The England represented in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956) is one that had undergone almost unprecedented changes since the beginning of the twentieth century. The Edwardian era of the early 1900’s was one of outward expansion and outlook, epitomized by rampant imperialism, a still burgeoning industrial revolution, and changes in class and social structure. However, as Britain began, one by one, to lose its colonies its focus became more internalized, with an emphasis on home rule and nationalism.
And the England that immerged after World War II was rife for social, political, and moral change. The increase in steel and shipbuilding industries brought more money and opportunities. There was an influx of urban development as the cities swallowed up the countryside even more. There was upward movement among the classes, especially the lower classes, as more jobs poured in. The middle classes became more assertive, politically and economically. The middle and lower classes had made progress with social reforms with the Labour government. The people gained a more active role in legislation.
The government established a National Healthcare Service (free health care), free higher education, Old Age Pension, Unemployment, Supplementary Benefits, and Child Benefits; the government took care of its citizens “from cradle to grave. ” All these social services were established by the Labour Party under the name of”welfare state”, which dramatically extended social services by the state. Legislation provided insurance against unemployment, sickness, industrial injury, and old age. Supplementary grants were provided for emergencies, such as maternity care, widowhood, and burial.
The National Assistance Act provided a weekly benefit for minimum needs. The National Health Service Act (1946) provided medical care for all, regardless of ability to pay. And the Education Act of 1944 provided for more teachers and school facilities. It also expanded part-time technical training schools to nearly 300,000 workers and subsidized higher education, with 73 percent of students in universities receiving grants-in-aid. The consequence of all this was, of course, a higher overall standard of living, with a greater percentage of employment and a wider variety of opportunities for both men and women within the workplace.
And the increased power of the lower and middle classes, a spending power that came from a more fair and equitable distribution of society’s wealth, allowed for easier movement between social classes, making them less stagnant and stratified, even if they did not dissapear. Osborne represents in his play both the working and the upper class. The four main characters are clearly divided on class lines, in which sex equals status. Honest and male proletarians are set against beautiful, but repressed or immoral and upper class women. This causes a social conflict represented by the sexual battleground of Jimmyi??
s marriage to Alison, who belongs to the upper class, and his seduction of Helena. Society is characterized by Alisoni?? s apparent avoidance of commitment, which, in Jimmyi?? s opinion is the same that not having any feeling. Another important development which affected the working class was the rise in wage benefits. Individual workers salaries increased 34 percent between 1955-1960 and 130 percent from 1955 to 1969. This lead to some changes in the class structure. The basic form was unaltered, with only changes in details and attitudes.
The working class became more confident and visible. They were getting more involved with politics and government. They began taking on roles that were traditionally not ment for them. Education also became more available to the lower class. Britain remained a class-structured society after the turn of the 20th century and into the middle of the century. However, the barriers between the classes lessened due to economic improvements in Britain. Rising incomes provided the working-class more time for leisure and a greater ability to buy goods that were not essential to their survival.
Expenditures on clothing and entertainment by the working class had risen significantly since the Howard’s End era. New technological items, such as televisions and cars, were suddenly affordable by more than just the upper class elite. As the wealth of the working class grew, so did their power. They gained the political power that is associated with spending power. Jimmy Porter symbolizes the working-class man in Look Back in Anger. It was the changes that had occurred to people like him that made the upper class members’ lives so frustrating, such as Alison’s family.
They no longer had the class barriers that they were comfortable with. The upper class lost its edge over the working class when the working class earned the same power to spend. One of the things that contributed to improve the quality of life of the working class was Butler’s Education Act of 1944, created after the war, which set the age that a child left school at 15. The act also required adequate education to be given according to age, abilities, and aptitudes. The biggest achievement of this act, however, was its abolition of a required payment in order for a student to be able to attend grammar school.