‘An inspector calls’ was written by J.B.Priestley between 1944-1945 but set in 1912. The play all takes place in the living room of a house, and although it seems that this would restrict the play, it doesn’t. In fact it is very dramatic play with tension, irony and very dramatic scenes. The historical setting of the play is shown both by how things are perceived differently and the irony about how the future is talked about.
References are made as to how things ‘won’t happen’, Titanic-‘unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable’, but they have and we, the audience, find this very ironic. Priestley also makes this play effective with the tense moments he creates with the skilful climaxes used throughout the play, which heightens the audience’s suspense and creates the tension. The way Priestley writes gives the desire to find out who ultimately, was responsible for what happened. It is a very dramatic play, powerful almost, and so I will describe and analyse what I think are the two dramatic moments in the play. These are Mrs Birling’s interrogation and the end.
Mrs Birling’s interrogation starts briefly when she comes into the room saying to the Inspector: ‘ I don’t think I can help you much’. Sheila then tries to warn her mother to stop ‘No, mother -please!’. Mrs Birling tries to ignore Sheila but Sheila is persistent, ‘Mother, don’t-please don’t. For your own sake , as well as ours, you musn’t -‘. Mrs Birling again carries on trying to explain to the Inspector that she doesn’t see how she can help and Sheila also carries on warning her mother to stop. We, the audience, now feel on edge as we wonder where this will lead-will Mrs Birling be involved with the death of Eva Smith?
We also gradually begin to notice Sheila’s responsiveness to the Inspector’s presence and questions. Sheila has become like the Inspector and she seems aware of the Inspector’s point of view. It is obvious that the Inspector has made a big impression on Sheila, as Mrs Birling states, to which the Inspector replies, ‘We often do the young ones….’ .It is now that Mrs Birling finds out one of the truths about her son, his drinking problem. This is quite dramatic even though little is said about it at the time when Mrs Birling finds out about it. It is only later that we realise the importance Eric’s drinking has in the play.
However the audience find it quite dramatic as it is obvious that Mrs Birling didn’t know about her son’s drinking and this is the first she’s heard about this quite serious problem, she replies to the Inspector’s question of ‘Isn’t he used to drinking?’ ‘No of course not. He’s only a boy.’ Most of the audience at this point would relate to the beginning of the play when Sheila says to Eric ‘You’re squiffy.’ Eric gives quite an abrupt answer of,’I’m not.’-possibly so his mother doesn’t think anything of it. This is the first truth she finds out about her son; it is later on that she finds out the other.
After Gerald’s interrogation Mrs Birling’s interrogation really starts and the connection between Mrs Birling and Eva Smith are shown. Firstly the Inspector shows Mrs Birling the photo of the girl but she denies any connection when the Inspector asks if she recognises her, ‘No. Why should I?’ It is now, from the Inspector, we find out the connection between her and the woman: she had come to Mrs Birling for help when she was pregnant and was refused. Mrs Birling tells the Inspector quite clearly that she believes what she did was right, the others disagree, and it was the father of the child’s responsibility. Bit by bit the audience piece together the clues and then it gradually becomes aware that Eric is the father.
This interrogation is very dramatic, as it is very tense. We, the audience, from the moment Mrs Birling walks, speaks to the Inspector and is told by Sheila to stop, realise that Mrs Birling too had something to do with the death of this girl. This is at first what creates the tension, as we want to know what her part in killing this woman was, it is only later that things become even more intense. Sheila confirms to us: ‘He hasn’t started on you yet’, and we are left waiting for the Inspector to start his inspection which by now has formed a pattern, as well as Sheila’s. Straight away Mrs Birling explains in her own manner, being pompous and arrogant, ‘Though naturally I don’t know anything about this girl.’
The Inspector replies, ‘We’ll see Mrs Birling’. This is a very tense moment because the Inspector has more or less confirmed that she does and we are in suspense waiting for the connection. After Gerald’s interrogation has finished Mrs Birling’s starts with the presentation of the photo. Mrs Birling shows sheer arrogance at the whole idea of her being involved and she doesn’t see why she should see the photo. She denies knowing the girl and so the audience wonders that maybe she doesn’t know her, but again the Inspector confirms that she does, ‘ Of course she might have changed lately but I can’t believe she could have changed so much.’
Again, being persistent, she denies knowing anything, but the Inspector comes down harder: ‘You’re not telling me the truth.’ It is when Sheila sums up what has happened and tells us that she herself, knows her mother recognises the girl and that she is keeping something from the Inspector, that we, the audience, get more excited about finding out more about what happened. The Inspector introduces us to the situation ‘Mrs Birling, you’re a prominent member – of the Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation, aren’t you?’ The Inspector has to force the information out of her with Sheila’s help, as Mrs Birling is very reluctant to admit how she came across the woman. She is very rude to the inspector with her blunt replies: ‘I dare say there was’, ‘And if there was, what business is it of yours’.’
It is then revealed to us by Mrs Birling and the Inspector that Mrs Birling saw the young woman only two weeks ago. The lady called herself Mrs Birling and told the committee that she was pregnant and her husband had walked out on her, but later revealed the truth that she wasn’t married. The child’s Father had offered the woman money but it was stolen money so the woman refused to take it. It is ironic that Mrs B, being a snob, said ‘a girl of that class’ should not have ‘airs’ because Eva did not want to take the money and yet we realise that Eva was more moral that anyone else. Mrs Birling turned the woman away with no help.
Mrs Birling shows us that she is an arrogant, self-caring, egotistical, selfish person as one does still not see how any of this was her fault, it was the father’s, ‘I did nothing I’m ashamed of or that won’t bear investigation.’ The Inspector, ‘I think you did something terribly wrong-and that you’re going to regret it.’ We know what she has done. We think the climax has gone but…Mrs Birling reveals to us again that ‘It’s his responsibility.’ ‘If he refused to marry her-and in my opinion he ought to be compelled to- then he must at least support her. Again and again she goes into more detail about how it being the fathers fault ‘He should be made an example of. If the girl’s death is due to anybody then it’s due to him.’