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Types of characters in the works of angry young men generation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Types of characters in the novels of the Angry Young Men

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author : Popa Serban Mihai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C O N T E N T S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

CHAPTER IThe social climber- J. Braine: Room at the Top, Life at the Top

 

CHAPTER II – The worker- A. Sillitoe: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

 

CHAPTER III The frustrated intellectual- K.Amis: Lucky Jim,

J.Wain: Hurry on Down, I.Murdoch: Under the Net

 

CHAPTER IVExistentialist attitudes in the works of the Angry Decade

 

CONCLUSION

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the World War II, Great Britain lost its colonies, its prestige and authority of a great political power. Many changes took place in the structure of English society. The Labour Party didn’t keep its promises; the unemployment and the frequent economic depressions which followed resulted in a feeling of lack of independence and frustrations strongly felt by the younger generation which lost its hopes and illusions as soon as it matured. The post-war society needed practical and efficient minds and tried to get rid of those who couldn’t be useful in the new socio-economical context. The novelty and gravity of these events naturally modeled generations in a way quite different as compared to the older one.

The writers belonging to this generation watched the change and were part of it at the same time. Some of them (ex. A. Sillitoe) entered the literary scene at a time when in England took place the rise of the “new left”, which is strongly antimilitarist, neo-Marxist in orientation and left-Laborite in sympathy.

The influence of these economic, political and social conditions is strongly reflected by the literary production of the time. The elements characteristic to this literary production are the results of the influences exercised by society upon men’s conscious rather than the results than the results of a willing pragmatic adherence to a certain cause. That is why the label “angry generation” does not seem to be the most adequate. This term gives the impression of community of ideas and compositional technique.

“There was never any such group as the Angry Young Men,” playwright Arnold Wesker has complained. “We didn’t know one  another. We shared little in common  except age and the fact that none of us had gone to university. Most importantly,  we were not angry. How could we be – we were successful and earning money.”

Another drawback is that the adjective “angry” is sometimes too strong. We cannot assert that all the members of the group had the same way of thinking, feeling, judging things. New impressions and experiences were added to the already existing ones and led to the fact that “the angry young men” could comply no more with the established values of civilization.

The post-war man experienced a moral crisis which brought about a change in the fundamental elements and values of his life. The main problem of contemporary society was the threat of another world war; the main need was that for a noble cause to fight for.

Most of the “angry young men” come from the middle class, most of them are graduates who soon experience the abrupt contact with society and realize that the existing alternatives for them are less and less secure. Their revolt is fundamentally sincere even if sometimes their anti-conformism becomes itself a fashion.

The “angry young men” tried to express the discontent and helplessness of the generation they belonged to, but they could not find remedies. The attitude of protest could neither change the situation nor lead to a better understanding of it.

Most of the works belonging to this period are predominantly social and realistic, constituting the vivid picture of the latest decades. There was no reigning English novelist at the end of World War II. Many novelists of the 1920’s and 1930’s were still living (Graham Greene, Huxley), but the 1950’s (called “The Angry Decade” by Kenneth Allsop) gave birth to a series of writers who altered the practices of pre-war fiction.

“In their vital and consistent concern with social and political problems, all these writers furnish statements both implicit and explicit, that the world is wider than the vicar’s coming for tea and the hang-over of psychic guilt that characterized too many inferior British novels of past decades”^^1^^

Some of them have brought back to popularity the provincial setting which has been considered unworthy for a long period of time, precisely because it was provincial. They began to publish in the middle fifties, being concerned not only with depicting a part of British society, but also with moral issues that are not specifically social and political.

The writers we are going to deal with are:

 

-Kingsley Amis

-Alan Sillitoe

-John Braine

-Iris Murdoch

-John Wain

We are going to have in view only some of the novels belonging to the above mentioned writers, i.e. Sillitoe’s “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”, Amis’s “Lucky Jim”, Murdoch’s “Under the Net”, Wain’s “Hurry on Down”, Braine’s “Room at the Top” and “Life at the Top”.

Occasionally some references will be made to the other novels in order to illustrate one remark or another, without any intention to give a comprehensive image of them. Some of them do not consider themselves “angry” at all (e.g Iris Murdoch), some others reject terms like “the New Wave” or “the New Provincialism” because such general terms always seem to limit the writer’s uniqueness. What they have in common lies in a skeptical view of mankind’s perspectives and serious doubts concerning the value of any ideal; they are all interested in man’s exterior relationships, which leads to a style closer to the narrative of the 19th century fiction, but the means of dealing with the altering values of the 20th century are less traditional.

Novels of class and conduct, these works have as a background the postwar (usually urban) society and as a central problem – how the hero can come or not come to terms with himself and the world around him.

As we have already mentioned, the term “angry generation” is a very flexible one and the critics’ opinions concerning one writer or another are often cautious. In the case of Iris Murdoch, only “Under the Net” constitutes an argument which allows us to include the authoress in this group, while John Wain has become over years a sort of “archetypal” angry young man. As for John Braine, Lee James W. remarked that “… the temptation to link Braine irrevocably and exclusively to a particular group of writers should be avoided”^^2^^.

In spite of the differences existing between these novelists, their heroes have in common a certain attitude towards life and experience, a certain type of reaction, and the theme of the works is ultimately the adjustment of the individual to the flexible world he lives in. The individual’s relationship with society is always a painful and aggressive one. The existentialist nuances generated by insecurity and alienation coexist with humour, none of these elements excluding the other one.

It is worth mentioning that most of the novels under discussions won the critics’ recognition of their value as soon as they were published. Ex : Amis’s “Lucky Jim” (1954) was to have a profound influence upon younger writers, the hero being considered the typical “angry character”. Wain’s “Hurry on Down” (1953) suited the popular taste, his hero being as radical as Amis’s. John Braine’s “Room at the Top” (1957) became an instant success. “The Observer” reviewer found it “remarkably good”, a novel which epitomizes its age. “Times Literary Supplement” of April 5 – 1957 appreciated that “an extraordinary vitality pulses through “Room at the Top”, The Daily Express” serialized the novel and a film was made of it the following year. Sillitoe’s “Saturday night and Sunday Morning” won the “Author’s Club” prize for the best English novel of 1958, while “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” won the prize for the best work of imagination in prose of 1960.

 

 

 

 

Chapter I

 

 

The Social Climber

 

J.Braine

Room at the Top”

Life at the Top”

 

 

 

The aristocratic character and the well-to-do university man became old-fashioned and ridiculous after World War II. They are replaced by heroes of middle-class and lower-middle-class-extraction. The novels of the Angry Decade are populated by workers, outlaws, unsuccessful writers, second-rate journalists, provincial university-men. Most of them are conscious of being “outsiders”. These heroes are mainly interested in what is tangible in the competitive society they live in: attractive women, fine clothes, the job that pays more. They mock at fakes and everything which was considered a value before World War II, but, meanwhile, they worry enough about how they should behave and operate in a world dominated by class distinction.

Irreverence towards the Establishment is a constant feature in them. The old formulas are no longer applicable and they have to face many experiences without having any guide to lead them, or to show them the right way. The heroes of Amis and Wain are usually unwilling and unable to become a part of the class structure of contemporary Britain. Such characters are never heroic in the sense of being admirable champions of new causes, firstly because contemporary world makes heroism seem dubious, secondly because the rare emergence of heroism is never recognized and appreciated. So, the hero is often comic and always non-heroic.

 

***

 

John Braine’s work renders much of the post-war atmosphere, showing the effects that “the brave new world” has on people. The industrial North of England is presented to us as seen through the eyes of Joe Lampton, the main character in “Room at the Top” and “Life at the Top”. Postwar England’s rapid change in values is clearly reveled. The action takes place at a time when “virtue must beg pardon of vice”^^3^^.

