An Inspector Calls is one of the most famous and well respected plays ever written. It was written by JB Priestley in 1945, although it was actually set in 1912. The play is about a pretentious, upper class family called the Birlings, who are presented at first to have a lack of respect for other people’s feelings and anybody not as wealthy as themselves. This lack of respect is depicted to us so dramatically that it shows an inequality in there society.
However, one evening when the Birlings are happily celebrating the engagement of their daughter, ‘Shelia Birling’, to her fiancï¿½ ‘Gerald’ they are interrupted by a knock on the door. It is an Inspector. The plot then unfolds, when the Birlings are told that a girl has died in the infirmary due to drinking a bottle of disinfectant. Nevertheless it leads to a long and heated interrogation with each person until it becomes clear that the ‘all so innocent’ Birlings do have to take some blame for this poor defenceless girl’s death, as she was practically driven to suicide by the ignorance and selfishness of the Birlings.
After all of the Birling family and Gerald are proven guilty of something, that could have pushed the girl/Eva Smith over the edge, they find out that the inspector is a fake and is not really any kind of policeman. The Birlings also call the infirmary to check the details of the girl’s death, but they are astonished to find out that there has not been a suicide in months, let alone that day. So they know that the Inspector must be some kind of power freak or somebody who thinks of himself as a kind of Good Samaritan.
Priestly sets his play in 1912 opposed to 1946 for two very good reasons. One reason was that he wanted to get social morals across, to do with the hierarchy in the class system, in order to show the disparity between the rich and poor. This could only be shown before the social welfare system was put in place, or it wouldn’t have the same effect because the difference between the rich and poor wasn’t so drastic after the system was introduced. In 1912 the only type of aid for the lower class was charitable organisation and even that was a lost cause, as proved in Inspector calls. This is when Eva Smith went to a charitable organisation for money so she could look after her baby properly.
However Mrs Birling (who works at the organisation) takes this case personally, because Eva came to them under a fake name of ‘Mrs Birling’. This offends Mrs Birling and she ends up becoming abrupt and biased against Eva Smith. Buy showing the power that Mrs Birling has, a huge social disparity is shown between them. This really shows how much power people like Mr and Mrs Brisling had in the early 1900 hundred’s and how little people in the working class like Eva Smith had. The power diversity shown here is a typical display of injustice.
Another reason why Priestley set the play in 1912 was because he wanted to show how rich and snobby the Birlings really were. Because the play was released in 1946(the year the war ended) people had not had many luxuries and nice food for quite some time. However in 1912 no time of struggle was upon the nation therefore food and luxuries were as available as ever. So when the first scene depicts a family stuffing themselves with food and whiskey like pigs, people got an immediate impression that these were extremely wealthy upper class people who were being greedy and selfish with the food.
One technique which Priestley uses as a dramatic device to display injustice is the use of stage directions, lighting, scenery, character positioning and gestures. He uses them very effectively when he needs to emphasise something dramatic by creating a huge build up to it. Priestley also uses very sudden changes in lighting or movement when he needs to emphasise that there is an atmosphere or tension in the room.
The first example of this is when we first meet the inspector. The lighting in the room before the inspector comes is a light pink colour to show how happy everyone is, but when the inspector walks in to the room the lights change to dazzling white light. Priestley does this to emphasise the power of the Inspector so that we almost see him as a god like figure when he first walks into the room. This dramatic device works so well because it makes us as viewers concentrate intently on the Inspector, which allows Priestley to build a complicated and interesting plot through the Inspector. Priestley uses the stage set in the opening scene to build up an atmosphere and to show how it was in 1912. E.g; good solid furniture of the period and all characters elegantly dressed.