John Boynon Priestly was born in Bradford, Yorkshire on 13th September 1894 and died 80 years later on August 14, 1984. He published over 120 books, married three times and was a socialist who thought that people should share their wealth or a t the least help the needy. His message that he tries to communicate to us in this play is that all of us have a social obligation and responsibility to help, act fairly and think about the welfare of others; not to live in isolation and think how our actions affect others. His quote ‘things could really improve if only people were to become more socially responsible for the welfare of others’ backs this up. The text of the play was set in 1912 before 1st world war but was written with hindsight in 1945.
The play is set in the past so that the social criticism he is making is easier for people to take in, and so that they don’t feel attacked because it is other people in the past. However, because it is not directly aimed at them, some people may feel that it is not relevant and that they don’t need to take action or take notice. There is no other plot in this play so we are not distracted from the issue so his message gets through clearer.
The play starts before the text does because it needs to set the scene and give the audience information they would have if they had the text from reading the stage directions. The curtains are shut and there is a sound of an air raid siren. Kids come from under the stage out of a trap door which is presumably meant to be an air raid shelter. When the curtains open you can see kids playing on a cobbled street in the dark and the only light comes from a streetlamp and searchlights. All these things combined mean that this play must be set in wartime, There is a house on stilts in the corner which the kids are interested in but don’t want to get too close too as it looks eerie and belongs to a higher class family. The music begins dramatically and then as the house is introduced it becomes discordant and jumpy as the house is disturbing the atmosphere.
We can only hear uncomprehendable babble coming from the house which means that it isn’t important and it makes them sound stupid. The Inspector slips in out of the audience and as he has a long trenchcoat and his hat is covering his face he looks mysterious and like a gangster. The music also helps to heighten our suspicions as it is melodramatic and sinister. The maid comes out of the house and goes towards the Inspector who is under a lamppost. This suggests that this is preplanned and that the maid has helped the Inspector. After that, a child is drawn to the Inspector who gives him an orange.
This would have been highly prized, unusual and rare as rationing meant that many foods were unavailable. The director has used this to represent the Inspector giving the people things back that they hadn’t had. Gerald and Mr. Birling come outside and Gerald comes across as an idiot through his foolish high voice. As he is older, grotesque and bald this suggests that Birling doesn’t care about who his daughter marries just like he doesn’t care about employees and this is perhaps why the director has chosen to show them like that. He is only interested in the marriage for social and business enhancement – the Crofts are higher up in class than they were and so would drag the Birlings up and also the two businesses would possibly be merged so that they could both gain advantages out being a bigger company ‘for lower costs and higher prices.’ Classes were very important in those days and it determined how much wealth, who you could marry, what job you did and virtually every aspect of your life. Two third’s of the nations wealth was in 1% of the population.
As the house opens, the music gradually becomes jarrier to make us feel uncomfortable about this house and it’s inhabitants. The set directions from the text say that the set should only be ‘The dining room of a fairly large house’ but the play uses the outside of the house as well. It also says ‘The general effect is substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike’ which means that they are just concerned with material wealth rather than if it is nice or not. The maid opens the house because as the inspector is arriving, it is coming under public scrutiny. The house looks like a dolls house, which gives the effect of it being fake and unreal and of the characters living in a fantasy world.
They are just celebrating their daughter’s engagement when the inspector arrives. The stage directions ‘ The lighting should be pink and intimate until the Inspector arrives and then it should be brighter and harder’ suggest that he is intruding into their home, spoiling the nice mood they were in before. He interrupts a speech about how Birling thinks people should live ‘a man has to make his own way… community and all that nonsense’ but as he says stupid stuff about Titanic and War which the audience now is absolutely nonsense ‘the Titanic…and unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable’, ‘all these little war scares’ it makes the audience realise that there is not much validity in all his statements.
This is because he uses force and status rather than logic ‘Arthur Birling is rather provincial in his speech.’ There is a sound of a doorbell in the play to announce the arrival but in the film there is a noise like a gong and the Inspector just suddenly appears like a ghost. When the Inspector appears ‘ he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness.’ and ‘speaks carefully, weightily.’ This may have been put here to create the effect that things will get done properly.