Both books mirror the general atmosphere, landscape and speech typical to the author’s home county (Bradford, a town which has long been considered a kind of archetypal city). As Lee James W. remarked, the main strength of “Room at the Top” is the revelation of business dominated provincial society and besides, the dilemma which such a society can cause to a man like Joe.

The author told Kenneth Allsop how the idea of this novel came to him: “I saw a man sitting in a big shiny car. He’d driven up to the edge of some waste growth, near some houses and factories and was sitting there looking across at them. It seemed to me that there must have been a lot that led up to that movement”^^4^^.

Joe Lampton illustrates the destiny of the social climber. Belonging to the lover orders of society, he is much concerned about his status, he struggles to rise above and break away from poverty.

Joe is an ex-Royal Air Force crewman of working-class origin. While a prisoner of the Nazis he studied for his accounting examination. At the end of the war he leaves the “Dead Dufton” and moves to Warley, a much more desirable place. Now that he is freed from ties of origin and family he takes a municipal government job and makes projects to rise as high as he can. He does not demand only sufficiency of material comforts. His personality and will demand the best and get it. The forces in conflict will be the two sides of Joe’s nature on the one hand, Joe Lampton and the Establishment of Warley on the other hand.

Joe had been a boy of fifteen when he first had dreamt about being rich. His parents’ integrity and simplicity had never impressed him. Later on he will discover the values of such features.

“Joe sees the Yorkshire millionaires driving the first post-war cars, taking the first post-war vacations and beginning to find an outlet for their war profits and his hunger is made even greater”.^^5^^

But Joe is not hungry in the way he had been in Stalag 100, he is hungry for “cream and pineapples and roast pork and chocolate”. He knows that his success in Warley depends on his ability to assume the speech, dress and behaviour of the upper-middle-classes.

Joe meets Alice Aisgill (who is nine years his senior) and falls in love with her. He is also attracted to Susan Brown, the daughter of a local magnate. Alice belongs to the same social category as Joe, but she had reached “the Top” when Joe meets her. She is married to a rich man and has a luxurious house, but she is not satisfied with these things. Alice infers Joe’s complexes as well as his ambitions. Her love for Lampton is true, tragic and profound.

The hero’s affairs with the two women mirror the moral struggle in the novel: the struggle between love and ambition. Two courses are opened to him: either to keep neutral, or to work his way to the Top. Charles, Joe’s friend, shows him the possible consequences of his affair with Alice and suggests him to meet Susan again. Joe’s campaign to win her is conducted with military precision: “General Joe Lampton you might say, had opened hostilities”^^6^^.

The hero can equally hear the voice of passion and the voice of reason, but passion never makes him forget his purpose although he is aware of the meanness of his speculations. Joe’s love for Alice is the most sincere part of his life. The fact that Alice had sit for a painter will be the pretext and not the real reason for their separation. Joe found the moment to get rid of this unprofitable passion.

Susan is already pregnant by Joe when Mr. Brown offers him money to leave the town. When Joe in anger refuses him, Mr. Brown welcomes him to the family, and at the same time, to the Top.

The most realistic and touching part of the novel is the last one: Alice dies a horrible death by driving her car into a wall when Joe tells her what he had done. Joe feels responsible for her death and the hardest thing to bear is the fact that nobody blames him for what had happened. His capacity for suffering demonstrates that he is not simply a villain.

“-Oh, God, I said. I did kill her. I wasn’t there, but I killed her.

Eva drew my head on to her breast.

-Poor darling, you mustn’t take on so. You don’t see it now, but it was all for the best. She’d have ruined your whole life. Nobody blames you, love. Nobody blames you.

I pulled myself away from her abruptly.

-Oh, my God – I said – that’s the trouble”^^7^^.

 

The events beginning with Joe’s drunken escapade seem to illustrate Lampton’s last attempt to be a man. But even now calculation is predominant: he gets drunk in a nearby town when nobody can recognize him and he is fully aware of the disastrous consequences of being caught by the police.

The action in “Life at the Top” covers about six months in Joe Lampton’s life. In the first novel the hero was continually comparing his working class past to the new world around him. Now this does not happen anymore. Joe is no more afraid of blunders, he knows that it is a social obligation to wear good clothes, he knows how to behave in any situation.

Apparently his dreams had come true, but all the goods he had accumulated in ten years of marriage give him the feeling that he is “weighed down by thing”. The life of success that Joe had fought for is not a satisfactory one. After ten years he is bound to conventions, sick of his father-in-law’s formulae, annoyed by his mother-in-law’s allusions to dowry hunters, sick of the daily scenes that take place between him and Susan. Even if his salary is more that satisfactory, Joe is not content with his job because Mr. Brown’s attitude towards him is a patronizing one.

Lampton meets Norah Huxley, an attractive journalist. This new affair makes him even more aware of the hollowness and bitterness of his life. Joe longs for a change. One night he finds his wife in bed with Mark, one of Lampton’s friends, and he has another revelation: Barbara is not his child. As a consequence (or as a protest) he leaves Susan and goes to London with Norah. Soon he gets discouraged by Norah’s drab flat. Besides, he cannot find employment.

“It was what I needed: the abdication of responsibility, the retirement from the arena”.^^8^^

But his stay in London is brief and the acceptance of responsibility occurs soon. The crisis in Harry’s life offers Joe the pretext he needed to return to Warley. The novel ends with Joe’s attempts to take things from the beginning, to live his life at the Top. Joe is disillusioned, but he has to live with it because this is the way he had chosen ten years ago.

***

In the first novel Joe had been a believable character. In “Life at the Top” some characters are created only to solve difficulties. The general attitude of Braine towards Lampton is a sympathetic one. Sometimes he suggests that Joe couldn’t do otherwise in those social circumstances, determining the reader to sympathize with Joe more than the character deserves. As for Lampton’s better nature and his worse, “the confusion in the novel obscures the reader’s view and makes him doubt which side of Joe is supposed to sympathize with”^^9^^.

Anyway, Alice Aisgill is a much more honest person than Joe.

The comparison of Joe Lampton to Julien Sorel has become a commonplace. In fact, we cannot compare the two characters as long as Julien Sorel illustrates the whole complex process of the rise of the bourgeoisie and the fall of feudalism, while Lampton lives and acts in a completely different environment illustrating only a “case” and not a whole historic process.

In Anthony Burgess’ opinion, “Room at the Top” is a study of provincial hypergamy. Both novels succeed in making the reader witness the great changes that occurred gradually in Joe’s consciousness

Lamton’s triumph over his upbringing is a sore one. Apparentely he is the winner, but the price he had to pay for it was his dignity. At the end of the struggle between him and society, Joe becomes a déclassé: he belongs neither to the working class, nor to the businessmen class actually. Lampton’s revolt is as limited as Dixon’s revolt. Both of them give it up as soon as they get what they want. The label of their solution is “compromise”. Lampton’s revolt becomes less and less acute as the hero becomes more and more successful. Jim Dixon is also not strong enough willed to do without the fakes that surrounded him and he ends by giving up mocking at them.

Hypergamy is the key-word in both “Room at the Tom” and “Lucky Jim”. The heroes of these novels do not want a change in the system they hate; moreover, they hate this system only until they are assimilated by it. The Top offered them a car, money, children, business lunches in London, but it couldn’t offer them happiness.

 

 

Chapter II

 

The Worker

 

Alan Sillitoe

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”

 

 

“The whole concept of class is important in many ways to any consideration of the contemporary British novel. For the first time, a large number of authors are working-class or lower-middle-class backgrounds ; and much of their writing tends, naturally, to be about people like themselves or those whom they know well”^^1^^.

