Angry Young Men of the Provincial Novel

Angry Young Men of the Provincial Novel

Angry Young Men of the Provincial Novel : The term “Angry Young Men” refers to the protagonists of the literary works of the 1950s as well as to a group of authors of provincial novels and plays of the 1950s. 

Angry Young Men of the Provincial Novel

Though the term ‘angry young men’ was employed by the journalists in relation to the authors of the plays and novels of the 1950s, it is more applicable or suitable to the anti-heroes of the plays and novels than to the authors whose motives were wrongly interpreted as being socially radical.

The anti-heroes of provincial plays and novels of the 1950s stood in contrast to the idea of conventional hero. These anti-heroes do not have the qualities traditionally associated with the heroes. They are unlucky, incompetent, tactless and clumsy.


Angry Young Men Movement of the 1950s vividly presents many social issues such as class-conflict, poverty, unemployment, and discrimination in Britain after the Second World War. The angry young men also experience alienation in society but they have no solution to this problem.

The young anti-heroes of the novels and plays are representatives of a generation which is highly disillusioned and discontented with the social system. They are young educated members of lower-middle-class of society who go through many ordeals; they cherish a number of dreams but find it difficult to fulfil their dreams.

The angry young men of the 1950s express their disdain for the hypocrisy and snobbery of the upper strata of society. The provincial novel of the 1950s clearly reflects the social and political conditions of the Post-War Britain.

The anti-heroes like to prosper in life, establish their identity in society and want to achieve material gain like other people and for that they even want to accumulate a lot of money and acquire social station at all costs. They fail to differentiate between love and adultery. Their primary aim is to get material comfort and social station by hook or by crook in society.

Thirdly, the term ‘angry young man’ was a title of an autobiography of an Irish writer, Leslie Paul which was published in 1951. It was thought that the term ‘angry young man’ was borrowed from the title of Leslie’ Paul’s autobiography.

Joe Lunn in William Cooper’s novel Scenes from Provincial Life” can be considered as an early example of modern anti-hero who is followed by the others such as  Jimmy Porter in John Osborne’s play “Look Back in Anger”, Jim Dixon in Kingsley Amis’s novel “Lucky Jim”, Charles Lumley in John Wain’s novel “Hurry on Down”, Joe Lampton in John Braine’s novel “Room at the Top” and Arthur Seaton in Alan Sillitoe’s famous novel, “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” are classic examples of anti-heroes.

It is important to note that William Cooper {Harry Summerfield Hoff} has been deemed as the originator of the ‘Angry Young Man’. The anti-heroes of the provincial novels and plays express their resentment and protest against the values of the British middle-class of society. They show their dislike for the establishment, social and political attitudes and social customs.

William Cooper’s novel, “Scenes from Provincial Life” has been deemed as a beginning of ‘angry young man’ of the 1950s by the critics. The novel, “Scenes from Provincial Life” was published in 1950.

In “Scenes from Provincial Life”, William Cooper has introduced a provincial, anarchic, ambitious, and rebellious protagonist of lower-middle-class background.

Joe Lunn, the anti-hero of “Scenes from Provincial Life”, narrates the account of his life. He narrates the incidents of his life as a school-master in a provincial city and his marriage to a school-mistress, Elspeth.

The “Scenes from Provincial Life” of William Cooper was followed by another novel, “Scenes from Married Life’ in 1961. The character of Joe Lunn can be considered as a primary source of the heroes known as ‘angry young men’ of 1950s.

William Cooper’s two novels, “Scenes from Provincial Life” and “Scenes from Married Life” present an account of a revolt against dull, frugal, and conventional provincial life.

The hero’s demands for freedom and change in the social order are little more than a search for a different jobs where he can observe the conventions but make more money.

William Cooper’s “Scenes from Provincial Life” laid the foundation for later writers with more violent and shocking views of revolt.

Group of the Angry Young Men:

Some of the chief members of a group of ‘angry young men’ are, Kingsley AmisJohn BraineJohn WainAlan SillitoeColin Wilson, and John Osborne.

Contribution of the Angry Young Men:

John Osborne’s famous three-act play, “Look Back in Anger” presents a conflict between Jimmy Porter and his wife, Alison. Jimmy Porter can be deemed as a mouthpiece of post-war youth. The play “Look Back in Anger” was written in 1956 and published in 1957. It was staged at the Royal Court Theatre on 8 May 1956.

The protagonist of the play, Jimmy Porter can be considered as a quintessence of ‘Angry Young Man’. The play is set in Midland town and action of the play takes place in a one-room flat of Jimmy Porter and Alison. She is a colonel’s daughter and Jimmy is working on a market sweet stall.

Jimmy Porter’s marriage to Alison is another example of ‘hypergamy’ that is to say his marriage to Alison who is above his station. The play ends on a note of reconciliation between Jimmy and Alison when their marital life is on the verge of end. The third character of Helena also plays important role in the play. It is only because of her entry into Jimmy’s life; Alison comes back to her home.

The play “Look Back in Anger” vividly depicts class-struggle, anger, and frustration of a young man, Jimmy who finds no way out of his poverty and unemployment has to cope with the social system. Jimmy frustration, anger, self-pitying, and sadistic state of mind represent the state of mind of Post-War youth of the period.

John Osborne’s last play, “Déjàvu” is a sequel to “Look Back I Anger” in which the reader can once again meet the characters in their middle age. The play Déjàvu was published in 1991.

Kingsley Amis, one of the members of the Movement poetry and group of Angry Young Men, produced a Campus novel, “Lucky Jim” which presents an anti-hero, Jim Dixon, who having found a way of abandoning his lowly middle class origins, is disillusioned by the society and he has to dwell in it.

