The end of Act 2 of An Inspector Calls is full of suspense and tension
The end of Act 2 is full with suspense and tension as all the clues that have been dropped finally come to sense to the audience. Although it is not mentioned, Priestley makes it clear that the inspector knew that Eric Birling was the father of Eva Smith’s child and had wanted for Ms Birling to declare what punishment she believed should be given to the young man “Make sure that he’s compelled to confess in public his responsibility.” The stage direction (with sudden alarm) adds to the tension that Priestley has successfully built thus far. When Sheila says “mother stop-stop” this creates tension and excitement within the audience due to the curiosity of what she may know. At this point in the play we are being drawn into what is happening on stage and being filled with curiosity of what the characters are talking about.
In the play so far, the audience have learnt that Mr Birling had Eva Smith work for him before he had fired her; Sheila Birling had got Eva Smith fired from her new placement because she was in a bad mood and had believed that Eva smith was laughing at her (although the audience know secretly she was just jealous of Eva Smith’s good looks); Gerald Croft had a relationship with Eva under the false pretences that she was Daisy Renton and Mrs Birling didn’t help her when she had really needed the support, but had instead made the whole charity group refuse to offer to help her.
The four clues that have been purposely put into the scene one after the other, ensures that Priestley had wanted for us to be covered with the hints and create our own speculations of what we had believed to happen next. He also tries to assure the audience with the 4 clues that Eric Birling could possibly be the father of Eva Smith’s child as when Eva had called the charity group she had called herself “Mrs Birling”. Mrs Birling says this sentence with a little force from the Inspector. This makes us think that she is hiding something as she seems very resistant and uncooperative with the Inspector.
The statement “first she called herself Mrs Birling” could make the audience consider that either Eric was the father or Mrs Birling was having an affair with her.
The second clue that we are given that Eric could be the father is, that Eva described him as being “silly, wild and drinking too much”. The stage direction that is here is that Mrs Birling looks ‘rather intimidated’. This puts her under the spotlight by the Inspector -who has a lot of power over her, and this shows the audience that he will (eventually) be able to get the information he requires out of her.
Priestley also makes the Inspectors speech when he talks to Mrs Birling end with a question, which also makes Mrs Birling almost always provide him with what he wants to hear. This makes the audience aware that the Inspector already knows what the correct information is and shows he knows more than he is letting on.
The third and fourth clue is when Sheila tells her mother “stop, stop” and “But don’t you see”. The use of the of the exclamation mark and the interruptions in the speech helps to build the anticipation that Sheila has discovered the fact that her brother is the father and is trying to make her mother understand and stop her from making a big mistake and blaming the problem all on her own son-without knowing of course.
Another dramatic device used is the silence in the stage direction and the end of the act when Eric re-enters the scene looking pale and distressed. This is the perfect confirmation that he is the father -yet Priestley does this by his facial expressions- not through speech, which has a great impact upon the audience.
Mrs Birling’s general speech and behaviour in the text is quite irrational and the information about things had to be forced out of her by the Inspector, who used a tone that was forcefully persuasive. The stage directions ‘severely’ and ‘cutting in sharp’ express the tone of voice he was trying to use with her. Priestley has used this effectively as we as an audience can feel the sharpness that there is. The words that Priestley also uses for the Inspector- “you mean you don’t choose to do”, “you’re not telling me the truth” are used to show that he is able to contradict Mrs Birling (which shows the position of power he has, yet again). The use of contradiction shows that the Inspector sparks anger in Mrs Birling that causes her to retaliate in speech. This is also shown with the stage direction ‘angrily’ (when Mrs. Birling responses angrily). This seems to be effective for the audience, as we seem to feel the tension arising as the patience decreases.
The timing at the end of the Act slows down as it is comes to a final conclusion as to who Mrs Birling believed to be blamed-“I blame the young man who was the father of the child she was going to have”. Priestley shows that the Inspector has successfully gained what he had wanted as his final conclusion of the mystery of Eva Smith’s death.
The timings between the actors and actresses become quite uptight with the interruptions from Sheila at points. Also, the stammering at the end of the act from Mr and Mrs Birling when they come to an understanding that Eric is the father of Eva Smith’s child -“that my boy -is mixed up in”, “but surly…I mean… its ridiculous”.
The breaks in the speech of Mr Birling show that the truth isn’t what he had wanted to hear and that he wasn’t planning on believing that Eric was in reality the father. This is very hypocritical, as now that he has found out about whom the father of the baby is- he and his wife are backing away and now probably thinking his family should not have helped the Inspector in the first place. When Priestley makes Sheila speak he makes sure in the speech that she tells her parents that she had tried to warn them before it got to the point of them discovering out like that.
The use of incomplete sentences and lots of stage directions are dramatic devices that Priestley uses in An Inspector Calls to create a final tense feeling to all the suspense that he was trying to build up, uses words like- ‘terrified now’, ‘Thunderstruck’, ‘agitated’, ‘curtains fall quickly’. This helps to keep us engaged to the rest of the play.
Towards the end of the act there is a slight disagreement seen between the two parents; Mr and Mrs Birling -“I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it…” as they don’t believe that Eric, who is seen as shy and confused, could be mixed up in something like this. This creates conflict between the family members because the Inspector has revealed secrets about them that they had wanted nobody to know.
Suspense is actually shown at the end of the act because the family members are all sharing inquiring looks. We, as an audience want for our suspicions of Eric being the father to be confirmed. Although Eric does not even speak, the stage direction of him being “extremely pale and distressed” makes the audience want to continue watching all the way through to act 3. The use of just a stage direction to end the scene is useful and has a powerful impact on the audience because everyone is staring at Eric and all is silent except for the sound of the front door…
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