In act 1 of ‘an inspector calls’ Priestly uses the inspector as a dramatic device to influence the levels of tension on stage. This is achieved through his appearance, method of questioning and the reactions he provokes in the other characters. The play opens in a positive, family get- together atmosphere, but we sense suspicious tensions between Sheila Birling and her fianc. Sheila- “except for all last summer when you never came near me and I wondered what had happened to you.
” This implies Sheila does not completely trust Gerald, which increases the tension on stage as this comment in the middle of a dinner party would make people feel awkward and uneasy. Priestly Reveals tension within the Birling family prior to the inspectors arrival with the use of dramatic irony; Birling- “the Titanic she sails next week forty six thousand eight hundred tons – New York in five days- and every luxury and unsinkable.
” The way Birling carries on as if he knows everything but as this play is set in 1912 but produced in 1945, the audience watching it at this point has an advantage as they are ahead of the times so to speak and they know that the Titanic would sink. The inspectors arrival increases tension with a visual impact using lighting effects. When the inspector enters the lighting changes creating a dark mysterious atmosphere therefore increasing the tension.
Mr. Birling’s initial reaction also creates tension too; Birling – (after a pause with a touch of impatience) well, what is it then? ” I think it comes across that Mr. Birling was the big strong man of the household and what he says goes but now this solid inspector arrives and stands to threaten him, which highlights a tense vulnerability in Birling’s personality. The way in which the Inspector questions the other characters also creates tension.
Purely because the inspector is very mysterious and brings an eerie atmosphere to the stage in the following ways; (he speaks carefully, weightily, and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking)” He also interviews the characters separately dealing with one line of enquiry at a time, which makes it more professional as if they were being interviewed at the station despite it being a home visit. The inspector also questions the characters in order with the chain of events. It also makes the audience suspicious why he talks to one person at a time.
In Birling’s interrogation he helps to unravel the plot. He identifies his involvement in the chain of events but denies responsibility to Eva Smith’s actual death. When he is questioned whilst Eric and Gerald are present, the pressure on Mr. Birling seems to mount up as he is trying to calmly show that he is innocent. He suddenly cannot take it anymore and has an outburst of impatience; “look- there’s nothing mysterious or scandalous – about this business at least not as far as I’m concerned. It’s a perfectly straight forward case..
Nothing whatever to do with the wretched girls suicide” This speech indicated that he’s not shy of trying to shift the blame on someone else e. g. “not as far as I’m concerned”. Also under interrogation Birling shows his true colours; “well inspector, I don’t see that it’s any concern of yours how I choose to run my business. Is it now? ” By questioning the inspector in this rude tone we see that Mr Birling is very selfish and arrogant and cannot stand the fact that the inspector is right. It is at this point we have a clash of personalities.
The inspector attempts to make him accept the responsibility of his actions whilst Mr Birling is doing the complete opposite by questioning the inspector and trying to blame other people. Birling’s reaction creates tension because he is so impatient and his whole attitude contrasts against that of the inspectors. Sheila’s response to Eva Smiths death is one of the few encouraging things to come out of the play. She is genuinely upset when she hears of the suicide and learns from her own behaviour. Unlike her father she is very distressed by the girl’s suicide; Sheila “oh – how horrible!
Whereas Birling interrupts the inspector; “Birling (rather impatiently) – yes, yes. Horrid business but I don’t understand why you should come here”. When Sheila reveals her involvement with the chain of events she readily agrees that she behaved very badly and insists that she never meant the girl any harm. This contrasts to her fathers words and highlights the difference in attitude between the two generations. Sheila also appears keen to change her behaviour in the future, ‘I’ll never, never do it again’ whereas her father does not display any regret or remorse.
Before the inspector interrogates Gerald, he has a private chat with Sheila; Gerald- “so- for gods sake don’t say anything to the inspector. ” From this the audience learns that Gerald is sneaky and underhanded. This sly comment makes the audience question that perhaps Gerald infact plays a large part in the suicide of Eva smith/daisy Renton. He knows that the inspector has managed to get everyone to confess their involvement whereas he is trying to stay away from it all, keep his hands clean so to speak.
But he cannot go unnoticed as the act ends with an intriguing question to Gerald from the inspector – “well? ” this heightens the tension as Gerald knows now there is no escape, he is going to have to confess. Throughout the play priestly employs the inspector to manipulate the tension levels on stage. He successfully controls the characters and the audience in order to make us consider society, our own actions and our responsibility towards one another within our community.