Act 2 ends not with an exit but with an entrance, Eric’s. The act finishes with an atmosphere of tension and immense expectancy of what is yet to come. How does J. B Priestly achieve this and what dramatic devices does he use? J B Priestly’s ‘ An inspector calls’ is a first-class, proficient play containing an excellent diversity of clever dramatic devices and stage directions to guarantee to have you hanging on by every word and motion throughout the play for the expectancy of what is to occur. The way in which Priestly employee’s theses dramatic devices are very well organised and timed.
For insistence at the beginning of the play his stage directions are very deliberate whilst using the lighting. It directs the lighting to be ‘pink and intimate until the inspector arrives, and then it should be brighter and harder’ this suggests it to be an intimate and friendly atmosphere whilst their celebrations for Sheila and Gerald’s engagement but as soon as the inspector enters it changes to show seriousness in the room and the atmosphere hardens, the friendly atmosphere has gone-this I think is premeditated to prepare us for the things that are to come.
The lighting then stays the same throughout the rest of the play because the atmosphere and tension does not leave also. The stage directions are intentional in the way they are seated at the dinner table’ which has no cloth and desert plates and champagne glasses, etc. and then re-placed with dentor of port, cigar box and cigarettes. ‘ This represents their wealth and the champagne suggests a celebration is taking place, the fact that they have no cloth over their table proposes that they are too good and it’s a fashionable manner.
The way in which they are also seated is Mr Birling is at the top of the table and his wife the other end with Eric ‘downstage’ and Shelia and Gerald’ upstage’ this advocates family status and that Mr Birling is the head of the family-he is the one with the most power. Another stage direction is ‘ All five are in evening dress of the period, the men in tails and white ties, not dinner-jackets. Arthur Birling is a heavy-looking rather portentous man in his speech. His wife is about fifty, a rather cold woman and her husband’s superior with life and rather excited.
Gerald Croft is an attractive chap about thirty, rather too manly to be dandy but is very much the easy well-bred young man about town. Eric is in his early twenties, not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive. ‘ At this time of the play, you already start to get an indication of the characters and the 1912 standards the date of the scene is set you recognize this by their outfits. ‘At the moment they all have all had a god dinner, are celebrating a special occasion and are pleased with themselves’ this alludes to the fact that something is going to happen-the tension begins to set in.
Another dramatic device is a ‘dramatic pause’ by Mr Birling himself when he gives a speech to Shelia and Gerald about marriage and work. As soon as he begins he says ‘ I don’t often make speeches at you-‘ rather pompously in the stage directions he ‘holds them for a moment before continuing’ this purpose of this is to show power by Mr Birling and suspense to want to know what he says in his speech the tension then also rises. This is intentional.
Moreover when Birling asks the inspector what his business was with them and asked if it was anything to do with a a trouble-free warrant the inspector merely replied ‘No, Mr Birling’ then he didn’t continue until Mr Birling rather impatiently ‘after a pause’ asked ‘what is it then? ‘ this created suspense in the audience which is exactly what Priestley sought after. Additionally act one and two end with a pause before the curtain falls. Act one the inspector enters unobserved whilst Sheila and Gerald were having a conversation about this so-called dead girl and he simply walks in saying well…?
And there is a pause before the curtain falls. I think Priestley did this in order to achieve suspense and tension in the audience- and the curiosity to know what Gerald has to do with all of it. To get immense tension by the end of act one -it has to be built up throughout the play. Dramatic Irony is used straight away. When Eric (Birling’s son) starts on about the war, Birling simply replies in his opinion that ‘war’s inevitable’ and ‘fiddlesticks’ basically implying it is not going to happen but as this is set in the 1912 we all now war did take place.
He also does the same thing about the ‘Titanic’ he says that it is ‘unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable’ emphasising that it won’t sink but again we all know that it did go down and was one of the worst ship accidents in history. During this act Mr Birling’s character is more established. Whilst giving his speech he portrayed himself as a ‘hard-headed practical business man’ on more than one occasion- this denotes that he thinks very highly of himself and is rather big headed. Timing is an important aspect of ‘an inspector calls’ along with other dramatic devices.