Such an author, expressing sympathy for the lower classes is Alan Sillitoe. He wrote about the slum area in which he was born and depicted realistically the life of those who do not have a privileged position within the Establisment. The necessity of a working-class perspective in fiction was directly stated by Sillitoe: “Working men and women who read do not have the privilege of seeing themselves realistically portrayed in novels”^^2^^.

In an interview for “Daily Worker” Sillitoe shows that his intention was to write a book for and about workers. He wrote ”Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” at the age of twenty-eight, in Majorca, far from Nottingham where the action takes place. It is a novel by far more class oriented than Braine’s, and it constitutes the chronicle of a short period of time in the life of Arthur Seaton, twenty-two years old, a lathe operator in a bicycle factory.

“The novel is in short a depressing study of the modern technological world and what it does to the workers in it. But it is more: it is also a penetrating study of proletarian morals and values, as reveled in Arthur”^^3^^.

We can find here an accurate picture of provincial Nottingham. Much care is taken by the author to preserve the regional particularities in the characters’ language.

The main character is an “angry young man”, but in a way different from Wain’s or Amis’ heroes. He is angry in the sense that he is an anarchist who equally hates the Liberals, the Labourists and the Tories, and who is always ready to blow-up the Houses of Parliament for six pence. His life consists of a series of Saturday nights and Sunday mornings followed by hangovers.

“For it was Saturday night, the best and bingiest glad-time of the week, one of the fifty-two holidays in the slow-turning Big Wheel of the year, a violent preamble to a prostrate Sabbath. Piled up passions were exploded on Saturday night, and the effect of a week’s monotonous graft in the factory was swilled out of your system in a burst of goodwill. You followed the motto of ‘be drunk and be happy,’ kept your crafty arms around female waists, and felt the beer going beneficially down into the elastic capacity of your guts.”

Arthur is quite satisfied to spend his fourteen pounds a week on women, clothes and drink. He is aware that even such limited pleasures were impossible for the older working-men generation. Those like him consider themselves freed from any conventions; that’s why arthur does not have moral taboos and he carries on affairs with two sisters (one of them is married to Jack, a worker in the same bicycle factory).

Very often Arthur openly expresses his political views:

” I ain’t a communist. I tell you. I like ‘em though, because they’re different from these big fat Tory bastards in parliament. And them labour bleeders too. They rob our wage packets every week with insurance and income tax and try to tell us it is all for our own good.” (33-34)

And his views about the factory and the whole world:

“…if they said: “look, Arthur, here’s a hundred weight of dynamite and a brand-new plunger, now blow up the factory”, then I’d do it, because that would do something worth doing. …. Me, I couldn’t care less if the world did blow up tomorrow, as long as I’m blown up with it.” (38)

Arthur knows that Jack lacks the force of character that prevents his wife to be unfaithful. He seems to be friendly towards Arthur, but he is too secretive, he is always suspicious without coming straight out with it.

When Jack finds out everything about Arthur’s relations with Brenda and Winnie, he betrays him to Winnie’s husband and a friend of Bill by telling them what pub they should wait outside, instead of talking about all the matter with his wife’s lover. Arthur recovers from the beating up and confronts Jack with some dignity. He has nothing to tell Jack because:

“He had no pity for a slow husband… For Arthur, in his more tolerant moments, said that women were more than ornament and shivies: they were warm wonderful creatures that needed and deserved to be looked after, requiring all the attention a man could give, certainly more than a man’s work and a man’s own pleasure”^^7^^.

If a woman feels the need to have a lover and gets one, her husband is much more guilty than her.

Most of the characters are cloddish and brutal, they seldom show sympathy towards the others, seldom reveal their emotions. They can react honestly, but they are capable of disinterested action only for brief moments.

Arthur’s reactions are impulsive, vicious, shocking and funny at the same time. (Ex.: He shoots Mrs. Bull with an air gun because she was always talking behind his back about his affairs with married women). The hero feels that he is a rebel. His distrust of everything is the result of the contrast between the great changes his generation had been looking forward to and the mediocrity of daily life.

The defiance of official authority is forcefully manifested in the post-war world. The working-class men still feel that the pillars of society are their enemies (Arthur tries to persuade a thief to break away and escape before the police arrived). The world is seen in terms of “them” and “us”.

Even if nobody talks about class-unity, they all have a feeling directed against the powerful, the workers are constantly aware of the conflict of interest between them and the management. Arthur is sick of everything connected with the bicycle factory and much of his bitterness is due to his repetitive work in noisy and smelly surroundings.

“Factories swat you to death, labour exchanges talk you to death, insurance and income tax offices milk money from your wage pockets and rob you to death. And if you’re still left a tiny bit of life in your guts after all this boggering about, the army calls up and you get shot to death”^^8^^.

Arthur’s rebellion is undirected, unpolitical and there’s no self-sacrifice about it: “Once a rebel, always a rebel. You can’t help being one. You can’t deny that. And it’s best to be a rebel so as to show ‘em it don’t pay to try to do you down.”

Arthur’s revolt is not intended to lead to some changes in the situation of those who belong to the same social stratum like the hero himself.

It is, fundamentally, a selfish manifestation, having no noble purpose.

One day, when walking along the street Arthur hears a window smash on the pavement. He was “stirred by the sound of breaking glass: it synthesized all the anarchism within him, was the most perfect and suitable noise to accompany the end of the world and himself”^^10.

The hero’s dislike of hypocrisy often takes him out of rails but, in spite of his many shortcomings, he is a character of some complexity that deserves sympathy in many circumstances. By the end of the novel Arthur is obviously calming down. He longs for peace. Fishing is a means of finding temporary comfort. When he gets the chance Arthur goes fishing, away from pubs, factory noise and town.

The fish is the symbol of peace; once he even recognizes his own identity with it:

“Mostly you were like a fish: you swam about with freedom, thinking how good it was to be left alone, doing anything you wanted to do and caring about no one, when suddenly: SPLUTH! – the big hook clapped itself into your mouth and you where caught”^^11.

Arthur “recognizes that his rebellion is only a phase and he prepares for marriage which will turn him into a moral working-class husband”^^12.

At the end of the second part of the novel he comes to terms with his present and his future. Like fishing, Doreen, the girl he wants to marry, is a refuge for him. The rebel has matured.

“If you went though life refusing all the bait dangled before you, that would be no life at all. No changes would be made and you would have nothing to fight against”^^13.

 

***

 

The field of social observation becomes wider in “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”. We move from the industrialized town and working-class people to a reformatory. The author goes deeper into the nature of rebellion. The hero is a boy of seventeen whose scorn for the hypocrisy on which society is based makes him reject all its values. This is neither “an unfocused rebellion” nor a mere outburst because, besides defiance, his final reaction contains a trace of dignity and consciousness.

In the postwar world poverty still exists and happiness largely depends on money. The young narrator (Smith) had to suffer from many needs very early in his life because his family lived on next to nothing. His father died of cancer and the 500 his mother collected in insurance and benefits brought a temporary prosperity. People in the world Smith belongs to are:

“Anxious to get whatever they can for themselves, they cheat, lie, steal, kill, seldom aware that the powers that curdle their energy into violence have also oppressed their victims”^^14.

This world “governed by unjust and inhumane restrictions, confronted with the essential cruelty and stupidity of human nature, it resembles the jungle where creature fights creature without order or principle”^^15.

The organized society is the framework in which man’s instincts operate.

Smith is caught by the police when robbing a bakery. His history of Remand Homes determined the authorities to send him to Borstal this time. While Arthur Seaton knew that he was eventually going to settle down, Smith, at seventeen, has already decided that it is going to be a fight up to the end. The young runner divides people into two classes: In-laws and Out-laws, permanently identifying himself with the latter one. He never mentions members of the governing classes without using several pejorative adjectives like “pig-faces”, “snotty-nosed” and he mocks his warden’s attempts to turn him into a useful member of society.

