Gender and Sexuality in Look Back in Anger and Top Girls
John Osbourne was born on December 12, 1929 in West London to Thomas Godfrey Osborne, a commercial artist and advertising copywriter, and Nellie Beatrice Grove, a barmaid. He was their only son. He had a relatively normal childhood until his father died of tuberculosis in 1942, when Osbourne was only 12 years old. Though exact reasons were not known, John hated his mother. A fact that may have influenced his plays and especially the female characters in plays he would write later on, His education was marked by turbulence and was eventually dismissed from school. He would only have school certificate to show for his education. He left home and joined a tour group that would put on plays in different cities when he was a teenager and flourished there. He wrote his first play at age 20 and rose to a position of recognition when he wrote Look back in Anger, famously in 9 day, in 1956. He continued to thrive in the spotlight and wrote many more great plays. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of his personal life that was filled with failed marriages, friendships, and controversies later on. His marriages and ex-wives also have a big influence on the unsettling and raw domestic scenes and female characters written in his play. It is well known that the character, Alison Porter, was based on Osbourne’s first wife, Pamela Elizabeth Lane (Ratcliffe).
One of the plays in which we will examine gender and sexuality in, is Osbourne’s Look Back in Anger. Here we follow a period of time in the life of Jimmy Porter, whose character gave rise to the famous “angry young man” due to his immense displeasure at the status quo. We also are made familiar with characters that have various relationships with Jimmy, including, Alison Porter, Cliff, and Helena. The play opens to a scene that show Jimmy, his newly married wife, Alison, and his close friend, Cliff. It is a Sunday morning and the setting is blissfully domestic. We realize the irony of this “domesticity” when we are exposed to the contentiousness of Jimmy’s and Alison’s relationship. It is filled with antagonism on Jimmy’s part due to the inescapable fact that Alison come from a wealthy upper class family while Jimmy is from the working class. Jimmy frequently takes poorly of his wife and make explosive comments about her background and family to get a rise out of her. This eventually leads to Alison leaving Jimmy after encouragement from Helena, who is her friend who came to stay with the Porter’s for a few days. After, in a turn of events that audiences didn’t see coming, Helena ends up kissing Jimmy after a heated argument between the two and end up staying with him. A couple months later, a scene is shown, with Jimmy, Cliff and Helena, that is exactly the same as the first scene opened with Alison. Alison eventually come backs to Jimmy after a miscarriage of a pregnancy she had with Jimmy and Helena leaves, ashamed of her actions....