The group was mainly composed of men from the working and lower middle-classes. The name “angry young men” originated from the Royal Court Theatre’s press released that was used to promote Look Back in Anger, a play first performed in 1956. The writers who were associated with this movement were considered to be disillusioned with society and willing to step outside social norms to critique it.
Explore Angry Young Men
What was the Angry Young Men Movement?
The Angry Young Men term was applied to writers from 1950s Britain who were annoyed by the hypocrisy they sensed in middle and upper-class society. Their political views varied because the term was applied loosely and with little definition. The movement was not united in any way shape or form. Those who were labeled as part of the Angry Young Men group often attacked one another’s work and criticized their peers. The Royal Shakespeare Company became a meeting place for the group during the 50s and 60s.
Important Members of the Angry Young Men Movement
Some of the most notable members of the movement were:
- John Osborne
- Kingsley Amis
- Colin Wilson
- Bill Hopkns
- Harold Pinter
- Alan Sillitoe
- Arnold Wesker
Examples of Writing from the Angry Young Men
“Look Back in Anger” by John Osborne
This play, written by John Osborne, is the quintessential work of the Angry Young Men movement. It focuses on the life and struggles of a young man, Jimmy Porter, from a working-class background. His upper-middle-class wife, Alison, was inspired by Osborne’s own failing marriage. The play received favorable reviews when it was released and became a commercial success. It turned Osborne into a well-known writer, and he won an Evening Standard Drama Award for his efforts. The main theme of this play is disillusionment. The writer, a part of the Angry Young Men movement, was put off by post-World War II British society. He also deals with themes of class, education, nostalgia, and anger.
As the play opens, Jimmy admits to believing that anyone who hasn’t suffered hasn’t truly lived. Therefore, he’s more alive than his wife and her friends are. The social gap between the two is wide, and they struggle with it throughout the play. Here are a few lines:
You see I learnt at an early age what it was to be angry – angry and helpless. And I can never forget it. I knew more about – love… betrayal… and death, when I was ten years old than you will probably ever know in your life.
Wasted by Kingsley Amis
‘Wasted’ by Kingsley Amis is a moving poem that explores a simple scene of suffering among a family. The poet uses direct language and clear imagery to paint a picture of what the lower classes suffered on a cold winter evening. The first stanza starts with:
That cold winter evening
The fire would not draw,
And the whole family hung
Over the dismal grate
Where rain-soaked logs
Bubbled, hissed and steamed.
He uses words like “cold,” “rain-soaked,” and “dismal” to describe the setting. The beds the children go to are “chilly.” The final stanza suggests that things have changed, but the memory has remained.
“The Birthday Party” by Harold Pinter
“The Birthday Party” is Harold Pinter’s best-known play. It was published in 1959 and takes place in a rundown boardinghouse along the seaside. Two strangers arrive and confusion and fear take hold. The story follows Stanley Webber who lives in the boardinghouse and the strangers come looking for him. What starts as a birthday party becomes something else entirely. Here is a quote from the play:
You’re dead. You can’t live, you can’t think, you can’t love. You’re dead. You’re a plague gone bad. There’s no juice in you. You’re nothing but an odor.
Goldberg, one of the visitors, uses these lines when speaking to Stanley. It is a strange and troubling quote that suggests that too many of the characters in the play, in addition to members of British society, choose comfort even when it’s depressing. Hiding away from the darkness doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Why was the Angry Young Men Movement Important?
The movement was important because it expressed a common sentiment in post-WWII Britain. The writers who tapped into this sentiment felt it as well. People were tired of the same policies and ideas and the split between the lower classes and upper classes seemed wider than ever. When readers explore works written during this movement, it’s possible to feel and understand their discontent and disillusionment.
Jimmy is angry because he’s lived a tougher life than the people around him. He feels like he knows suffering in a way that others don’t. He’s disillusioned by society and often finds himself irritated with his wife. Furthermore, he received a university education yet still has a low station in life.
The main themes were disillusionment with society, anger, and a desire for change. They exemplified these features through their novels, plays, and poems.
They were angry because of the hypocrisy they sense within the upper classes of society. They were often well-educated, lower-class men who wanted better lives but couldn’t achieve them. Or, they saw others experiencing this same struggle.
Today, John Osborne is considered to be the most important writer of the Angry Young Men movement. He penned the play “Look Back in Anger” which is usually cited as a quintessential example of the movement’s interests.
Related Literary Terms
- Acmeism: a literary movement that emerged in the early 1910s in Russia. The movement is also referred to as the Guild of Poets.
- Aestheticism: a literary and artistic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries that focused on the importance of beauty.
- Beat Generation: a literary movement that began after the Second World War and known for its liberal attitudes towards life.
- Imagism: a literary movement of the early 20th century. The proponents were interested in the use of precise imagery and clear language.
- New Woman Movement and Writing: a feminist ideal that was profoundly influential on 19th and 20th-century literature, as well as broader feminist beliefs.
- Watch: “Look Back in Anger” by John Osborne
- Listen: The Aftermath of World War II
- Watch: Modernism and English Literature