Smith has taken up a cross-country running at the instigation of the governor of the institution who wants him to win the Borstal Blue Ribbon Prize Cup for Long-Distance Running.

Running gives him the opportunity to think things out and that’s why he likes it.

“…as soon as I take that first flying leap into the frosty grass of an early morning when even birds haven’t the heart to whistle, I get to thinking, and that’s what I like. I go my rounds in a dream, turning at lane or footpath corners without knowing I’m turning, leaping brooks without knowing they’re there, and shouting good morning to the early cow-milker without seeing him. It’s a treat being a long-distance runner, out in the world by yourself with not a soul to make you bad-tempered or tell you what to do.”

He is intensely trained to win the race, but what Smith wants most is to embarrass the governor and the “pig-faced” ladies and gentlemen who will be there; although losing means six more months of scrubbing floors instead of easy jobs and kindness from the governor, he is too proud to win and “he suffers for pride, but not heavily or dramatically for the world can do little to him that it has not done already”^^16.

His struggle is seen in terms of “us” and them”. When the governor asks him to be honest, Smith sees his fidelity to his own class (and hatred of those above him) as a much higher honesty.

“Because another thing people like the governor will never understand is that I am honest, that I’ve never been anything else but honest and that I’ll always be honest. Sounds funny. But it’s true because I know what honest means according to me and he only knows what it means according to him” 17 .

Besides it:

“I’m a human being and I’ve got thoughts and secrets and bloody life inside me that he doesn’t know is there and he’ll never know what’s there because he’s stupid.” 18.

The governor’s attitude is superficial. He will certainly punish the runner by assigning to him every dirty job that he can think of; he cannot understand much of Smith. The clichés he uses can only make the boy laugh:

“If you play ball with us, we’ll play ball with you. (Honest to God, you’d have thought it was going to be big tennis match)” 19 .

By deliberately losing the race the runner keeps his integrity intact and strengthens his belief that he is more than a machine for winning cross-country races or a fawing hypocrite before his enemy. He is aware that he is superior to the governor in many respects, in spite of his lack of formal education. The two characters cannot be both on the same side, they are enemies by their social status.

The mild treatment which the governor promised him if he wins is dishonest because the governor refuses to admit the basic opposition existing between the two warring sides and, (on the surface) he is working against his own class. That’s why Smith has much more respect for the policeman who captured him. The policeman was at least honestly and openly antagonistic. Smith’s refusal to struggle for a better position is the only means by which he can express his protest and exercise his imagination and force. His philosophy of life is much more bitter than that of Arthur Seaton:

“Cunning is what counts in this life, and even that you’ve got to use in the slyest why you can; I’m telling you straight ; they’re cunning and I’m cunning” 20 .

The race begins and as he runs Smith still ponders the question of honesty. Towards the end he remembers how he found his father lying dead on bed. He cries as he slows down to walk right before the finish line and everyone can see him crying and urges him to go on until the second runner overtakes him.

Smith’s courage and wisdom show that he might have deserved more that he got. Moreover, such qualities should have taken him away from crime. But there’s no reforming of the runner. He plans to go out into society and continue his life exactly like before. At the end of the story we find out that, once free again, he has just stolen six hundred and twenty-eight pounds.

“I lost the governor’s race all right, and won my own twice over”, says he. Moreover, his stay in the reformatory gave him the pleurisy that keeps him out of the army.

Smith’s commentary was written down (we are told) after getting out of Borstal. Then it was given to a friend with instructions to get it published if he was caught by the police. “He’s my pal”, the runner says about the other boy, and this is the only friendly statement he ever made. Smith’s rebellion changed nothing for the better in his life.

The style of the story is not didactic; it lets the message speak for itself and offers at the same time masterful grasp of spoken language.

 

 

 

Chapter III

 

The frustrated intellectual

 

 

K. Amis “Lucky Jim”

J. Wain “Hurry on Down”

J. Murdoch “Under the Net”

 

 

 

A distinctly new post-war type is represented by Kingsley Amis’s Jim Dixon, the main character in “Lucky Jim”.

He is not a worker, neither an out-law nor a social climber, but he is the first of a long series of heroes who, in spite of their apparently harmless humor, undertake a serious attack upon tradition. Although Jim Dixon and Joe Lampton are very different, they are products of the same disillusionment.

“The most popular anti-hero of our time has been, without doubt, Jim Dixon in Kingley Amis ”Lucky Jim” – an astonishing best seller of the middle nineteen-fifties”^^1^^.

Jim is the anti-hero of the post-war novel who, unlike Joe who breaks into the world of the Top, reacts ironically and mocks the hierarchy of the institutionalized hypocrisy.

In the earlier world -say in 1900- these non-heroes would have been excluded from university educations, and their activities would have been channeled into working-class occupations. If they had been particularly dissatisfied, they might have been followers of Keir Hardie in the Labour Movement. But the establishment of more universities and state scholarships allowed them to become educated. With an education, they were precluded from working-class life but were still unacceptable, generally, to the Establishment” ^^2^^.

Jim Dixon is a young man of lower-middle-class origin who has been educated in a Red Brick university and who, by a stroke of luck, gets the job of junior lecturer in History at a provincial university, Dixon hates the university and the whole academic profession. His irreverence towards the tradition of the British Establishment takes the form of the wild mockery of all that his elders and his betters hold sacred, People like him rise above their class only to find they are classless men in a class-structured society.

Unlike Osborne’s Jimmy Porter who screams insults at society, unlike Lampton who joins it, Amis’s rebel mocks at it.

In spite of his general attitude Jim shares some respect for what he does. He might have taken up medieval history because it was the easiest subject to study rather than from any real interest in it, but he recognizes and appreciates good teaching and good scholarship. Unhappily his professor is a monumental fool and the embodiment of all fakes. Amis’s protagonist cannot stand fools. Jim’s war against the local Establishment consists mainly of hilarious jokes and face-making when he is not observed by those around him,

“Jim’s Martian-invader face, his Eskimo face, his lemon-sucking face, together with his “Chinese peasant’s face” his “Evelyn Waugh” and “Edith Sitwell” faces and his “sex-life-in-Ancient-Rome” face are all protests against the system and against his own cowardice for not getting out of the univeristy”^^3^^.

“Dixon is a radical, but radicalism is in his blood rather than his head”^^4^^.

His carrier goes from bad to worse until he is desperate for a change in his life. The only hope he has is to be selected as the private secretary of Gore-Urquardt, but when he amazes his prospective employer by making one of his absurd faces, everything seems to be lost. Moreover, he ensures his losing his university job by setting fire to Mrs. Welch’s bedclothes and then collapsing at a public lecture. Having fortified himself with some drink in order to calm himself and get courage, he is drunk when he begins to speak. This speech is his greatest disaster.

Jim does not ask to much from life (money for cigarettes, a drink, a nice girl friend). Bertrand Welch, the son of his professor can have all of these; moreover, he has a girlfriend whom Jim hopelessly desires. What is left for Dixon is the post-war sense of social purpose (imposed upon him by circumstances) and hypocritical slogans about culture and progress.

As a result of his crazy speech Jim loses his job, but Gore-Urquardt hires him. Together with the job that Bertrand was after, Jim wins Christina and takes her away from Professor Welch’s son.

In Burgess Anthony’s opinion, one of the themes of “Lucky Jim” is hypergamy, that is, ‘marrying above oneself” which is often one of the great aims of the post-war rebel. Jim Dixon achieves it. In the end he acts like an opportunist: he takes the easiest job and the prettiest girl (meanwhile abandoning Margaret).

