The structure and pattern of Act One is a template for the rest of the play and reflects the cyclical nature of the play as a whole. In each Act, with each character, the Inspector outlines the events involving each family member, shows a photograph to the relevant family member which leads the character to confess to their misdeeds. Act One begins with this chain of events; the Birlings feeling self-satisfied, the next stage is that they are then upset by the Inspector, then the Inspector leaves and the Birlings return to feeling self-satisfied. The play closes with an inspector calling to bring the cycle full circle. “That was the Police; a girl has just died – on her way to the Infirmary – after drinking some disinfectant. And a police inspector is on his way here – to ask some questions.”Order now
There is a dramatic mood change during Act One, brought on by the arrival of the inspector. Priestley’s stage directions regarding the lighting reflect this, “The lighting should be pink and intimate until the Inspector arrives, and then it should be brighter and harder”. This change in lighting represents the idea that before the arrival of the Inspector, the Birlings were seeing the world through ‘rose-tinted-glasses’ (only seeing the nicer side of life, things they wanted to see) whereas when the inspector arrives the ‘truth is revealed’ and reality ‘kicks in’. There are no longer any shadows to hide the Birlings from their inconsiderate acts.
Another of Priestley’s messages seems to be that there is hope for the future. On seeing how they have affected the life of Eva Smith, both Sheila and Eric act remorsefully. The character of Sheila is fairly caring at the beginning of the play, but as events unravel, and Sheila realises her guilt, her character develops from a fairly naive young girlish character to a more mature, understanding person.
This change is so dramatic that to compare the Sheila who at the end of the play has taken to heart the Inspectors lessons, “I remember what he said, how he looked, and what he made me feel. Fire and blood and anguish.”, with the Sheila who had a young girl fired from her job because of her own personal paranoia and who acted so differently earlier, you would think they were different people. This is similar to a comparison made between the drunken, playful Eric of Act One with the sober serious Eric at the end of Act Three who has learned that his own mother played a major role in driving the woman bearing his child to suicide
The older generation, however, fail to change their views representing the fact that they are set in their ways. Mr and Mrs Birling are all too happy to dismiss the evening’s events as false once the chance appears that the Inspector may not have been a police Inspector. The senior Birlings are the examples of the people who will be taught through “Fire and blood and anguish”. They will only learn through their own foolish mistakes.
This is very different to the reactions of younger generation who are disturbed and moved by the Inspectors visit and comments. “You seem to have made a great impression on this child Inspector” comments Birling. The Inspector answers this comment with the statement “We often do on the young ones. They’re more impressionable.” This implies that Priestley is trying to say that there is potential for change in the “young ones” which is not as evident in the older generation.
The play “An Inspector Calls” is set in 1912 but was written in 1945. Edwardian society at that time (1912) was strictly divided into social classes and over two-thirds of the nation’s wealth was in the hands of less than one percent of the population. Below the very rich were the middle classes (doctors and merchants, shop workers and clerks), after that came the craftsmen and skilled workers. At the very bottom of the social ladder was the largest class of all – the ordinary workers and the poor, many of whom lived below the poverty level. The men of industry treated the workers very badly and they were paid a pittance. This caused workers to become better organised and strikes were becoming more frequent as they demanded better conditions and higher pay.
Act One presents the audience with Priestley’s understanding of the middle classes, of this time, through the life of the Birlings, very accurately, and sets the stage for this moralistic mystery to be played out. J.B. Priestley was writing the play for a middle class audience and was trying to speak up for the working class by showing how the Birlings and Gerald Croft were all involved in making a young working class girl’s life a misery. Priestley wants to show us that we have a responsibility to others to act fairly and without prejudice and that we do not live in isolation. Our actions affect others. This is the concept of collective responsibility. Priestley says, ‘things could really improve if only people were to become more socially responsible for the welfare of others’. We have to confront our mistakes and learn from them
Act One begins the process of inspection into beliefs and morals for both the audience and the characters. In my opinion, in the writing of this play, Priestley’s aim was to make us think, to make us question our own characters and beliefs. He wanted to show us that we can change, and we can decide which views we side with. He wanted us to ask ourselves if we wanted to be a Sheila or a Sybil, an Eric or an Arthur. Priestley wanted the audience to learn from the mistakes of the Birlings. Priestley wanted to make a difference in the way people think. The play gives the audience and society as a whole, time to change their actions towards others. That is, before an Inspector calls on you, to warn you that if the lesson is not learnt, it will be taught in “blood and fire and in anguish.”