This essay analyses the procedures used by J.B. Priestley in this play. It will pay close attention to which dramatic devices and structures Priestley utilizes. J.B. Priestley uses a cunning technique to conclude the play. He deceives the reader by installing several false endings. This keeps the audience actively engaged and creates a tense atmosphere. There is great disparity between the inauguration of the play and the closing stages. At the start, the Birling family is rejoicing due to the engagement between Gerald and Sheila. We know this as stage directions and expressions show genuine joy, Sheila’s father, Mr Birling, declares ‘This is one of the happiest nights of my life…’
There is also dramatic irony as the play was written in 1945, but set in 1912; Birling talks of the Titanic being unsinkable, no likelihood of wars and so forth. The audience already know that the Titanic had sunk and that two World Wars had previously occurred. This gives a more realistic feeling to the play as what Birling stated was true at the time the play was set. The climax is very much to the contrary. The entrance of the inspector is the point at which the tension rises.
During the enquiry, the intensity increases dramatically. The authentic ending is sudden and comes to an end with suspense; the final phone call just tells the audience or reader that a real inspector is soon to arrive to investigate the suicide of a young girl. As the characters have begun to relax, the phone call is a great astonishment. This is traditional cliff-hanger which brings the play ‘full circle’; back to the beginning.
The inspector approaches each character differently. As the investigation progresses, Goole uses more aggression, as Mrs Birling states, ‘…you seem to conducting it in a rather peculiar and offensive manner.’ The order of inspection is Mr Birling, Sheila, Gerald, Mrs Birling followed by Eric. The significance of this order, is that each character has more deceitful than the last; steadily increasing apprehension. When interrogating Mr Birling, he is calm and is straightforward. He seems to be letting Mr Birling remember everything, as to not put any words in to his mouth. His discussion with Birling is quite brief, but adequate information is revealed. Although the questioning of Birling is concise, as if to represent less significance, he does commence the downfall of Eva.
With Sheila, again, the audience is shown how she contributed to the descend of Eva Smith. Although she isn’t wholly responsible, she is fully involved. As Goole doesn’t raise his voice or get disconcerted, he just establishes that Sheila is a jealous and cruel-hearted person. Also, Goole doesn’t implicate her, as he does with each character; he lets them implicate themselves. As the inspector moves on, he seems to get more affected by the whole situation and becomes inflamed. In Mrs Birling’s case, this uproar is produced due to her denial of her responsibility and connection to the situation. As he interviews Gerald, he is still quite calm, but as more mysteries are revealed, the tension rises. As various people interfere, Goole does get slightly annoyed, ‘(sharply) Come along Mr Croft.’
Goole seems to get emotionally involved as Gerald speaks of the fact the Eva is dead, ‘(harshly)Yes, she’s dead.’ As there are less interferences, the inspector calms down a little. Still, he doesn’t imply anything or ask leading questions; he wants the characters to implicate themselves. Goole is quite patient, but again, when interrupted, he is easily annoyed. With Mrs Birling, Goole gets infuriated quite occasionally as she denies various accusations, ‘You’re not telling me the truth.’ As Mrs Birling doesn’t co-operate with Goole, or answer him with some respect, he speaks with sharp tones; ‘(severely) Do you want me to tell you – in plain words?’ As Mrs Birling begins to see her fault and involvement in the matter, she softens her tone, as does Goole. However, as Mrs Birling refuses to accept blame, Goole gets a bit more agitated.
As Eric’s interview is more detailed, there are more emotions present in the room. As things get heated, at the beginning of Act 3, Goole swiftly cools things down. To keep focused on matters, and to quicken the investigation, Goole tells Birling to be quiet, ‘Don’t start on that. I want to get on.’ Goole talks quite calmly as Eric doesn’t deny truths and just tells of how he got involved with Eva. As matters get heated again later on, it is Goole again who calms the situation. To make sure that Eric understands fully his involvement, Goole states again how Eva died, and how each character helped to put her in her grave, ‘…and died a horrible death…But each of you helped to kill her. Remember that.’
JB Priestley fits the ending efficiently in to the general structure. Unlike other authors, he uses more than one ending to deceive and confuse the audience, this keeps them engrossed. This creates sufficient tension and suspense in the atmosphere. At the instance the inspector departs from the Birling household, there is a climax of tension between the characters and the audience. What makes the family reflect on their previous deeds, is when Goole states, ‘…you will have to learn in blood, fire and anguish.’ In other words, if people like the Birlings don’t learn their lesson now, they will have to pay in blood. This is a shocking message to the Birlings, but it is also an opportunity to change their way and prevent any further ordeals. When the inspector departs, it is an anti-climax.
This is referred to as an anti-climax, because the audience believe that after discovering the truth, the whole family has been let off easily and that it was just a test of conscience. This puzzles the spectators and gives them a slight shock as the true moral of the incident is revealed. The whole anti-climax division provides escalating tension and bewilderment, especially for the audience. This also gives the on-lookers time to reflect before the tension begins to rise again. The reason why Priestley doesn’t finish the play at this point, is to let the audience acknowledge that the Birlings didn’t get off lightly. This gives a tense ambience and provides a perfect cliffhanger ending. It serves a dramatic purpose and allows the on-lookers to reflect on the rest of the play; the moral and so forth.
In the subsection of Act 3, the family reflect on their actions. The characters react in a dissimilar fashion after Goole disappears. This shows the reader that a few of the family have learnt their lesson to sufficient extent. It seems to be the elder characters that have dismissed the lesson. The inspector’s final speech seems to have caught the attention of the characters, making them regret their actions, but also to make them realise that they can still change for the better. Although there is a varied response from the characters, they all seem to have some confusion.