All Amis’s heroes talk about honesty and moral integrity, but integrity is still more a matter of debate than a sound principle to be followed or a sound guide in action. As James Gindin remarked, fidelity to a principle in the face of concrete evidence to the contrary is the mark of the fool. Although for a pretty long time Jim Dixon is in clear opposition to the hypocrisy of the provincial university, he ends by giving up his former convictions, acting according to the principle that “the individual must adjust to his world in order to make his way successfully through it”.

Jim’s final victory is not the logical consequence of the moral issues demonstrated before. The general attitude is one of tolerant acceptance of the structure of the contemporary society.

Up to a certain point, the character of Jim deserves the sympathetic treatment he is given; although the reader is intended to be on the hero’s side, he is also intended to laugh at him.

Undoubtedly, “Amis is a writer of merit and of immense comic talent, whose novels need no apology”^^5^^.

 

 

***

 

 

John Wain published in 1953 a burlesque novel, “Hurry on Down”, in which the author (at that time a lecturer at Reader Uiversity) amused himself by practicing a kind of academic and social strip-tease, dragging his hero along the path leading to a hilarious “come down”^^6^^.

Wain certainly demonstrates sympathy with the working-classes even if he does not plead for a particular class perspective. The reactions of his rebel are directed against class stratification. Charles Lumley’s aim is to achieve economical, social and emotional neutrality, to create a world of his own in which class would be no more significant.

“Could he not, just as easily, cast up and rid of his class, his milieu, his insufferable load of presuppositions and reflexes? … Why should it not end here, and he be reborn, entering the world anew, to no other music than the chirping of the crickets and his own retching?”^^7^^.

His university studies prepared him to be a snob, which might have been a good thing for the life a pedant, but Lumley is sufficiently educated to achieve that level of understanding that makes him hate his own class (bourgeoisie) and determines him to abandon everything that education has prepared him for. Charles leaves the university and becomes: a window washer, a professional driver, a hospital orderly, a night club bouncer, a smuggler, a dope peddler, a radio-gag writer.

As a window washer he enthusiastically thinks that: “Until then he had merely been an offshoot, and appendage, a post-script, to the lives of several other people. This new life was really his own”^^8^^, but his final conclusion is that his university education has not prepared him for the world he encountered in such new circumstances.

Lumley joins the working class but he is never able to become a part of it except at a superficial level and he soon realizes that:

“He may have shed all other middle-class attributes, but the ideal of fine quality, of good job well done (always bourgeois rather than working-class ideal), had accompanied him into the new world”^^9^^.

Charles just earns his living in the same way as the others do; he cannot do more than this because his upbringing and education rise insurmountable barriers and his aim is never to be reached. At a certain moment the hero compares his situation to that of those escaping from prison camps in war-time “… always in terror of being addressed because, as officers and gentlemen, the fugitives could not speak any other language than their own”^^10.

Charles knows that, even if he had made a serious attempt to pass for a worker, his accent would have given him away. Lumley is aware that the value the individual himself represents is much more important than any badges of class and he often tries to bury himself in meditation or intense activity and forget about any badges that can define his status; but while washing windows, he cannot help thinking about how foolish it would be to consider himself a worker in the full meaning of the word. At the beginning of his adventure he had rejected his class. Soon he finds himself rejected by both the class of his origin and the life of the “worker”. He realizes that his new social position does not allow him to even think of Veronica, a beautiful woman whom he hopelessly loves. Later on he will experience the disappointment of finding out that Veronica was not Roderick’s niece, but his mistress.

“He, who had vowed independence of money and social position, turned angrily to scowl at the man behind the wheel as the car drew out to pass him, trying to convey how much he hated him for being able to afford a car instead of a scrap-iron bicycle”^^11.

Burge, a young doctor who had known Charles at the university, finds the hero working as a hospital orderly and tells him directly that such sort of work ought to be done by people who are born into it. Charles still has enough energy to reply:

“I despise you on two counts, he continued, rapidly and fiercely. First, because my education, which you throw in my face, was an education along humane lines that didn’t leave me with any illusions about the divisions of human beings into cricket teams called Classes, and secondly because while you’ve been living the inane life of good mixing, beer-drinking and slapping the nurses’ bottoms on night duty, I’ve been out, out in the world learning the truth about things…”^^12.

Yet Charles cannot ignore society, each of his jobs inevitably carries some sort of class identification and the hero realizes that he himself is dependent on all those things he had tried most carefully to avoid. This does not exclude the fact that, at the same time, those who define themselves by class structure are satirized throughout the novel.

The author himself characterizes “Hurry on Down” as an examination of the conflict between life and education, as the problem of the individual’s adjustment to an order external and prior to himself, already existing there when that particular individual appears, an order not always willing to welcome him.

At the end of the novel Lumley realizes that the social position expresses only the outline of a person; he gives up any endeavours to clarify for himself what precisely is wrong with society and ends by accepting, at least superficially, the kind of social role demanded by his training and by circumstances.

Working for the radio-comic the hero finds a code to live by, because this enables him to avoid (partially) the pressure of social definition and preserve his anonymity, accepting at the same time the dominant patterns of contemporary society.

 

 

  • * *

 

 

Besides Jim Dixon and Charles Lumley we have to include in the same group Iris Murdoch’s Jake Donaghue, a writer and translator, main character in “Under the Net”.

The incidents in the book and the relationships among characters have all a grotesque aspect.

Jake lives in a world of illusions which he imposes on himself as well as on those around him. According to him, we all live in the interstices of another’s life, and Jake has chosen Hugo Belfounder as his “destiny”. The conversations on various topics between the two offer Donaghue the subject matter for his book “The Silencer”. The publication of this novel gives Jack the feeling that he had betrayed his friendship for Hugo (which is completely wrong) and makes him feel guilty. From now on, misunderstanding determines most of his actions.

Hugo Belfounder resembles Charles Lumley in that he changes one job for another without finding satisfaction in any on them. Trying to find “an honest thing to do”, he had been in turn a patron of arts, a film producer, and armaments maker. As Donaghue put it:

“There was something about the fireworks which absolutely fascinated Hugo. I think what pleased him most about them was their impermanence. I remember his holding forth to me once about what an honest thing a firework was”^^13.

“That’s what all art is really said Hugo, only we don’t like to admit it. Leonardo understood this. He deliberately made the Last Supper perishable”^^14.

The character’s opinions concerning the fundamental elements of life and art are expressed in the form of such generalizations throughout the novel, but, in the end they prove to be wrong or mere illusions.

“I hate solitude, but I am afraid of intimacy” – says Jake. Later on he finds out that intimacy at any level is not possible at all, because the net of language raises insurmountable barriers between individuals and make complete communication impossible.

All these things are clarified at the end of a night-time conversation between Hugo and Jake, when the latter is freed by Hugo of his illusions as well as of the illusions about the others around him.

Belfounder never existed as Jake considered him to be; he is neither the philosopher nor the lover Jake had thought, he has none of the qualities Donaghue invested him with. Hugo is nothing more than a man trying to make sense of the world, and, like the main character himself, struggling to come to terms with his own reality. At the end of the novel he prepares to be an apprentice to a watchmaker in Nottingham, a limited and concrete work which he hopes will suit him. Hugo, the character, of wisdom and insight, never meant what Jake thought he meant, and that’s why he is equally perplexed:

“-And what about the truth, I said wildly. What about the search for God?

-What more do you want? said Hugo. God is a task. God is detail. It all lies close to your hand”^^15.

Something similar happens to Jake. He hives up his dream about literary fame and fortune, he gives up Anna who proved to be only a vision of meaningful romance, and becomes a hospital orderly, achieving thus a kind of independent value. Jake comes to understand that human achievement never does what it has been designed to.

One of the ideas conveyed is that people either build their own traps from their own minds and feelings, or meet them accidentally. Such an accidental trap in Jake’s life is Lefty.