The main one which is most palpable is when Mr Birling gives a big establishment speech on how a ‘man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own-and-‘ till he gets interrupted by a ‘sharp’ doorbell when is unexpected this inhibits his speech- which is very deliberate and significant because it reflects later on the play where we learn that the inspector is trying to prove to us and the characters that people should think of others and not just themselves.
This is why I think J. B Priestley did this-to stop Birling from continuing his speech, and later on the story to stop thinking like that. The characters are very imperative in the play, each one individual and have something with this girl the only question was how? And we learn that through the play. Gerald, as we learn is from a high -class social standard family in which Birling has been rivals with and in which he wishes to bring together to higher his social standards. Gerald says to the inspector ‘We’re respectable citizens and not criminals’ the inspector replies saying ‘sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think.
Often, if it was left to me, I wouldn’t know where to draw the line’ to this Gerald responds with ‘fortunately, it isn’t up to you, is it? ‘ causing tension between them and suspense for the audience wanting to know are they criminals breaking the law or even a moral law at that? Mr Birling, we distinguish straight away is the most powerful person in the household but then Mrs Birling interrupts him so we see that she too is very powerful. However when the inspector enters both Mr Birling and the inspector automatically fights for who has the most power.
When Mr Birling wants Eric to go to bed the inspector controversy disagrees and says not yet Birling gets agitated and ‘Now look here inspector-‘ but he gets cut in ‘with authority’ that he must wait his turn. They do this repeatedly throughout the play. Mrs Birling seems to be the only one who has the guts to fight back to the inspector when she verbalizes that there’s nothing to discuss he replies ‘ you have no hope of not discussing it’ she responds with ‘if you think you can bring any pressure to bear upon me, Inspector, you’re quite mistaken.
She has a strong character and is the only one out of the family not to feel guilty for what she has done to this girl. Shelia is the one who I believe feels the guiltiest for what she has done-she is clever and sees how the inspector breaks each and every one of them. For insistence when her mother goes on about how the father of the deceased girls child should be made an example of and humiliated to shift the blame from her Shelia promptly sees what is happening and her voice rises and she starts begging for her mother to stop it makes us, as the audience realise too what is going on and the tension gets vastly high.
Then we see Eric entering the room and after a short pause the curtain falls leaving on a cliffhanger causing an immense amount of tension and suspense to want o know how Eric is involved and what will happen to him. The language and dialogue used in this play is very premeditated by Priestley in order to create as much tension and suspense in the atmosphere to keep the audience interested. For example when information is given to us, as the audience but then taken away again- as with the moment when Eric says ‘yes, I remember’ Birling questions him by saying ‘well, what do you remember? and he quickly says ‘nothing’ to cover it up.
Gerald then comes in by saying ‘sounds a bit fishy to me’-this is done with intent to arouse suspicion and suspense for the erg to know what he was talking about. The inspector’s minimalist answers similar reminiscent of a unadorned ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and with no explanation following which often engenders Birling to retort which causes tension between the characters which I think Priestley does purposefully. When Sheila realises Gerald is also involved he asks her not to tell the inspector and she ‘laughs rather hysterically’ and says ‘why-you fool-he knows.
Of course he knows. And I hate to think how much he knows that we don’t know yet. You’ll see. You’ll see’ Repetition to emphasis more is come and keep us in suspense and interested. It’s not just what is said that creates tension and suspense by the end of act two it’s also what is not said. As Eric enters the room he doesn’t say anything- he knows they all know he has something to do with it this makes us want to know how he is involved and we wait in anticipation for him to say something but the curtain then closes leaving us wondering in suspense. I think J.
B Priestley wanted this to be a didactic play to prove that every action has its consequences. When they realise that it wasn’t one girl and no-one had actually died and there is no Inspector by the name he went by -some of them were relived that they wouldn’t get a bad reputation or bad press, Sheila was the only one who saw what he was doing and said maybe there isn’t an Eva Smith but there are thousand of people out there like that. I think J. B Priestley’s aim was social reform and to tech us that everyone is equal and to simply … think before you act.