Throughout the play, suspense and tension has always been a part of whatever was happening on the stage. However this was especially true as the play neared the end of Act 2. Suspense from this act comes mainly from the three clues dropped which identify Eric Birling as the father of Eva Smith’s baby. This allows the audience to realise this before anybody else on stage does. Tension also plays a big part in the play. This arises from conflict between characters on stage. The Inspector and Mrs Birling most of all creates incredible tension between them with the Inspector pushing his questions forward without listening to Mrs Birling’s protests.
The play starts off with the Birlings at dinner, happy and jubilant as they were about to be united to the prestigious Croft family through the marriage of Sheila Birling and Gerald Croft. When dinner has finished, the three men from the group – Mr Birling, Gerald and Eric – sit down as Mr Birling passes on his “experiences”. Many of these were deliberately ironic such as Mr Birling saying a World War would not start. They are interrupted by a ring at the front door as the Inspector first makes his arrival. He tells them that he’s investigating the death of a young girl named Eva Smith and proceeds to question them. He interrogates them one by one as each member of the group reveals a shameful secret to link them to her death. As we proceed to the end of Act 2, only two people remain to be questioned – Mrs Birling and Eric. Mrs Birling is under the spotlight as the Inspector intends to crack her determine self.
At the end of Act 2, three clues are dropped that enables the audience to realise that Eric is the father of Eva’s baby before anyone on stage does. A fourth clue was also dropped when the Inspector first arrived at the household. The first clue is dropped, as mentioned above, when the Inspector first arrives at the Birlings’ home. Before the Inspector started his questioning, Eric asked if he could go to bed as he was feeling unwell. However the Inspector told him to stay up as he shall need to be questioned to. This did not seem special at first, but as the questioning proceeded we see that the order of questioning is in chronological order to Eva’s death. We therefore conclude that the last person to be questioned must be the one that pushed Eva over the edge and ultimately to her death.
However, as soon as the Inspector begins his interrogation, we can see that Priestley has done an extremely clever swap. Rather than continue the pattern of questioning the characters in chronological order, he decides to switch Mrs Birling’s questioning, which was the latest in the line of the family’s encounters with Eva, with Eric’s. This enables those vital clues to be dropped, keeping the audience in suspense until the moment they have suspected and waited for all along (Eric admitting he’s the father of the baby) finally happens.
Back to the clues, however, the second clue was dropped early in the interrogation of Mrs Birling. This was when Mrs Birling quoted Eva saying “she said her name was Mrs Birling.” Unknown the characters at the time, although it could be true that Eva was using the title of Mrs Birling (her story was her husband abandoned her and her baby) in order to gain sympathy and thus gain support from the committee, she wasn’t as distant from getting married as she was made out to be. She called Mrs Birling because obviously Eric was her “partner”. Saying that though, Eric only really used Eva for sex when he wanted, without really being concerned about her.
This seems to be a concern throughout the play – how the higher classes could use the lower classes for what they want, where they want and when they want. They can then dispose of them as if they were not human and were just objects that were useful at the time. The play also seems to promote communism. This is seen throughout the play and even at the start, when the arrival of the Inspector interrupted Mr Birling’s speech about the importance of capitalism.
The third clue was dropped after the Inspector revealed to the stunned characters that Eva was bearing a child when she died. Mr Birling, quickly reacting after hearing this information asked if the child was conceived during Gerald’s short affair with Eva. To which the Inspector replied “No, this has nothing to do with him”. When combined with the previous two clues, the audience is now virtually assured that the father of the child is Eric.
The fourth clue was dropped after intense pressure from the Inspector was applied in order for Mrs Birling to finally come out with an answer to his question. She said “the father was only a youngster – silly and wild and drinking too much.” We had already learned earlier in the play that Eric was a heavy drinker and was very familiar with alcohol despite his young age. Priestley deliberately makes the characters ignore this clue as the suspense needs to be kept until the end of the Act. Furthermore, Mrs Birling always seemed to have never believed Sheila when her daughter told her that Eric was a heavy drinker. She seemed determine to see her son as an innocent, young man who has yet to be exposed to the evils of the world.
The audience is now almost certain that Eric is the father of the baby, only waiting for the moment in which it’s revealed to the rest of the characters. This creates incredible suspense for the audience, cleverly implemented by Priestley. These clues also create a bad image for Eric. He seems to be a young, spoilt teenager who uses his position of power to use others for his own enjoyment. This enables the audience to feel sorry for Eva and wait in anticipation as this “bad person” gets his deserved punishment. It also creates a sense of sympathy later for Eric when he admits he is truly sorry for what he did to Eva.
Throughout the play, tension arises between the family and the Inspector, as well as between themselves. This is especially true for Mrs Birling and the Inspector as we neared the end of Act 2. The first thing we notice about the interrogation is the intense pressure the Inspector applies on Mrs Birling. An example of this can be seen after Mrs Birling tries to divert the question away with an irrelevant answer, to which the Inspector replied “I’m not asking you if you believed it. I want to know what she said.”