A discussion between the two reveals the lack of finality of the politician’s actions and the lack of clarity is his ideas:

 

“-Now, are you a socialist?”

-Yes, I said.

-Certain?

-Yes

-God; mind you, we don’t know yet what this means, but so far is good”^^16.

 

“ -Now what would you say was the future of a body like NISP?

-To get more votes than any other party and make you Prime Minister.

-Not a bit of it! said Lefty triumphantly.

-Well, what is its future ? I asked.

-I don’t know, said Lefty” ^^17.

 

The illusions are different for different people and the effort of human beings to construct their means of salvation is seldom determined by their own actions.

After she wrote “Under the Net” Iris Murdoch gave up fashion and approached subjects and styles more traditional and more personal than those of her first novel.

She still preserves, as titles, some images of the kind of illusions her characters face (ex.: “The Sandcastle”- the title is emblematic of a love affair which, like a castle of sand, cannot last; “The Bell” is another symbol: it is a means of entering the religious life for a group of people who attempt to place a bell on the tower of an abbey).

But the result of escaping all kinds of “nets” is the loss of projects and, sometimes, of hopes.

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV

 

 

Existentialist attitudes in the novels of the Angry Decade

 

 

 

 

In Kierkegard’s definition, existentialism is the philosophy of the human being, as opposed to the philosophy of ideas and nature, sprung from the necessity of taking existence as it is. This trend appeared in Germany during the 3rd decade of the XX-th century and soon became widespread.

Its most important representatives are either concerned with the description of the feeling of existence as it appears in extreme situations (ex. Jaspers), or they give a metaphysical analysis of the fundamental elements of existence (ex. Heidegger).

The concepts usually handled are: option, failure, passion, anxiety, fear, decision, authenticity, absurd, alienation, death.

The influence of this trend was soon to be felt in literature. The threat of another world war, the economic depression, the whole spiritual atmosphere following after World War II led to a sharp sense of insecurity, anxiety and dramatic view on man’s destiny, perfectly explained under such circumstances.

Most of the contemporary novels are searches for identity, thus indicating an existential attitude and motivating Sartre’s remark that man is a meaningless and useless passion.

“The principal foundation of existentialism is the idea that existence is prior to essence, that a person must assume his existence is prior to essence, that a person must assume his existence and the existence of other things and people rather than point abstract and “essential” natures of people and things”^^1^^.

The problem of liberty as it is understood by existentialists finds a clear motivation in the novels belonging to the Angry Decade. The unsystematic and multiple facts of experience become now a constant concern even if they are not amenable to sorting and arranging.

Not possessing liberty, but being condemned to be free, acting in a chaotic and indifferent universe, man is too limited to be ever able to gain certainty of anything around him. He has little understanding and less control over events but apparently, he can at least make personal choices.

In fact, this proves to be a trap, nothing more than a false impression, a kind of a solacing self-deception because the possibility of controlling experience can never offer solutions and always remains theoretical as long as these choices are made without any assurance about what the consequences might be.

So, man has to come to terms with himself and the world around him acting on partial knowledge. He feels these limitations imposed upon his power and knowledge by his very status as being unfair. Moreover, sometimes they are dreadful and absurd. In spite of all these, man must act one way or another, taking all risks of such an arbitrary choice because the examination of the possible social, personal or doctrinal affiliation by means of which he can define himself is a fundamental necessity.

Always caught between vast possibilities and enormous limitations, man has to face in the end the disillusionment of failing to find any convenient affiliation. His efforts are constantly unsuccessful because the complexity within both his world and himself creates insurmountable barriers while experience can offer no adequate or even applicable solution.

Man realizes that the civilization he is caught in cannot last very much longer and the existentialist attitude seems to be the only one appropriate for him.

That’s what we can find in the novels under discussion (expressed more or less forcefully).

The events in Braine’s “Room at the Top” take place immediately after the war. Life goes on, people love or hate each other and endeavour to achieve something, but fear still exists; now and then the characters remember what happened and talk about it. Alice Aisgill remembers such things even in the most intimate moments she has with Joe. Her words express the same feeling that everything is secure only “for the time being”:

“It’s all so safe and civilized and easy, she went on, half-dreamily. All these men, so well-mannered and mild and agreeable, but what’s behind it all?

Violence and death. They’ve seen things which you think would drive anyone mad. And yet there’s no trace. There’s blood on everyone’s hands, that’s what it amounts to… everything so damned insecure”^^2^^.

“Oh God, everything’s going so fast. There’s no way to stop the marry-go-round. You never feel safe. Even if Father and Mother quarreled, they are kind to me. The house was solid too. That bloody concrete barracks I live in now – it’s so clean and streamlined that I wouldn’t be as surprised if it took to fly”^^3^^.

The tragedy of having complete liberty to act one way or another is strongly felt by Joe Lampton.

“The theme is universal in that every man must at sometime face the choice; but he is fortunate if the choice is less clearly marked than Joe’s”^^4^^.

Joe has to choose either Alice or Susan. Nobody forces him to make one decision or another, but he is aware that his choice will be determinative for his destiny. Lampton has both merits and weak points and he is by no means a hero; so, even if he is disgusted at what he is doing, he decides to give up love in favour of welfare. His grief of Alice’s death is sincere, but does not lead to any change in his plan.

Faced with a crucial problem, Joe decides to give up his soul, he is not juridically guilty, but morally he is the culprit. His contradictory impulses and feelings, his capacity of suffering and his vacillations, make Joe a typical character of the time and social stratum he belongs to.

A. Sillitoe’s works offer us another perspective, that of the lower-class, which is presented in all its complexity. The lack of sentimentality gives the novels special vitality and force.

His characters are constantly struggling against the hostile, even wild world around them.

Arthur Seaton belongs to the generation which grew up and spent its childhood under the threat of the air raids. As an adolescent and a young man, he works in a bicycle factory. Alienation (another key-word of existentialism) refers to an actual process. While working, Arthur can stay alive at he machine only if he dreams of other things (women, drink, country Sundays); otherwise he cannot escape its bondage. All these determine him to remain always isolated in a hostile loneliness even if he does not avoid superficial intercourse with other people.

Seaton still remembers events that killed so many people and he often finds himself thinking of it.

Time seems to be a barbaric turning force that can bring about either destruction or elevation. The conviction that pure chance governs man’s existence and all events occur beyond the control of the individuals gives him the feeling that all efforts to achieve something which could last are useless. Everything in his life is done for the sake of the present moment because:

“… You never knew when the Yanks were going to do something daft like dropping the H bomb on Moscow. And if they did, then you could say ta-ta to everybody, burn your football coupons and belting-slips and ring-up Billy Graham. If you believe in God, which I don’t, he said to himself”^^5^^.

As James Gindin remarked:

“The possibility of the H bomb creates a good deal of the uncertainty in the background of Sillitoe’s characters, yet they do not tremble when they speak of it or join committees to advocate a sane nuclear policy”^^6^^.

They do not tremble because, having been born and grown up under such circumstances, uncertainty becomes a part of their life and they come to consider it normal, as if it couldn’t be otherwise. Moreover:

“Arthur rather enjoys telling his farmer uncle about the possible effects of radiation. The H bomb is less an appalling horror than further evidence of life’s essential uncertainty, another vast and unpredictable possibility that must be lived with”^^7^^.

However hard he struggles, man has his destiny governed by forces stronger than those himself possesses. The temporary and limited choices he can make never alter the circumstances. Arthur is convinced that his success with women, money and fine clothes are due to good-luck and nothing else beyond it. Even happiness is a matter of good-luck and, anyway, this is only an ephemeral attribute of life.

