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Look Back in Anger and Waiting for Godot - essay

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Adéla Paurová

Bernadette Higgins, M.A.

English Literature

1th May

Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett

Look Back in Anger

John Osborne


Discuss the theme of cruelty in Osborne's Look Back in Anger and Beckett's Waiting for Godot

Both of these dramas have been published approximately at the same time, Look Back in Anger in 1956 and Waiting for Godot in 1953. John Osborne belonged to the group called Angry Young Men and thus the anger can be seen in his work as the generation was defined by the motto: „Damn you, England!“. This generation is an important part of Jimmy’s characterization in Look Back in Anger when he complains about the injustice in society. Samuel Beckett, on the other hand, was interested in the Theatre of Absurd and is highly valued for his black comedy (Goethals 34).

Jimmy Porter is represented as the exponent of the frustrations of a particular age. Even though, he is highly educated and throughout the play he uses the big words and reads the newspaper quite often, he is still not considered as a member of a higher class. The class tension might be observed in the relationship of Jimmy and Alison when Jimmy mocks her father: “He says he denies the difference of class distinctions. "This idea has been persistently and wickedly fostered by—the working classes!" Well!”(Osborne, 4).

The differences in lower and higher classes creates tense atmosphere and Jimmy can spatter the harsh comments around. The anger, suffering and cruelty are associated with the lower class people. Jimmy is convinced that the upper class people lack the suffering and they are not able to understand the lower class people. He often talks about his losses, for example when he lost his father, and tries to force his wife to admit she does not know any suffering but eventually it is him, who has become a suffering for her and his cruelty towards Alison turns vicious (Goethals 50). “If you could have a child, and it would die...if only I could watch you face that.” (Osborne, 16).

In the end, Alison finally experiences the cruel suffering that her husband thinks she has been lacking but Jimmy will not change, even that she suffered enough. His cruelty is the answer to the social discontentment and moral injustice, however he could join a party with the same view and actually target and take down the oppressive system, as he keeps talking about the horrid situation, but he rather chooses to attack on many fronts (Goethals 64). Another expression of cruelty is the attitude of Cliff, even though he likes Alison and do not want her to be hurt, he never does anything to protect her.

“Helena: And all the time you just sit there, and do nothing!

Cliff: That’s right – I just sit here.” (Osborne, 28).

The cruelty in Waiting for Godot might not seem so transparent as in Look Back in Anger, where Jimmy behaves brutally towards everyone and especially to his wife. However, Beckett’s play is also filled with suffering and cruelness. Estragon and Vladimir are starving and bored to death, literally to death, as they mention the hanging quite often and even try it in the end. They talk about suicide nonchalantly and even pleasantly but the brutality comes from faceless „they“ when Estragon talks about beating.

“Vladimir: And they didn't beat you?

Estragon: Beat me? Certainly they beat me.

Vladimir: The same lot as usual?

Estragon: The same? I don't know.” (Beckett, 3).

Both of them fear those “they” who threaten to beat them at night and Estragon also mentions many others who have been killed. At the same time when they experience this fear, they also seek some recognition of their humanity which is connected with the anonymous “they” but even when they sit there together and talk, they are alone (Hutchings 41). The Massachusetts Review stated that this talking to avoid feeling of the hellish, tangible silence might make people think of those killing prisons, which are called concentration camps. “The play reveals the darkest shadows of our frightening age, the grossest example in our time of man's pitiful vulnerability and unexplainable cruelty.” (Berlin).


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