“Things could really improve if only people were to become more socially responsible for the welfare of others” as J.B Priestley once said. Throughout Priestley’s life he was fascinated by the idea of time and uses this as a ground to base his stories upon. For many years, Priestley studied Ouspensky’s theory; the belief that when we die, we re-enter our life again from the beginning, unless we learn from our mistakes. Priestley also studied Dunne’s theory; the idea that you could be given the gift of seeing forward in time, as well as looking back so you can change your mistakes and avoid the consequences.Order now
These views and theories on time and society led Priestley to write a play, called ‘An Inspector Calls’. ‘An Inspector Calls’ is a well-made play that attacks the social morels of his time. The play is set in 1912, but written in 1947, just two years after the Second World War. Edwardian society in 1912 was strictly divided into social class. J.B Priestley wrote the play for a middle class audience whilst highlighting the hypocrisy of the upper class. He intended to show us that we have collective responsibility for others and do not live in isolation.
Within ‘An Inspector Calls’, Priestley embraces conflicting views and attitudes during the early 20th Century, concerning the social hierarchy and arrogance of the upper class. Priestley’s clever use of time sometimes makes it seem as if events have not yet happened and the characters might have a chance to change their actions, the Second World War reflects this-people have a second chance to change and improve things.
One way in which Priestley uses time as a dramatic device is by setting the play in 1912, long before either of the world wars, but performing it in 1947. This device leaves the audience with the advantage of looking back. We see this when Mr Birling describes the Titanic as “absolutely unsinkable”, this quote highlights Mr Birling’s foolishness, as the audience know that the Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage. This device creates dramatic irony between the audience and Mr Birling. Priestley has given a good description of upper middle class men in the very first act of the play, making sure the audience can relate to Mr Birling as representing the average middle class man.
Mr Birling’s stupidity is further displayed when he states, “there isn’t a chance of war”. This accentuates further dramatic irony, considering that the audience from 1947 have the wisdom of hindsight and can see that 1914 and 1939 brought two wars. The audience thus humiliates Mr Birling, as he portrays himself as a “hard-headed business man” but is only proven wrong.
Priestley next challenges Mr Birling’s belief in individualism. The audience discover these views when Mr Birling expresses to Gerald that, “a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own”. The inspector’s arrival cuts Mr Birling’s speech short. Placing the inspector’s arrival here is a dramatic device, which challenges Mr Birling’s view on society. As the play proceeds, the audience appreciate the important timing of the inspector’s arrival and creates dramatic irony.
This is due to the inspector teaching Gerald Croft and the Birlings that we have collective responsibility for everyone- a contradictory view to Mr Birling’s. Priestley uses time as a device to expose the hypocrisy of the upper classes in Edwardian Britain. Up until Mrs Birling’s confession, the inspector relates the events leading up to Eva’s death in chronological order. In spite of that, Priestley chooses to reveal Mrs Birling’s involvement before Eric’s.