Short summary - Look Back in Anger - John James Osborne

British literature summaries -

Short summary - Look Back in Anger
John James Osborne

The play takes place in the one-room apartment of Jimmy and Alison Porter in Birmingham, in one of the major cities of Central England on Sunday evening. Jimmy and his friend Cliff, who lives in a nearby apartment, are sitting in armchairs and reading newspapers. Jimmy, a young man of about twenty-five, is an annoying mixture of sincerity and mocking anger, gentleness and shameless cruelty. He is impatient, obsessive, and selfish - a combination that can alienate anyone. His bright temperament helps him almost always leave the last word for himself.

Cliff, of the same age as Jimmy, is calm and slow to apathy. On his sad face lies the seal of the natural mind - the property of self-taught. If Jimmy pushes people away from himself, then Cliff cannot but arouse sympathy or at least the outward appearance, even among cautious people. He is Jimmy's inevitable pacifier.


Alison, Jimmy's wife, is standing by the ironing board and ironing her laundry. She is about the same age as men, tall, graceful brown-haired, with thin features of a thoroughbred face. In her large and deep eyes there is some kind of undercurrent of obstinacy, which makes her reckon with.

The room is quiet. Suddenly, Jimmy throws the newspaper to the floor, begins to pester Cliff and try to get Alison rude to her father, mother and brother. Alison pretends not to react. She notices that Cliff’s new trousers are wrinkled and asks for a pat. Jimmy's attacks follow one after another. In the end, he makes a fight with Cliff, and during the fight he deliberately pushes him on the ironing board. The board topples over, Cliff and Alison fall with her. Alison screams in pain: she burned herself with an iron. Cliff makes a sign to Jimmy to leave, and he tries to calm Alison. She feels that she is at the limit and barely holding back tears.


In a conversation, she confesses to Cliff that she is pregnant, but Jimmy has not yet said this and does not want to talk, fearing that he will begin to suspect her of any machinations, because he does not want to have a child until they have neither their own apartment nor of money. Cliff is very gentle with Alison and is trying to assure her of what Jimmy needs to say about the child, everything will be settled. Then Jimmy comes back and tries to make peace with Alison, here he is called to the phone. Calls Elena, girlfriend Alison. She is an actress and has just arrived in the city with her troupe. By prior arrangement with Alison, she is going to rent a free room in their own house. Jimmy considers Elena his blood enemy, as she sets Alison against him. He bursts out again with angry words and agrees to the point that he would like to see how something suddenly shook his wife, for example, so that she had a baby, and then would suddenly die. Stunned, Alison recoils from him, throws her head back, as if for a cry; her lips are trembling.

Some time later, Elena arrives. She is the same age as Alison, dressed expensively and tastefully. When the dry and wary expression of her face softens, she becomes very attractive. A consciousness of female superiority emanates from her, so that not only men, but even women of her age, like Alison, pay a tribute of respect and admiration to her person. In Jimmy, as one would expect, she excites all dark instincts, all the evil inclinations of his nature. However, Elena is not used to defending herself from ridicule and feels the obligation to stay confident and with dignity, which forces her to be in constant tension, and this is already annoying. At Alison's request, she lingers with them after the troupe's departure for another week.

