Explore the Dramatic Techniques Used by J.B. Priestly in Act 3 of “An Inspector Calls” to Convey his Concerns and Ideas to the Audience, as well as Interest and Involve Them in his Play. What Does This Reveal About the Birling Family and Their Society? J.B. Priestly has many concerns, but his main concerns whilst writing this play were to influence the public to take up a more socialistic approach to life.
This was his concern because although the play was set in 1912, before the First World War, it was written in the 1940’s after the two World Wars had taken place and he knew the outcome of the events that were mentioned during the play. For example, in Act 1, Birling says that the Titanic is “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable,” but as we all know, the Titanic, which sailed about 18 months after this was said, sank near to eastern United States within transatlantic waters. Furthermore, the `Inspector` provides a key role in attempting to transform the Birlings from self-superiority, down to modesty and being humble. This effect eventually took place on some members of the family.
After the first two acts, we, as the audience, have been left with many mind-boggling situations, such as: Why was the `Inspector’s` attitude the way it was? Who did what? And why? How did the `Inspector` know everything? What has all this got to do with a girl committing suicide? Priestly uses a lot of cliffhangers to good effect in his play to leave the audience in suspense and wondering what is going to happen.
The `Inspector` deliberately questions the family in chronological order, and intentionally changes it when it is Eric’s turn, partly because he was under the influence of intoxicating liquor, but mainly because he knew that Eric’s mother, Mrs Birling, didn’t know who he was talking about and that she would condemn him before realising that he was talking about her `perfect` son. This creates a lot of tension because, at the moment in time when Mrs Birling is being quizzed, Eric is out taking a stroll, allowing himself to sober up, before it is his turn. By this time, the audience have realised what is happening, thereby creating intense dramatic irony.
Eric uses colloquialisms in his language to describe his relationship with Eva, for instance, instead of saying prostitute he says `the usual sort`, `squiffy` and `rather far gone` instead of drunk and `it` rather than saying sex. He does this because his actions have been unacceptable for a middle class man. Eva declines Eric’s offer of money towards the end of the relationship in a grateful manner, but Mrs Birling’s evaluation of her in Act 2 when she says, “She was giving herself ridiculous airs. She was claiming elaborate fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd in a girl in her position.
She said that the father was only a youngster – silly and wild and drinking too much. There couldn’t be any question of marrying him – it would be wrong for them both. He had given her money but she didn’t want to take any more money from him. All a lot of nonsense – I didn’t believe a word of it.” was prejudiced, she did not like her, and from then on it was all one-sided and Eva could do nothing. This shows that Eva has the stronger sense of moral responsibility.
Mr Birling’s reaction, “You must give me a list of those accounts. I’ve got to cover this up as soon as I can. You damned fool,” shows that he doesn’t really care about Eric, he even calls his son a “Damned fool” showing no affection for him, he just wants his royal honour as soon as possible and is more concerned about his business and his reputation, than his own family. This shows he has a bad attitude and no moral values whatsoever.
The family all suddenly want to blame one another, especially Eric once he has found out about Eva’s plea to his mother’s committee. The `Inspector` allows them to fight amongst themselves for his personal satisfaction and so he could easily take control of the situation. He begins his judgment in a powerful way by shouting “Stop!” at the top of his voice. He then goes on to address the family with what they have all done and should `never forget` what has happened. It makes most of them, especially Sheila, realise what they had all done and should all take the blame. The ‘fire blood and anguish’ statement by him gives them a terrifying feeling that they would be going to hell.
Mr and Mrs Birling still refuse to accept any blame and instead put it all on their children by saying, “Eric, I’m absolutely ashamed of you.” The children, however, are ashamed and embarrassed at their parents’ behaviour, “Well, I don’t blame you. But don’t forget I’m ashamed of you as well – yes both of you.” and believe that they should also put their hands up and admit to being wrong like they have done. Then, Sheila starts to believe that the `Inspector` could have been a fake. This startles Mr Birling who is just simply looking for a way out of a public scandal so he would not be snubbed at the chance of receiving an honour.
Then, Gerald returns back home. He tells them about his encounter on the road and rings the Infirmary. There is a lot of tension during the call about what the outcome would be, because if he was a fake, then Mr Birling’s honour may not be in jeopardy, but if he was real, then they would all have to live with the guilt for the rest of their lives. Mr Birling was the most relieved person after the call. When the telephone rings a few minutes later, Mr Birling answers and his face drops. There is a lot of tension and suspense yet again during the call, Mr Birling pauses quite a few times to increase it dramatically. He puts the phone down and looks at everybody, then reveals the news. This raises questions for the audience and leaves them with a cliffhanger.
The timing of the telephone call is important because it suddenly changes the mood from joyous to shocking and frightening. A second visit from an Inspector increases the suspense and shows that somebody still needs to be taught a lesson. This makes the audience feel stunned and makes them wonder if they should or should not sympathise with the family. The family would ensure that the course of events was different next time around. The playwright’s message is still relevant today so we are able to see the differences between right and wrong, confession and rejection, guilt and innocence. It has been written to show the people of today and future generations how not to live, and to avoid unwanted circumstances during their life.