Seaton is interested only in those things which serve the purposes of his hedonistic existence because he is sure that there’s nothing in the future but death:

“No place existed in all the world that could be called safe, and he knew for the first time in his life that there had never been such things as safety, and never would be, the difference being that now he knew it as a fact, whereas before it was a natural unconscious state.

If you lived in a cave, in the middle of a dark wood, you weren’t safe, not by a long way, he thought, and you had to sleep always with one eye open and a pile of sharp stones by your side, within easy reach of your fist”^^8^^.

In such a hostile and chaotic world anyone can be (or, potentially, is already) your enemy. Arthur’s final attitude reflects a sad acceptance of the state of things.

His future marriage with Doreen is not an escape from troubles. This is only a partial solution, a new event in his life which might turn him into a domestic working-class husband, making him give up occasional, risky and rapidly passing love affairs with married women. But the kind of stability such as marriage implies is a relative one because it is subject to the same inexorable laws of the undesirable events which can occur every moment and Arthur is fully aware of this.

He thinks marriage can balance his life, at least for a short period of time, as long as there is no war and he has a job.

In the last paragraph Arthur concludes that life is not that bad, and the whole world is not that bad if you can endure. The last assertion (that people are going to find out who he is) can be subject to (at least) two interpretations: it is either a warning that some other rebellious episodes are to follow, or a trace of optimism concerning future possible efforts to make the world better than it is.

In Iris Murdoch’s “Under the Net” we can find the problem of the hero’s search for identity.

As Francis Hope has remarked, “her first novel, “Under the Net”, looks like a refusal to write a novel at all: there is nothing like a plot, crisis and resolutions are avoided; we are not encouraged to look for a moral or even an emergent generalization about life. Such a novel can be called picaresque, but it would be more accurate to term it existentialist: all theorizing is flight. We must be ruled by the situation itself and this is unutterably particular”^^9^^.

The main character, Jake Donaghue, is caught under a verbal and factual net. The experiences he passes through enable him to escape this and help him gain better understanding of things. Up to this moment his wanderings are searches for a satisfactory way of life. But nothing really works. Jake looks for something and he finds something else; he uses all his energy to meet Hugo and when he succeeds, he experiences a bitter disappointment because Hugo is nothing of what Jake expected him to be.

His endeavours are either useless or unsuccessful (after he succeeds in stealing Mars, he finds out that nobody needed the dog anymore; he tries to find Anna and the result is also disappointing because Anna loves Hugo).

Any element to which he wants to attach himself or by which he tries to define himself, proves to be unfit.

There are certain situations in “Under the Net” which are typical for the theatre of the absurd.

The constant irreverence directed against the established values and order (social, religious or economical) is not only a typical “angry” reaction, but also an existential attitude. Besides it, K. Amis develops the theme of the search for identity in the form of comic roles and poses that this hero, Jim Dixon, fabricates.

Dixon finds himself surrounded by fakes. He himself is a fake in this context. The hero is upset at his own lack of authenticity and indignant of the lack of authenticity of those around him.

Values do not exist for Jim, or if they do, they serve the Establishment. That is why he is satisfied with making chaos of an acceptable order. Jim’s life is the best proof that what a man becomes depends on accident because life does not offer patterns to be followed. The roles he is always playing illustrate man’s very position in the world; his masks are not only means of laughing at somebody or something, but also means of obtaining from society what it can offer him.

John Wain’s rootless anti-hero experiences the same deception. There is no “hypergamy” here, as with Braine’s John Lampton. Charles deliberately descends to the ground-floor of the workers.

The statement of the moral worth of the individual, which we can find here, is neither pathetic nor pious, but it constitutes the message of the book.

The dominant patterns of contemporary society are rejected as a logical result of Charles’ dissatisfaction with the life of the bourgeoisie, but, although satirizing a world of chaotic folly, he constantly asserts the dignity of the human being. After the period of crisis and searches he passes through, Lumley gains relative balance realizing what is worth struggling for and what should be given up.

“Angry attitudes” are much more frequent in Wain’s works than the existentialist ones.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

 

The changes that took place in the structure of English society after World War II led to a general feeling of discontentment which was soon reflected by the literary production of time.

The label “Angry Young Men” joins together writers who have very little in common. Each of them is “angry” in his own way. But what they really have in common lies in their constant concern with human experience as well as with social and political aspects of contemporary society, sympathy with the working classes, a feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction, lack of faith in the value of any ideal and in the future of mankind.

Their works are mainly novels of class and conduct. Having as a theme the adjustment of the individuals to the world around them, these novels try to express the moral crisis experienced by post-war man. New types of characters enter the world of British fiction.

One of them is the social climber, presented in the 1st chapter as it is embodied in John’s Braine’s Joe Lampton. “Room at the Top” tackles the problem of hypergamy in the same spirit of rebellion against an outdated order. As Joe Lamton belongs to the lower levels of society – he is much more concerned about his status. He arrives in Warley decided to work his way to the Top which seems to be the realm of all possibilities and promises.

He knows that luxury goods are available only for the privileged members of society and his ambition is to become one of these members. Little by little he loses his humanity as he becomes more and more successful. At the end of the struggle between love and ambition Joe seems to be the winner but soon he will find out that the life of success he had fought for does not give him satisfaction. The theme of the first novel is rebellion against social order and ambition.

In “Life at the Top” Joe is rich, unhappy and bound to conventions. His future evolution may turn him into another “Mr. Brown”. His limited revolt is directed against the social order until this order ceases to reject him. Lampton’s rebellion ends in compromise.

The 2nd chapter presents the worker. A. Sillitoe is certainly a popular writer.

“In 1959, in a passionate and brutal style, he presented the English proletariat for the first time in the history of British literature in accordance with a view sprung from the inner scheme of things since he himself, as a Nottingham factory hand was an integral part of the working-class environment”1.

By writing “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” A. Sillitoe carried out his intention of writing a novel about and for workers.

Arthur Seaton, his hero, considers himself freed from moral, social or religious conventions. He lives his life at a minimal biological level and he is quite satisfied to spend his money on drink, clothes and women.

His rebellion is undirected, unpolitical because he is not the supporter of any political party. Even if he feels that the pillars of society are his enemies, we cannot assert that Arthur is class-oriented. He is aware of the constant conflict of interests existing between workers and management, but Seaton considers that the management, the police-men etc., are his personal enemies rather than the enemies of the class he belongs to. He just recognizes that some other are caught in the same way that he is.

Arthur is, fundamentally, an anarchist, always ready to blow up the Houses of Parliament. His reactions are always impulsive, shocking, vicious and sometimes funny. His distrust in everything is the result of the contrast between the changes his generation was looking forward and the mediocrity of his life.

Smith, the main character in “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” might have been a worker if he hadn’t been a young outlaw. As for Smith, his rebellion is a directed one; it is directed against the “In-laws”. He refuses to become a useful member of society because he wants to remain true to his class, good or bad as it is. Smith is a radical in his way; he does not end in compromise because he deliberately loses the race, thus keeping his integrity intact. He remains a rebel up to the end, but this fact changes nothing for the better in his life.

Another post-war type, the frustrated intellectual, is presented in a 3rd chapter. Jim Dixon, Charles Lumley and Jake Donaghue belong to the same category.

Jim Dixon became the most popular anti-hero of the middle nineteen-fifties. He undertakes a serious attack upon tradition, in spite of his apparently harmless humour. His means of mocking at society, fakes and traditions consists of frustrated face-making and hilarious jokes. Like Joe Lampton, Dixon possesses the post-war sense of social purpose imposed on him by circumstances. Dixon is a rebel only until the system he hates becomes accessible and ready to welcome him.

Although he and Lampton act in different environments, there is a basic similarity between them in that both of them give up revolt as soon as they get what they want. They do not struggle for a fundamental change in the system.

