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    Dramatic Irony In ‘An Inspector Calls’

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    In his play ‘An Inspector Calls’ how does Priestley use dramatic devices and language to convey his concerns and sustain the interest of the audience? Priestley wrote the play ‘An Inspector Calls’ in 1945. Priestley was a socialist and had the intention of using the play ‘An Inspector Calls’ to broadcast his socialist ideas. He wanted to eliminate the social hierarchy. He uses the Birling family to portray a capitalist family, which was common amongst the higher classes in 1912.

    A family who has no care for other people, and he shows that with the power of socialism, represented by the inspector. The uneasy lies put on by the Birling family to cover up their real flaws and how they have treated Eva smith, a woman who they considered to be lower class, show that they know they were wrong. The play is set in 1912, two years before World War 1 and was shown in theatres during World War II. This way the audience can relate to the time and would become involved. He wanted to get the audience to question their own morality.

    The first device Priestley uses is his detailed stage directions at the opening of his play. The room is meant to have “The general effect of heavily comfortable but not cosy” which is trying to make the point that money cannot buy you happiness. Although the Birlings are rich enough to afford comfortable furniture, they have no sense of belonging to a family to make it cosy, like they have no sense of community. It also shows that the Birlings are quite a dysfunctional family.

    At the start of the play the stage lighting is meant to be pink and intimate to show that the family has to pretend to be close. However, when the Inspector comes, the light becomes harsh and white almost as if Socialism breaks apart the lies and pretences of the Capitalist world the Birling family have built for themselves to reveal the truth about what they have really done. There is a lot tension as each member of the family has played a part in Eva’s death. New pieces of information contribute to the story being constructed. The audience is interested in how each character reacts to the revelations.

    Priestley uses dramatic irony in his dialogue to ridicule Mr Birling with his speeches about the titanic as “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.” and how “there isn’t a chance of war” although the audience know that the titanic had sunk, that there had already been two wars and now they were emerging into the cold war. These show that the opinions of Mr Birling, a symbol of Capitalism, are nothing more than fantasies of how life could be. Priestley wanted the audience to have a low opinion of Mr Birling from the start because he was discouraging his Capitalist politics and was trying to show people like Mr Birling at fault.

    When Mr Birling makes his speech, he mentions several points which Priestley himself disagrees with, but Priestley uses the Inspector as a point to both the audience and Mr Birling that we shouldn’t all ‘Look out for our own’ as Mr Birling describes it. Although this never happens because people are ready to accept that everyone in this world are the same, no matter where they come from and that we work this out, the world will never develop far enough to stop the wars as Mr Birling was predicting. Whereas the Inspector who stated in his final speech that “they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish” indicating that there will be war, is elevated by the use of dramatic irony. This makes the audience believe the socialist views of the Inspector instead of the views of Mr Birling.

    Timings are also crucial in this play; the initial entrance of the Inspector is at the time when Mr Birling is making an extremely pompous and self inflated speech about how people should look after only themselves and disregard everyone else. This gives the Inspector a quality of omniscience, as if he is already aware if what is going on in the Birling family. He disrupts the celebrations to show just how many lies the family is based upon, as if Capitalists are never able to share their thoughts and doing freely without a feeling of shame. When Gerald confesses to Sheila about what had happened between him and Eva Smith, the Inspector comes in as soon as they have stopped arguing. This shows that the Inspector almost knows what Gerald has told Sheila secretly and knows, that now is the time to expose him. The audience almost know that the inspector is going to come at any minute, and this anticipation keeps their interest in the play.

    At the end of the play the Birlings, excluding the younger generation, had just decided that there was nothing wrong because the Inspector was not real; and then immediately the telephone rang to let the Birlings know that another Inspector was on his way to teach the Birlings their lesson all over again. This makes the audience to consider whether the Inspector is really n inspector or a ghostly or God- like figure.

    Priestley also uses many biblical references as dramatic devices. The Inspector is one of them; he is presented as a God or perhaps even a Jesus like figure and has come down to give the Birlings a chance to rectify themselves. Eva could also be seen as a figure of Jesus. This is although she dies, the audience and the Birlings have learned from her and her death Each one of the Birlings can be seen as one of the seven deadly sins such as pride, gluttony, envy, anger, lust, anger, covetousness and Sloth. This means that the audience can therefore relate to at least one of the characters as they probably would’ve committed at least one of those sins. Therefore the audience would think that they will be given the chance for forgiveness if they truly repent. I think that in a way Eva may have been special from the day that she was born and she was always going to be sacrificed for what she believed in and for the betterment of the working class.

    Climaxes are used at the end of every act to help build tension and give the audience time to reflect on what has just happened, so that they have time to make connections between what has been said in the play and to make sense of Priestley’s message. The climaxes are also used to help put more blame on the Birling family by leaving no time to explain what the reasons for their association with Eva Smith were, “and I hate to think how much more he knows that we don’t know yet”. The main climax is at the end of scene 2 when everyone has realised that Eric was the father of Eva’s child. This is especially dramatic as Mrs Birling has unknowingly told the Inspector that Eric is to blame for Eva’s death and she should have taken responsibility.

    The audience can almost feel that Eric is to blame and when Mrs Birling is unknowingly saying such incriminating words towards him, the audience are almost sitting on the edge of her seat begging her to stop. I think that this is a good way of not just using a climax to make the audience interested, but it also shows the social hierarchy of the time. Mrs Birling is unknowingly putting the blame on her son, because she thinks that the father of Eva’s child is someone of a lower class than her. It shows us how high class people always looked down on working class people and believed that only they could do such despicable things. This climax almost breaks the ‘bubble’ that the Birlings are living in. They pretend that they are good and loving and better than everyone else, but in reality they are the most dysfunctional family, who are worse than everyone around them.

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    Dramatic Irony In ‘An Inspector Calls’. (2017, Oct 27). Retrieved from

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