Imagery and Symbolism in Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

Imagery and Symbolism in Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

Imagery and Symbolism in Look Back in Anger

Images and symbols abound in Look Back in Anger. Osborne’s use of images and symbols indicate that his main preoccupation was to write a suitable drama for the post-war young generation. The images and symbols gather both connotative and denotative meaning as the action of the play proceeds.

Animal Imagery in Look Back in Anger

Jimmy Porter’s flat is set in a large Victorian house in Midland. It indicates quite obviously Victorian decorum and the excessive modesty of English society which Jimmy so vehemently attacks. Animal images are concomitant with symbols in the play. Osborne gave varying meanings to those images in varying contexts.

Jimmy’s denunciation of some individuals like Alison, Alison’s mother and Helena is formulated in animal imagery. Mrs. Redfern, therefore, is called a “rhinoceros in labour,” “a female rhino,” “an old bitch,” and “an overfed, over privileged old bitch.” Jimmy also calls Helena a “bitch.” Jimmy thinks she is a cow” and “she seems to have becomes a sacred cow as well.” Jimmy also quite contemptuously calls Alison a “stupid bitch, that bitch.” Jimmy compares Alison to a “python.”

To suggest his helplessness, Jimmy compares himself with an “over-large rabbit.” As the python engulfs the rabbit completely, Alison ruins Jimmy utterly. When Jimmy refers to women in love in Act II, Scene 1, he sings in his lyric: “avoid that old python coil.”

Cliff uses the animal imagery to degrade Time. He calls Jimmy “a bloody pig” for his being a glutton. Cliff uses this i in different sense. For example, when he says that Jimmy is “too much a pig.” he appreciates Alison’s beauty.

Imageries of Bear, Squirrel, and Mouse

While Cliff likes to call himself a mouse in his “mourris dance,” Jimmy and Alison refer lovingly to each other as the “bear” and the “squirrel,” respectively. The stage-direction depicts it clearly that the “heavy chest of drawers” has “a large tattered, toy bear and soft, woolly squirrel.” Jimmy Cliff and Alison try to have fun in order to break the monotony of the Sunday evening. At that time, Jimmy points out that Cliff gets more like a little mouse every day.” Alison then explains that’s because he is a mouse.” Even Cliff responds by squeaking, “I’m a mouse, I’m a mouse, I’m a randy little mouse.” Cliff tells Jimmy immediately that he is a stinking old bear.” When Cliff exits to bring some cigarettes, Jimmy and Alison become involved in an exchange of affection for each other. Jimmy tells Alison, “You’re very beautiful. A beautiful, great-eyed squirrel,”

In the end of the play, Jimmy and Alison’s reunion is again dramatized with the images of the bear and squirrels. Bear presents strength and squirrel represents tenderness. Jimmy and Alison are thus presented with the two opposite characteristics. And their effort to be absorbed in this game implies the fact that they, especially Jimmy want to make a veritable heaven on the earth by escaping from the tragic realities and entering into the world of fantasy of the innocent animals.

Symbolism in Look Back in Anger

Symbol of Ironing Board

Osborne also used some symbols which are integral to the action of the play. Ironing board is of course a vital symbol of the play. It symbolizes Alison’s passivity in the making of warm human relationship and her effort to detach herself from the boredom of life. It also symbolizes the inherent hiatus between Jimmy and Alison. The work of ironing represents the domestic chores and perhaps the attempts of Alison and Helena to iron out their mental agonizes to their rather odd relationship with Jimmy Porter. At the same time the monotonous sound of the iron which even disturbs Jimmy to listen to the music of radio is a symbol of boredom.

Symbol of Jimmy’s Trumpet

Jimmy’s trumpet is similarly an organ of defiance. Jimmy is a representative of all post-war youth who is unable to face the realities and to reveal himself through mere words. He can only share his feeling with playing on the trumpet, the sound of which can exhaust all odds of life. Its sound is to Jimmy relieving and comfortable. But to Helena it is a cacophony. These different effects simply point out disharmonies in human relationships. Thus, trumpet is one of the major symbols Osborne used in the play to show not only Jimmy’s alienation from the world but also alienation of all human beings.

Symbol of Church Bell

Another significant symbol of the play is the church bells. They symbolize traditional background. Although Jimmy is very eager to defy this traditional background, Alison and Helena are always willing to go back to their traditional background. When the church bells ring Jimmy asks to stop them. It indicates that Jimmy wants to defy traditional religion. He wants to challenge the false institutionalization of Christianity. But his effort is fruitless because both Alison and Helena defy him in order to retain their traditional belief. Alison went to church with Helena. Finally, when Helena leaves Jimmy, the church bells ring again. It suggests the triumph of traditional religious values.

Symbol of Jimmy’s Old Shirt

Apart from this, the old shirt of Jimmy that Alison puts on suggests that she accepts Jimmy’s belief and ideals quite partially and the expensive skirt underneath suggests that Alison still has the upper-class sartorial longing.


Osborne’s imagery and use of symbols constitutes the realism of the play. All the images in the play are confined within the parameters of realism. The verbal imagery which consists principally of animal images befits the unconventional conversational style of Jimmy and other characters of the play. And the visual and the aural symbols which are in accordance with the conventional stage vehicles never disturb the quality of seeming to be true. Osborne like Ibsen and Chekov effectively enriched his realism by way of using imagery in tirades and dialogues and stage symbols.


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