How the Inspectors Presence Creates Dramatic Importance

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Written in 1945 by the Playwright J. B. Priestly, ‘An Inspector Calls’ is a political play set in 1912, centred around a middle class family’s home. The Birling family, who live prosperously due to the success of their business, are enjoying a celebratory evening when suddenly, Inspector Goole arrives. He begins to interrogate each family member and shocks them all to reveal they all played a part in a young girl’s demise to suicide. This highlights the cracks in the family’s unity, as the younger family members feel their upbringing has been ignorant and they have ruined others for their own achievement.

They take responsibility for their actions and are remorseful, yet the older family members remain in denial about their role in her death. Priestly has made a conscious choice when writing his play in 1945 to set it in 1912, for a number of different contextual reasons. One of Priestley’s main concerns was to compare the differences between society in 1945 and in 1912. During the time the play was set were years of great industrial unrest, where many people with businesses were becoming rich.

The play discusses the issues of capitalism and socialism, and Priestly makes it clear what his message to the audience is, wanting them to be aware of the idea of actions and consequences, and how people must look out for one another as a community, as opposed to only thinking of themselves. The head of the household, Mr Birling, is shown as ignorant and stubborn, and Priestley uses dramatic irony to show this. For instance, Mr Birling claims “I say there isn’t a chance of war”. However, the audience would be aware that shortly after from 1914-1918 was the First World War, and after that the World War Two.

Another example of this is when he declares the Titanic as “unsinkable… absolutely unsinkable”, even though it very famously sank on its maiden voyage. This would persuade the viewers to disagree with Mr Birling and his capitalist views and establish him as stupid. Priestley’s play is structured over 3 acts, each one growing in dramatic tension. He uses the character Inspector Goole to heighten this, and creates him as wise and mysterious, two traits which would intrigue the audience. During the play, he and the ignorant Mr Birling continuously lock horns, as though to represent the two political sides.

When describing the scene the playwrights tells us there to be a table “which has no cloth”, suggesting the family want to show off their wealth and luxury, and do not care if it was to get damaged by a spill, as they can afford a new one. Mr Birling says to Gerald, his daughters fiance , that “your father and I have been… for lower costs and higher prices”, showing him as greedy. They also have their own maid, which would make the audience think back to the wealth that existed before the wars. In Act One, the dramatic importance of the Inspector’s entrance is amplified by the events before he arrives.

The lighting is described as “pink and intimate”, showing comfort and warmth, and we are told the family are celebrating the engagement of the daughter, Shelia, to Gerald. However, there is an ominous feeling when Shelia says “yes, except all that time last summer when you didn’t come near me”, and raises the viewer’s suspicions. As soon as the Inspector calls, the atmosphere instantly changes. The light is instructed to be “brighter and harder”, which takes away the ease from before and produces tension.

He is described as creating “at once an impression of massiveness”, which makes us feel he is powerful and in control. He appears as the door “slowly opens”, and instead of introducing himself or greeting anyone, he merely asks “Well? “, making him seem omniscient and making us wonder what he is asking about and hinting to a dark secret about to be uncovered. This use of stagecraft builds anticipation among the audiences mind and increases the dramatic tension. The Inspector’s departure also creates just as much dramatic importance as his arrival does.

At this point, he has untied the entire family and revealed their secrets and flaws. Before his exit, the Inspector makes one, last, crucial speech, which wraps up the meaning of the play the highlights the points the playwright wishes to get across. He makes his message stick in the viewers mind when the Inspector says “if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish”, as this would to them seem like a prophecy to the two wars that were to come after this time the Inspector is saying this.

It makes the audience realize this Inspector is no ordinary police officer. After the Inspector leaves, the dramatic tension declines, and the torn family begin to discuss the events and conclude there was no suicide and Inspector Goole was in fact not a real Inspector. However, Priestley makes it shoot right back up when suddenly, the play finishes on a cliff-hanger as the telephone calls and it is announced “A girl has just died – in the infirmary” “A police inspector is on his way here – to ask some questions”.

The effect of the Inspector’s knowledge of this young girl and her suicide before it actually happens creates him as a seer of the future events, which again reminds the audience of his warning of being taught in “fire and blood and anguish” and makes the audience reflect on the meanings behind the play. The play ends leaving many questions unanswered, but making a definite imprint on his audience and really making them think.

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