“There are only two choices, that we force ourselves into the effort of imagination necessary to become what we are capable of being, or that we submit to being ruled by the office boys of big business or social bureaucrats … and the end of submission is that we shall blow ourselves up.”
This interpretation of the plight of the civilized world supplies the common motive for the writings of a group of young authors and dramatists that have been called the “Angry Young Men.” To find a further common factor is almost impossible. For example, the above quotation comes from the pen of a woman, Doris Lessing, not a young man. These writers strongly object, moreover, to being called Angry Young Men, for it groups them with other writers with whom they have little desire to associate; one protests that he is not young, and that his neighbors think him mild. Many people, in trying to assess the “movement,” as it may be described, have said that all these writers have come from the lower classes and are bitter with the way life has treated them. But this is true only of some; others have been to Cambridge and Oxford, and come from a background that is middle class or even higher. So here is a group of young writers, mostly under 35, both men and women, who represent a fair cross section of society, with a desire expressed in their books and plays to force people to face the danger that threatens civilization and do something about it.
This is, of course, no new aim among writers. But the fact that mankind is “haunted by the image of an idiot’s hand pressing down a great lever … as the fiery dance of death spreads over the earth” gives a new element of desperation, urgency and anger at the supineness of most people in the face of this ...1
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