Explore Priestley’s Dramatic methods in Act 1 of ‘An Inspector Calls’ and explain how an understanding of the social and Historical contest of the play might be help to shape the audience’s response to this scene as a whole. ‘ In Inspector Calls’ was written by J.B. Priestley. In 1945, Priestley had experienced 2 world wars and so set the play in 1912 to give the Birlings a chance to change the world and to stop caring just for themselves and care for other people too. This shows us that Priestley was a didactic writer, writing to send a socialist message across.
Mr. Birling contradicts himself when he says ‘there’s too much at stake these days. Everything to lose and nothing to gain by war” meaning there won’t be a war because there’s nothing we will benefit from by having one. Being set in 1912 meant that social status is quite an important part of everyday life. The social status was quite rigid and no one in a high class mingled with the lower classes accept in one workplace (as employer and worker). To understand the play you must understand this. One example of this is when Mrs. Birling says to Mr. Birling ‘Arthur, you’re not supposed to say such things’ – when he had said for Edna (the maid) to tell the cook that it was a very good dinner and to ‘tell cook from me’. This shows that Mrs. Birling married into a class below her own because Mr. Birling had ‘new found money’ meaning he had built up a fortune himself rather than inheriting it from his family. So he hadn’t been brought up with the manners of an upper class of his stature.
At dinner they are celebrating Sheila’s engagement to Gerald. Mr. Birling is especially pleased because it gives him a chance to get into the Crofts firm and he can get into their wealth. Mr. Birling also tries to suck up to Gerald ‘ you ought to like this port Gerald. As a matter of fact, Finchley told me its exactly the same port your father gets from him’. Mr. Birling wants Gerald to see that he can afford Mr. Crofts choice of port and he must be a good judge of port if other people fork out their money to buy it, again showing social status.Order now
When the curtains first go up you may expect to see a dining room with people sitting round the dinner table. In most plays I expect this is the case. In the national theatre production, however, it was not like this. There was a house in one corner of the stage that looked down onto a street below. There were a few children below the house playing in the rain. The inspector suddenly started to walk down through the audience giving a ghastly feel to his presence. This was very effective because it spooked out the audience and created an atmosphere. In the beginning of the National theatre production, the inspector appears to be dressed in clothes from the 1950’s. This gives an effect because his name is inspector Goole, which could be translated as ghoul, being a ghost. When the house opens, the family is talking and then Mr. Birling says to Mrs. Birling ‘you must take a little tonight. Special occasion, y’know, eh?’ This also tells us that Mrs. Birling doesn’t usually drink.
Soon after dinner, the women are separated from the men. You can see this when Mrs. Birling says to Edna ‘ ill ring from the drawing room when I want coffee. This makes you know more about what’s going on in the play. What is the special occasion? This makes the audience interested so that they don’t miss it when they are told not long after. There is a little debate going on between Gerald and Sheila which seems to be playful- on the outside, Sheila says ‘yes, except for all last summer, when you never came near me…’
This is important, because it comes out later in the play as being with Eva or Daisy. Although Gerald’s excuse is that ‘I was awfully busy at the works all that time. This keeps you interested in the play, because you want to find out what is going on between them. It gives you the impression that there is some secret that Gerald’s hiding with an excuse and so gives a dramatical effect and keeps the audience interested. The room in which the play is situated is in an Edwardian style, which is comfortable but not cozy. This tells us more about their social status, and that they are most likely to be an upper middle class family. They must be fairly rich because they have a maid to clear the table for them.