One evening, two weeks after Elena arrived, she had a serious conversation with Alison about the reasons that prompted her friend to marry Jimmy four years ago, and about her current life with him. When Alison first saw Jimmy visiting someone, she was twenty years old. She had just returned with her parents from India, where her father, a colonel, had served for several decades. Here, in England, at first everything seemed somehow unsettled. Jimmy came to visit her friends on a bicycle, his whole jacket was splattered with engine oil. Soon, despite the fact that in society men met him incredulously, and women generally tried to show contempt for such a strange creature, she began to meet him. At her house there were constant cries of horror and perplexity about this. Her mother was especially indignant, but it only accelerated everything. Already it was not so important whether he loved her or not. Jimmy, by all means, decided to marry her to challenge her environment. After the wedding, they lived with Jimmy's school friend, Hugh. In temperament and outlook on life, both were very close to each other. Alison did not have a relationship with Hugh because of his scandalous nature, and after a while it took him the head to go abroad - to China. He called with him and Jimmy, however, he refused. A terrible scandal came out. Hugh left, leaving his mother in England at the mercy of fate. Alison sometimes thinks that in the soul of Jimmy on departure, Hugh blames her, although she never talks about it. Sometimes she even wanted them both to leave and finally leave her alone. After the wedding, they lived with Jimmy's school friend, Hugh. In temperament and outlook on life, both were very close to each other. Alison did not have a relationship with Hugh because of his scandalous nature, and after a while it took him the head to go abroad - to China. He called with him and Jimmy, however, he refused. A terrible scandal came out. Hugh left, leaving his mother in England at the mercy of fate. Alison sometimes thinks that in the soul of Jimmy on departure, Hugh blames her, although she never talks about it. Sometimes she even wanted them both to leave and finally leave her alone. After the wedding, they lived with Jimmy's school friend, Hugh. In temperament and outlook on life, both were very close to each other. Alison did not have a relationship with Hugh because of his scandalous nature, and after a while it took him the head to go abroad - to China. He called with him and Jimmy, however, he refused. A terrible scandal came out. Hugh left, leaving his mother in England at the mercy of fate. Alison sometimes thinks that in the soul of Jimmy on departure, Hugh blames her, although she never talks about it. Sometimes she even wanted them both to leave and finally leave her alone. He called with him and Jimmy, however, he refused. A terrible scandal came out. Hugh left, leaving his mother in England at the mercy of fate. Alison sometimes thinks that in the soul of Jimmy on departure, Hugh blames her, although she never talks about it. Sometimes she even wanted them both to leave and finally leave her alone. He called with him and Jimmy, however, he refused. A terrible scandal came out. Hugh left, leaving his mother in England at the mercy of fate. Alison sometimes thinks that in the soul of Jimmy on departure, Hugh blames her, although she never talks about it. Sometimes she even wanted them both to leave and finally leave her alone.

Elena convinces her friend to decide what she will do next, because she will have a child, and for starters she will lead her to a church where Alison has not been since she got married.

At dinner, Jimmy, as usual, tries to bring his wife and Elena to white heat, but does not achieve much success in this. Then, wanting to show how much he had to suffer in his life and what kind of vulnerable nature he was, he began to tell how he had watched the slow death of his father, who had returned from the Spanish war, for a whole year. After that, he calls his wife Judas and the mess. Alison tosses the cup onto the floor. He finally got his way.

Elena tells her friend that she sent a telegram to her father asking him to take Alison from this house. She agrees to go to her parents. It is assumed that Elena will leave with her. The next day, while Jimmy is away, Alison, collecting all his belongings, leaves with his father who came for her. Elena remains allegedly for one more day under the pretext that she had urgent matters in Birmingham.

Soon, Jimmy arrives, to whom she informs about the departure of his wife and about her pregnancy. He pretends not to give a damn about it, insults her and achieves what he gets in the face from Elena. An expression of horror and amazement appears on his face. Elena takes her hand away from his face, suddenly kisses him and draws him to her.


A few months later, when Elena was already firmly settled in Jimmy’s room, she, like Alison before her, stroked Jimmy’s shirts on Sunday evening. She reacts to Jimmy’s attacks completely differently from Alison: either with laughter or sometimes with amazement. Out of habit friends play a fuss on the floor, during which Jimmy accidentally tears and stains Cliff with his only clean shirt. Cliff reluctantly gives it to Elena, who suggests putting her shirt in order. While she is not in the room, he tells Jimmy that he is going to move from them, because Elena, it’s difficult to care for them both. Elena gives him the shirt and Cliff goes to her room.

Soon, Alison appears at the door. She recently lost her baby and has not yet fully recovered. She talks with Elena about Jimmy, that, in her opinion, he was born at the wrong time. He is one of those who are called "prominent Victorians," and therefore is somewhat ridiculous, but she loves him. Helen admits that between her and Jimmy it's over. She cannot build her happiness on another misfortune, and then, they are too different with him. She leaves, and Alison stays with her husband. Seeing how much she has suffered, Jimmy relents. They reconcile, with sadness and with hidden tenderness make plans for the future.