Choose two scenes from “An Inspector Calls” and explore their dramatic effectiveness, showing an awareness of the historical context and the impact of that on these and on the play as a whole In the play “An Inspector Calls”, the playwright, J.B. Priestley describes, and refers to actual historical events and life in the Edwardian era. Throughout this essay, I will be focussing on two separate scenes from the play, and analysing certain revealing lines. The first scene is the celebration scene at he start of the play, including Birling’s speech of congratulations, which turns out to be more about his outlook on life, and the future. The second scene is the Inspector’s interrogation of Mrs Birling. I chose these two scenes because they deal largely with important, fact of life issues for the era.
The playwright, J.B. Priestley was born in 1894 in Bradford to middle class parents. Later in 1901, Queen Victoria died and the Edwardian era began. Life in this era was hard, cities being laden with paupers and continuous strikes at places of employment, particularly at mine-pits where tragedies were frequent. This is probably why Priestley became a socialist. “An Inspector Calls” is set in 1912. It was a week before the Titanic sank, and within two years of World War 1’s beginning; a time of endless nightmares, in which one would not like to live. The upper middle class citizens would have no problem with the way the live, their money catering for their every need, but the people of the lower classes would be severely affected by the ongoing troubles. Priestley wrote this play in 1945, so all the happenings would have already occurred when this play was being written and completed.
The first scene starting in Act One features a joyous and memorable occasion. It is the engagement dinner of Sheila Birling to Gerald Croft. We learn, via stage directions (which Priestley uses frequently) that there are four Birlings (Arthur, Sybil; the parents, and Sheila and Eric; their children) at the table along with Gerald Croft. All are in formal clothing and drinking port, appropriate for the Edwardian times.
Mr Birling is described as a portentous man in his middle fifties with easy manners. He is heavy looking and provincial in his speech. He, as we find out, is not afraid to speak his mind, which is weighed-down with assumptions of the world and others around him. He is a businessman at heart, and feels he is important. He “clears his throat” (on page three) to draw attention to himself despite there being only four other people present. This shows he feels his superiority as paramount. Later, he remarks, “It’s a pity Sir George and Lady Croft can’t be with us … it can’t be helped!” This tells us he considers himself and his Birling family name worthy of attention, and that he is practically a snob.
We can see when reading the text that Birling’s character dominates the page. The occasion is meant to be that of enjoyment, and yet Birling takes up half a page discussing the future possibility of a business merging of Crofts Limited, and his own business. He wants this to happen for “lower costs and higher prices.” This tells us of his political view, as a capitalist. This is a person who is extremely interested in creating profit out of a business for the smallest fees possible. This therefore shows us the contrast between his and Priestley’s political view, as a socialist. This is a person who (with the support of a group) aims for the decrease or elimination of the differences caused by economic power, by means of a political power.
Just as Mrs Birling goes to retreat into the drawing room with Sheila (customary in those times), Mr Birling abruptly announces “rather heavily”: “I just want to say this… Are you listening? This concerns you, I don’t often make speeches at you…” This is, in effect, attention seeking. It also gives us the assumption of male superiority, which was typical of the time. Birling’s next speech is probably the most flawed of them all, and reveals Priestley’s effective use of dramatic irony. Such revealing lines are: “Last month the miners were on strike. We’ve passed the worst of it”, and “We’re in for a time of increasing prosperity”.
The way in which Birling says both lines, he sounds very sure of himself, as if he genuinely believes what he is ‘preaching’, but in reality he demonstrates naï¿½vetï¿½. The 1945 audience would see the because they knew of the upcoming troubling times, of many more strikes and much more poverty. He also says “Fiddlesticks!” to a possibility of war. “Nobody wants war.” he continues. In short, how wrong he was! There was not one, but two world wars since his speech (one in 1914, and the other in 1939).