‘An Inspector Calls’ written by J.B Priestley in 1945, was set in the Edwardian era in the year 1912. The author chose to set it in this time because it illustrated clearly a way of life in which he despised especially the huge differences between the lower and upper classes. The rich Edwardians were full of selfishness, greed, lack of awareness; they had the self-satisfied view that each person was responsible only for themselves and their family. Looking at the era from a different perspective the conditions for the lower class were dreadful. Their wages were minimum and their lifestyles were pitiful. In Priestley’s eyes the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. This was due to the industrial workers putting up prices and lowering wages.
There are two main reasons why Priestley wrote this play. The main one being to entertain his audience. The second one was to express a point of view. Priestley was very critical with those with wealth and status who refused to acknowledge how their power and privilege could adversely affect the lives of others less fortunate than themselves. He and many others saw the world as a place where responsibility for all is shared by all. The play was wrote in 1945 because he wanted to warn his audiences of the threat if they carried on the way of life in which they were. The play introduces two choices in which they themselves could choose to happen, they could return to the ways of the Edwardian era or they could move forward for the best into a better era.
‘An Inspector Calls’ is a polemic. It expresses a strong moral view point of the author that the rich are self-centred, greedy and should be more responsible for their actions. The play concerns the Birling family, which consists of Mr and Mrs Birling and their two children Eric and Sheila. Arthur Birling is a rich business man who thinks very highly of himself, even though he is very often wrong. Arthur’s family respect him and listen intently to his ideas and thoughts.
Priestly wanted he audience to have a low opinion of Mr Birling because he was discouraging his Capitalist politics and trying to show people like Mr Birling to be at fault. Mrs Birling is extremely concerned about her appearance, she shops almost everyday in order to achieve her best looks. She has very high standards to achieve being part of a rich family in the Edwardian era. Sheila is Mr and Mrs Birling’s daughter and is currently engaged to Gerald Croft, a friend of the family (wealthy son of Sir George Croft). Eric is Mr and Mrs Birling’s son he is a drunken b boy, however, his parents are unaware of this. Also included in the play is Eva Smith who has been employed at Mr Birling’s factory. The Birling family are part of the upper class community.
At the opening of the play the Birling’s are enjoying a family dinner party to celebrate the engagement of Sheila and Gerald. They are having fun, talking about good times and having a laugh and a joke. The doorbell rings, Mr Birling calls for Edna (the maid) to answer it. Inspector Goole has paid them a visit and announces that he is investigating the suicide of a young girl names Eva Smith. It emerges that each member of the family has played an equal role in contributing to Eva Smith’s emotionally affected life up to the point where she committed suicide. The Inspector questions each family member about the death, but they deny any involvement.
Dramatic irony is used a lot throughout as a source of holding the audience’s attention; it is a way of dramatising the whole production. An example of dramatic irony used within the play is when Mr Birling says ‘There isn’t a chance of war.’ As the play was wrote in 1945, the first audiences would know for a fact that the World War Two did in fact occur, therefore Mr Birling was very wrong to make this statement, ‘The Titanic is unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable’ is another example of dramatic irony in the play. Mr Birling, like many others at the time believed it to be so, however, an audience of 1945 and after, of 1945 and after, having lived past the event know that the facts of history prove this statement to be very wrong.
Certain comments used in the play are suited well to the time when the play was written, the audience therefore would be able to relate to these examples of dramatic irony, gathering from this that Arthur was very wrong in his opinions and might even think him to be stupid. Mr Birling has been given this image of being pompous and self-opinionated because J. B Priestley wanted people to move from the Edwardian era to a new and better era.
The lighting used in the play also creates a dramatic effect and is used by Priestley to convey his concerns. The main purpose of the change of lighting is to create a different mood or cause tension around particular characters. When the Inspector is introduced the lighting turns from a calm pale pink to harder, brighter pink. This shows that the mood is tense and it shows that the Birlings’ can’t hide from Inspector Goole, the audience or each other. Their guilt then becomes present amongst each other.
Another dramatic device Priestley uses is sounds. Doorbell effects are used several times throughout the play when characters enter the scene. Each time the bell rings something is changes dramatically, when the Inspector rings the doorbell and is shown in, for example, the mood of the evening changes from being happy to extremely serious. What is revealed is something that the Birlings’ will have to live with, knowing that they contributed to the death of a young girl. The ringing of the doorbell is a common device in most homes; therefore it is a device used as an everyday event, when it continuously sounds and something changes dramatically it makes a dramatic device.
Somebody from the outside world, somebody from the lower community enters the Birlings’ world, inside their own home, someone who has more power than them in this instance. The doorbell rings and the Inspector arrives immediately after Mr Birling has made his speech, ‘ When things are so much easier, is that a man has to make his own way, has to look after himself -and his family too, of course, when he has one-and so long as he does that he won’t come to much harm’. The Inspector appearing shows that Mr Birling has not looked after his family like he said. Eric is a drunken man, unknown to his knowledge and the rest of his family has something to hide from each other about the death of Eva Smith.