposition from Alison’s the parents.

The marriage creates a storm in the social circle of Alison. Acutely conscious of their social supremacy, the upper class people do just about “everything they could think of to stop” (LBA 45) the marriage, considering it as an act of molestation on the modesty of their class superiority. Jimmy laments, “There is no limit to what the middle-aged Mummy well do...

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