Kingsley Amis’ novel, “Lucky Jim” was published in 1954. It deals with the account of a lower-middle-class lecturer, Jim Dixon who has rebellious attitude. He is against all that is sham, hollow and pretentious.

Jim Dixon claims that he wants little from life but he has a few simple desires and dreams which he likes to be fulfilled. He has even no abhorrence for the material progress and comfort to be attained from rising above himself.

In the course of the novel, Jim Dixon comes to know that he is not able to cope with new surroundings or environment. He realises that the established social, political and aesthetic values are nothing but pretence and affectation.

But at the same time, he also feels that he cannot do anything but to accept the social norms and values because he is not strong enough to bring changes in the social order. He also comes to know that he has no remedy to the problem and he has nothing to put in their place. He can do only one thing that is to unveil or expose this pretence and affectation but even if he does so he cannot solve this problem.

Jim Dixon achieves material success in the course of the novel that is conditioned by his realisation that his material progress and success is based on big compromise with social system.

Kingsley Amis’ other novels, “That Uncertain Feeling” appeared in 1955, “I Like It Here” published in 1958, “Take a Girl Like You” in 1960, “One Fat Englishman” in 1963 and “Girl, 20” present the same dissatisfaction and disillusionment of their angry young men.

John Braine, another member of ‘angry young men’ group became famous when his famous novel, “Room at the Top” appeared on the literary scene in 1957.

Joe Lampton, the protagonist of “Room at the Top” has been portrayed as an ambitious young man who likes to attain his goal at all costs. The hero, Joe Lampton, like Jim Dixon, is another classic example of an ‘angry young man’ of the 1950s, who has been depicted as a small provincial town opportunist.

John Braine’s novels “Room at the Top” and its sequel “Life at the Top” are set in West RidingYorkshire. The protagonist, Joe Lampton strives for material success in life. He has been depicted as a ruthless opportunist who likes to attain success at any cost. He has been working at the town hall. Joe Lampton seduces a wealthy girl, Susan Browne and marries her for material progress. He succeeds in attaining his aim at the cost of his love.

Joe Lampton also flirts with Alice Aisgill, the thirty-four-year old wife of a local businessman. The two novels “Room at the Top” and “Life at the Top” comment on the greed and disillusionment of young people who get disillusioned when they find no excitement after reaching the top of their life.

Joe Lampton’s quest for material progress ends on a note of sadness. He takes part in a rat-race in order to fulfil his dreams but soon gets disturbed when he confronts reality. He comes to know that he has nothing but the trappings of wealth. The fascination for wealth and material progress soon fade away.

In the course of life, he loses more than he has achieved in life. He also comes to know that when one reaches at the top of social status and material progress, it makes one conscious of the contempt of the society into which one has hastily and curiously forced an entrance.

At the end of the novel, Joe Lampton is left alone with his grief, guilt and remorse. He realises true meaning of winning and losing. He loses his wife, Susan Browne as well as his friend, Alice Aisgill.

John Braine has artistically discussed the problem of ‘hypergamy’ that is to say young man’s marriage with a woman above his station in the novel. The two novels, “Room at the Top” and “Life at the Top” of John Braine are concerned with the complexity of human motives.

John Wain’s novel, “Hurry on Down” was published in 1953 and it is written in picaresque tradition. It deals with a story of university graduate, Charles Lumley, who revolts against the middle-class career that lures him. The hero is left with no other choice but to live in a society which he detests and stay in it without any responsibility.

Alan Sillitoe occupies important place in a group of the ‘Angry Young Men’ of the 1950s. His first novel, “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” was published in 1958. The novel is set in Nottingham and is written in first person narration. The novel deals with a story of Arthur Seaton, a factory worker who is dissatisfied with the social system.

Alan Sillitoe’s novel “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” is quite different from that of the provincial novels of the period because his novel deals with the life of young factory workers than with the story of rising member of the middle-class.

It is important to find Sillitoe’s heroes taking delight in facing the challenges with courage. They are the victims of a repressive social order. The heroes see life as a means of protest against authority and oppression. The heroes of the novels dwell in a world of chaos, violence, greed and suffering.

Arthur Seaton the hero of “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” experiences instability and insecurity in life. The hero finds opportunity and excitement in instability and insecurity that provides at least a chance to try one’s mettle. When there is order and stability in society, the hero creates new element of insecurity.

It is important to note that Alan Sillitoe’s novel, “A Man of his Time” is a sequel to his first novel “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”. “A Man of his Time” of Alan Sillitoe appeared in 2004. The two novels depict frustration and struggles of working-class characters.

Alan Sillitoe’s other novels, “The Death of William Posters” published in 1966, “A Start in Life” published in 1970, and “The Widower’s Son” published in 1976 deal with the struggles and hardships of working-class people. The works of Alan Sillitoe clearly impart a message that those with money are always tyrants.

The novels present a period of Great Depression and its continuity. Alan Sillitoe’s autobiographical novel, “Key to the Door” appeared on the literary scene in 1962 which also deals with the same themes already handled by the writer in “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”.

Another important member of a group of provincial novelist is Colin Wilson who has been hailed as ‘enfant terrible’ of the Angry Young Men. In his novel, “The Outsider” Colin Wilson has artistically portrayed a hero who expresses his disaffection and he tries to establish his own identity in society by breaking away from class system and social order. 

“The Outsider” was published in 1956. Colin Wilson’s “The Outsider” expresses the existential concern of a hero rather than any other social issue. The hero becomes the enemy of society and of himself.

Thus, the provincial novels of the 1950s clearly reflected the social issues of the post-war Britain. They also deal with the resentment against the values of the British middle-class and bourgeois ethics. Jimmy Porter, Jim Dixon, and ‘the other young angries’ are the vocal protesters of the social and political attitudes of the 1950s.

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