Misogyny vs Feminism in Osborne’s ‘Look Back in Anger’

“Why don’t we have a little game? Let’s pretend that we’re human beings, and that we’re actually alive.”

John Osborne

Look Back in Anger is a realist play written by John Osborne and Published in the year 1956. Set in an economy that has been diminished by the war, it follows the story of a young couple Jimmy and Alison Porter. Being from two different social classes, Jimmy being a working- class man and Alison being an upper-class, the two have trouble navigating through the class conflict present between themselves. The play focuses largely on Jimmy’s anger against the upper-class and particularly the upper-class women.

During the time of the play’s production, The Women’s Movement had already started taking shape in Britain and hence can be read as a reaction against the growing feminist movement of the time. It is evident from the play that Jimmy hates women and has strong misogynistic views. He blames women for his lack of power and impotence even though there is no coherent logic behind that argument. His wife Alison is the main victim of his hatred. Through her, he takes out all his anger against the establishments, the upper-class, Alison’s family and all women in general. His marriage to her was in itself a statement of rebellion against the bourgeoise and he himself states that ‘he took her hostage’. His motive for the marriage was never love and it was simply his need to assert his working-class masculinity over her.

“A refined sort of butcher, a woman is.”

-John Osborne

Where Alison is an aristocrat in terms of her class status, Jimmy is an aristocrat in terms of his gender identity and the only way he can get his anger and frustration against the bourgeoise out is by sexually mastering the upper-class women. He exploits his aristocracy as a male to compensate for his lack of status in terms of class, and he translates his class hatred into a sexual hatred. Here, Femininity is associated with the upper class and masculinity to that of the lower class and this act of attributing characteristics of gender to the classes is seen throughout the play. Despite being immensely flawed himself, Jimmy’s standards for women are highly unrealistic and he needs women only for his own selfish reasons. While Alison suffers to make their relationship work, Jimmy simply complains and puts a strain on them. He contradicts himself when he lashes out against Alison for being too silent but at the same time, he complains that she is like a python that is out to devour him whole with reference to her sexual aggression. The only two women that Jimmy seems to respect are Madeline (His ex-lover) and Mrs. Tanner (A working-class woman who helped him set up his sweet shop). He holds her as an ideal working-class woman as opposed to his own and Alison’s mother who are upper-class.

Although the driving force of the story is Jimmy’s anger, both Helena and Alison have made choices of their own to leave him. Even Alison who acts like a passive pushover has had her own choices and decisions in life. It was her choice to rebel against her parents and to marry Jimmy and leave her upper-class status, it was her choice to leave him and it was also her choice to come back to him in the final scene. Even when Jimmy calls her ‘Lady Pusillanimous’, she chooses to be silent so as to not give him the satisfaction of eliciting a reaction from her. Being silent is actually her way of retaliating against his dominance. On the other hand, Helena is one of the characters who is more expressively strong and feministic. She is unfazed by his threats and slaps him which shatters his façade and brings out his vulnerability. •            Even when Alison chose to come back to Jimmy, Helena is unwilling to confirm to his demanding views on what a woman should be and boldly walks out on him because she is determined that she doesn’t want to go through pain and suffering just to be with him.

Look Back in Anger is thus riddled with undaunting and scathing misogyny and sexism. Although Osborne denied any anti-feministic overtones, we see that there’s an erasure of women I the male dominated dynamic in the play.