Waine’s Charles Lumley is, like Dixon, an educated man who leaves university and everything that his education has prepared him for. His rebellion is directed against class-stratification and his efforts are meant to create a world of his own in which class would be no more significant. Lumley changes one job for another, trying to avoid any badge that could define his status. The novel is, basically, an examination of the conflict between life and education seen as the problem of the individual’s adjustment to an eternal order which is prior to himself.

While Dixon adjusts himself to the world around him by giving up fidelity to his former principles, Lumley accepts the dominant patterns of contemporary society, without giving up his principles, just because he realizes that nobody can ignore society and its laws.

Jake Donaghue is a writer and translator whose wanderings are searches for a convenient way of living and they are also attempts to break down the conventions. The world of illusions he imposes on himself and on the others drives him on wrong paths; misunderstanding determines most of his actions. His convictions and options on the fundamental elements of life and art prove to be wrong.

In the end Jake gives up his dreams and becomes a hospital orderly. Engaging in this limited and concrete work he achieves a kind of independent value. Escaping the net he had been caught in, Jake lost both his illusions and projects.

The 4th chapter discusses the existentialist attitudes which can be found in the works of the Angry Decade. The presence of such elements is perfectly explainable if we take into account the general state of things after World War II. The sharp sense of insecurity which characterized that period was soon to be felt in literature. Besides, most of the contemporary novels are searches for identity. The heroes struggle to define themselves and to understand who or what they are. They are conscious of their limitations and of the impossibility to gain certainty of anything around them and they experience the bitterness of failing to find a noble cause to live for.

Immediately after the end of World War II fear still exists and makes people try to enjoy the present moment because they cannot see anything beyond it. Man’s efforts to achieve something seem to be useless because nothing can last and all events occur chaotically, escaping the individuals’ control over them. Pure chance governs man’s existence. More or less forcefully stated, the fundamental elements of existentialism are present in the novels under discussion.

We can conclude that the general state of things at the end of the World War II left its print on the literary production of the fifties which is characterized by a rich variety of topics and types of characters.

What “the angries” brought to popularity again was the interest in the provincial setting. We can also notice a revival of the mock-picaresque tradition. The novelty they brought in post-war British fiction lies in the treatment they gave to their subjects, which is sometimes very different from one author to another and in the way they deal with the rapidly changing values of the XX-th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

 

 

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. Amis, Kingley, Lucky Jim, Ed. Victor Gollancz , London 1968

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p<>{color:#000;}. Baleanu Andrei, Romanele englezesti, Secolul XX, no.2 1961

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p<>{color:#000;}. Braine, John, Room to the Top, Penguin Books, 1970

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p<>{color:#000;}. Braine, John, Life at the Top, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1962

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p<>{color:#000;}. Bratu, Horia, Ce este “The Beat Generation”?, Secolul XX nr.2, 1961

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p<>{color:#000;}. Burgees, Anthony, The Novel Now, Faber & Faber, London, 1971

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p<>{color:#000;}. Draghici, Simona, Tinerii furiosi si altii, Secolul XX, no.7-8, 1962

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p<>{color:#000;}. Draghici, Simona, Literatura si tinerete in Anglia, Secolul XX, no.7-8, 1961

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p<>{color:#000;}. Gindin, James, Postawar British Fiction, University of California Press, 1962

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p<>{color:#000;}. Grunberg, Richard, John Osborne si teatrul englez contemporan, Secolul XX, no.5-5, 1962

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p<>{color:#000;}. Hennessy, Brendan, A.Sillitoe, The British Council, London, 1975

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p<>{color:#000;}. Lee James W., John Braine, Twayne Publishers, London, 1968

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p<>{color:#000;}. Legouis & Cazamian, History of English Literature, J.M. Dent & Sons, London, 1971

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p<>{color:#000;}. Murdoch, Iris, Under the Net, Ed. Chatto & Windus, London 1969

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p<>{color:#000;}. Rabinovitz, Rubin, The Reaction against Experiment in the English Novel, Columbia Universtity Press, New York & London, 1967

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p<>{color:#000;}. Shapiro, Charles, Contemporary British Novelists, Southern Illinois University Press, 1966

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p<>{color:#000;}. Sillitoe, A., The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Signet, New York, 1959

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p<>{color:#000;}. Sillitoe , A., Sambata noapte si duminica dimineata, EPLU, Bucharest, 1966

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p<>{color:#000;}. Wain, John, Hurry on Down, Penguin Books, 1963

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p<>{color:#000;}. Weimann, Robert, Orebeliune fara tel, Secolul XX, no.1, 1961

1 James Gindin , Postwar British Fiction, University of California Press, 1962, pp.6 – 7

2 Lee James, W., “John Braine”, Twayne Publishers, New-York, 1968, p. 19

3 Lee James W., John Braine, Twayne Publishers, New-York, 1968, p. 67.

4 Lee James W., op.cit., p.58

5 Lee James W., op.cit., p.63

6 John Braine, Room at the Top, Penguin Books, 1965, p.

7 John Braine, Ibid., p.235

8 John Braine, Ibid., p 263

9 Lee James W. Ibid., p.84

1 Lee James W., Ibidem. p . 23

2 A. Sillitoe, The Writer’s Dilemma, ed. Stephen Spender, 1961

3 Lee James W., Ibidem, p.38

7 (A. Sillitoe Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Sillitoe, 1958, p. 9)

 

8 A.sillitoe, op.cit., p.213

10 A.Sillitoe, op.cit., pp.113-114

11 Ibidem, p.228

12 Rubin Rabinovitz, The Reaction Against Experiment in the English Novel, Columbia University Press, 1967, p.25

13 A.Sillitoe, op.cit., p.231

14 James Gindin, op.cit., p.23

15 Kames Gindin, op.cit., p.23

16 James Gindin, op.cit., p.22

1 Anthony Burgess, The Novel Now, Faber & Faber, London, 1971, p.143

 

 

2 Lee James W. op.cit., p.22

3 Lee James W., op.cit., p.21

4 Anthony Burgess, op.cit., p.143

5 Lee James W., op.cit., p.24

6 Leguois & Cazamian’s, History of English Literature, J.M.Dent & Sons, London, 1971, p.1416

7 John Wain, Hurry On Down, Penguin Books, London, 1963, p.30

8 Ibidem, p.31

9 John Wain, op.cit., p.31

10 Ibidem, p.39

11 John Wais, op.cit., p 79

12 Ibidem, pp.175 – 176

13 Iris Murdoch, Under The NEt, London, Ed.Chatto & Windus, 1969, p.61

14 Ibidem, p.34

15 Iris Murdoch, op.cit., p.258

16 Iris Murdoch, op.cit., p.110

17 Ibidem, p.111

1 James Gindin, op.cit., p.231

2 John Brains, op.cit., p.103

3 Ibidem

4 Lee James W., op.cit., p.57

5 Ibidem, p.30

6 James Gindin, op.cit., p.191

7 Ibidem, p.231

8 A. Sillitoe, op.cit., p.191

9 Ibidem, p.231


Types of characters in the works of angry young men generation

The social climber, the worker and the frustrated intellectual enter the world of British fiction as new types of characters who express the general feeling of discontentment and the moral crises experienced by the post-war man. Always caught between vast possibilities and enormous limitations, living with a sharp sense of insecurity in a world where nothing can last and events occur chaotically, the post-war man bitterly experiences the tragedy of having complete liberty to act one way or another while his efforts are never successful because he is never able to master the complexity within both his world and himself.

  • ISBN: 9781370880195
  • Author: Serban Mihai Popa
  • Published: 2016-07-25 10:20:11
  • Words: 12696
Types of characters in the works of angry young men generation Types of characters in the works of angry young men generation