‘How when Jimmy is so objectionable, does Osborne maintain our sympathy for him?’
The play first opened in 1956 and it was hailed by Kenneth Tynar from the Observer as ‘totally original play of a new generation’. The Independent’s Arnold Wesker in 1994 wrote ‘Osborne opened the doors of theatres for all the succeeding generations of writers.’ Osborne in this play did something that had never been done, the way he demonstrated the ‘kitchen-sink’ dramatists as their style of domestic realism became to be known, sought to convey the language of everyday speech and to shock. Jimmy is typical of the new kind of protagonist of these dramas.
When the play opens, we first meet this ‘angry, young man’ Jimmy, who amongst other things is described as having ‘freebooting cruelty’. The abuse he dishes out to his fellows is quite outrageous; he calls Cliff his best friend as ‘ignorant’ and a ‘peasant’, describing him as a ‘sloppy, irritating bastard’. He insults his wife, labelling her as ‘sycophantic’, ‘phlegmatic’ and ‘pusillanimous’. He also describes her as ‘clumsy’ and one wonders whether he even loves her. No wonder his wife admits to her father that [Jimmy] hates all of them.
The emotional abuse he puts Alison through is unbearable, trying to destroy her self-confidence at every turn, and wishing her to ‘have a child and it should die’ so she can experience unbearable suffering. He also ………. Helena (Alison’s best friend) the very day he realises Alison has left. It is difficult to have any sympathy for a man like that. His in-laws do not escape the abuse either and he refers to them as ‘militant’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘full of malice’. We have reports of him describing his mother as ‘an over-fed, over privileged old bitch’. Even Nigel, who is a budding politician, is referred to as ‘vague’, seeking ‘sanctuary in his own stupidity’.
He refers to all women apart from his Madeline as ‘butchers’, bleeding men ‘to death’. He actually thanks God...