Angry_Young_Jimmy_Porter_and_the_Kitchen_Sink.docx

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  The Angry Young Jimmy Porter, Kitchen Sink Realism in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger   and its relevance in the twenty-first century society   By Mouli Chattaraj Abstract Jimmy Porter is a sharp, sensitive undergraduate, a victim of class disparity, spokesman of the under-thirties generation of post-war Britain. He is a bitter man with a sweet-stall, trapped in a society which has fallen from its high noon, while he, with his heightened sensibilities, intelligence and education is left to bear the burden of the crudeness of the subsequent generation. Jimmy lives with his wife Alison, whose upper class background he resents, and his friend Cliff Lewis. Jimmy slings mud at Alison relentlessly, hoping to elicit any form of reaction from her, but in vain. Cliff acts as a fulcrum between the couple’s differences, forming an affectionate relationship with Alison. Disillusioned, alone, rebellious Jimmy lashes out against the society, its evil misdeeds and an angry young man is born.  Look Back in Anger  becomes the diary of every sensitive individual, a document of his emotional contours. It is a text not only of historical interest but one that makes complexities of human relationships and communication cross-culturally contemporary.  Keywords Jimmy Porter, Osborne, alienation, kitchen sink realism, angry generation, modern society, disillusionment  The first action in the play is of Jimmy Porter slamming down a newspaper, and this singular act of aggression, disdain and rejection sets the mood for the rest of the text. This, by extension is the spirit of the time and age in which Osborne wrote  Look Back In Anger  - an age marred by the horrors of bloodshed and animalistic brutality of man against mankind. Post Second World War there was a shocking overturning in the socio-political, cultural, economic and psychological conditions in England, manifested in an entire generation of men and women who took a nosedive into no longer having solid ground under their feet. There was no more grandeur of god remaining- there was only the gutter of man. (Pearce). Modernity is characterized in terms of this consciousness of the discontinuity of time, a breakdown in communication. It is this post-structuralist world in terms of the universal psychology where there is no centre, and actions and events are understood with respect to nothingness, away from longstanding constructs which transcendentally connects man with nature and the Almighty. And this is indeed what Baudelai re seems to be saying which describing modernity as “the ephemeral, the fleeting, the contingent.”  (Baudelaire) “The Porter’s one - room flat in a large Midland town. Early evening. April.”  marks the setting of the play; but this is no longer April of the High Romantic Spring; it is the spring of T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland  , where “April is the cruelest month”. We now perform pilgrimage 1  upon the wasteland of the Self. Porter, through his name, becomes the symbol of men who have been condemned to bearing the agony of this contrast between the highlight of the magnificent past, the Edwardian Twilight and the reality of the current civilization- wheezing, broken, and  purposeless. Jimmy Porter suffers from this discord, which then reflects upon his inner psyche, demanding catharsis from the suffocation of this ‘one - room’, cramped collective (un)conscious 1   Reference to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; Pilgrims to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket.  committed by his generation. Their state of existence is reduced to “two small low windows” instead of the Victorian inheritance of a large house; a sense of claustrophobia is invoked in “still, smoke filled room” and “chilly Spring evenings, all clouds and shadows” - reflecting upon the feline character of the foggy consciousness in  Prufrock (Eliot) (ll. 1-3) “ Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky   Like a patient etherized upon a table ”   Until the 1950s, the playwrights of the British theatre such as Noel Coward, Terrence Rattigan and Somerset Maugham focused only on the middle class drawing room. The Englishman would characteristically be uptight about his emotions, never allowing himself to vent on or be disturbed by plebian socio-political events. The state of the theatre was dull and uninspiring- “apart from rev ivals and imports, there is nothing in the London theatre that dares discuss with an intelligent man for more than five minutes.”  (Tynan 148) It was then that Tennessee Williams’  A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof   ; John Osborne’s The Entertainer ;   Shelagh Delaney’s  A Taste of Honey , shed new light on the  prevailing mood of decay and displacement of the rural working class, voicing against the earlier, long cherished cultural institutions, forsaking the drawing room for the kitchen. The mouthpiece character, Jimmy Porter, for Osborne, is subsequently constructed as one who is utterly bitter and critical of the social situation. He suffers severe isolation and dislocation, a generation gap not just confined to the older Redfern, but one that has seeped into his own generation as well. The consciousness of the zenith of the Victorian and Edwardian past looms  painfully over the horizon of a post War emotionless world. This is the modern Christian Hell, already depicted in agonizing detail in Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. For Jimmy,  nostalgia then is the only means of surviving this emotional and social claustrophobia- attempting to look at life through rose tinted glass, only to realize it is a mirage in the desert of spirituality, a mere illusion. The play finds itself in a society riddled with left and right winged politics, a no- man’s -land between Tory and Labor parties. One of the fundamental distinctions of kitchen sink drama, as opposed to ‘Avant G arde ’ theatre or the ‘Theatre of the A  bsurd ’  was that it dealt with mostly left inclined ideologies, finally bringing upon the stage the anguish of modern life, following Henrik Ibsen, speaking of power politics, societal hierarchies, including the minority into the mainstream- expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo. Post war, public morality had hit rock  bottom when time had become the most valuable resource nobody dared waste. There was complete collapse of permissive spaces and lack of time, in turn, signified lack of certainty. Man as an essentially sexual being, began overriding through socially acceptable barriers; relationships contracted and shriveled into meaningless actions- “ Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels” (  Prufrock, 5). Alison and Cliff’s relationship  projects this breakdown of values, something Jimmy fails to reconcile with owing to his Puritan nature. Cliff is Jimmy’s friend while Alison is his wife, yet they share a playful bond with underlying currents of sexual tension. Jimmy cannot bear their displays of affection, yet he cannot bring himself to make any straightforward objection to their relationship. As a result he lashes out with bitter poison at them, not being able to express his disapproval directly, given the abandonment issues he had incurred since early childhood with the loss of his father and the image of his mother as a flippant, insincere character. In his essay for  Declaration , Osborne had said, “I want to make  people feel, to give them lessons in feeling. They can think afterwards.” and this sentiment has
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