An Inspector calls was written in 1945 but was set in 1912 a period still known as the Edwardian era. The Edwardian era was regarded nostalgically as the last period of security and stability before the horror of World War I. As the play was set after World War I and II, the audiences would know of the deprivation, hardships and bereavements of the two wars. However, at the start of the play Priestley manipulates his audience into being taken back into 1912 to a time of peace, stability and luxuries.
Priestley does this by the naturalistic setting of the play which is established clearly in the stage directions. However, the Edwardian era contained, Cracks. Priestley exposes a complacency which ignored clues and hints to the future upheaval were overlooked and ignored. These cracks can be seen in the Birling family even though the family appears to be strong and secure, tensions soon become apparent. Priestley manipulates this false security to raise the dramatic force of his play.Order now
Just as he reveals the smug complacency of the Birlings to be false through dramatic irony, he also lures his audience into this complacency by means of his naturalistic set and sense of nostalgia. Around the world tensions were building as the German empire was being established, which established the fear of German domination lead France to ally herself with Russia, this led Germany to ally with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During this time Britain was undecided whether to join in or not however, later on joined the Franco- Russian alliance to form the triple Entende.
Britain joined the alliance as Germany began expanding her navy trying to compete with Britain’s navy. However, even though Britain joined the French and the Russian Britain ignored the obvious signs of conflict because of the conflicts in the Balkans the Start of the war came by the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand the heir to the Austro Hungarian Empire. Priestley uses the family as a microcosm of the global arena. Just as the obvious signs of disaster were ignored in Europe, so tensions in the Birling family are ignored.
While the rest of the family are ‘phased with themselves’ Birling is pompous in his oratory and celebrating the engagement of his daughter that could mean he becomes richer by the merging of rival companies, and Shelia is ‘very pleased with life’, Eric we are told, is ‘not quite at ease’. Mrs Birling is ‘her husband’s social superior’. These signs are obvious to the audience, but ignored by the family on stage the implication that disaster will occur. In Greek tragedy, mortals exhibited hubris a great fall or tragedy would ensue.
When man exhibits overwhelming pride, for example naming a ship after the God Titan, he is exhibiting hubris and that tragedy is inevitable. So when Birling, in his pride and arrogance repeatedly declares that the Titanic is ‘unsinkable absolutely unsinkable. ‘ This suggestion tells us that unhappiness if not tragedy will strike the family. Priestley was a socialist, but had trouble settling down to the policies of any one particular political party. His socialism can be said to be based on compassion and caring for others.
Coming from a working class background himself, he feels compassion for the factory workers who are exploited by industrialists such as Arthur Birling. The opening stage directions of the play indicate a naturalistic set so the audience is drawn into the seeming stability of the Edwardian era. An example is ‘the dining room a fairly large suburban house’ with ‘good solid furniture’ sustained and very comfortable. However there are subtle signs of cracks and tensions the room is not ‘cosy and homelike’.
This sense of complacency is reinforced by the lighting, as the lighting should be ‘pink and intimate’ until the inspector arrives and then the lighting should change to be ‘harder and brighter’. The pink lighting used to describe the intimacy could also suggest a blindness to reality, ‘seeing the world through rose tinted spectacles’. The brighter and harder lighting when the inspector arrives gives a sense of being in a police interrogation room. Both the characters and the audience will have their consciences interrogated.
Priestley uses the effect of the opening line of the play said by Arthur Birling ‘Giving us the port Edna? That’s right. ‘ to convey immediately the ghastliness of class consciousness This conveys Birlings condescending superior attitude to the working class. Priestley suggests that Edna’s situation is that she is that dependant on her employment; if she lost her job she would probably end up in a work house. Her submissive, subservient attitude is articulated in her monosyllabic reply ‘yes ma’am’
Priestley invites us into disliking Birling intensely Arthur Birling throughout the play is conveyed as a ‘hard headed man of business’ who will exploit people to make a profit by his ruthlessness and greed. Birling is also very pleased that his daughter is marrying Gerald Croft because he has the opportunity to merge businesses with Gerald Crofts father, which means more profits. The ideology of Arthur Birling is one that is based on greed; as he and Gerald work for lower costs and higher prices.
Birling stands for everything Priestley despises: lack of compassion, greed and selfishness. Priestley uses the contrast between Birling and the inspector to reinforce his message of compassion. The inspector speaks for Priestley expressing the ideology of compassion for others. The inspector speaks in first person plural ‘we’ ‘our’ includes ‘everyone’ to emit a sense of togetherness. Mrs Birling’s ideology is different to her husband’s but still is as callous and heartless. Priestley conveys Mrs. Birling as a class conscious person who only cares for herself and her social status.
Throughout the play she remains oblivious to any wrong doing she has done and only wants to say her side of the story without any interruptions and anyone else’s opinions are put down with backhanded and snide remarks. Mrs Birling has a prejudice nature which comes from her despising the lower classes and the desire of upholding her respectability in the upper class community. Mrs Birling unlike her husband was born into an upper class family instead of having to work her way up through society and business like her husband did.
However, contradictory to her husbands upbringing and early life her views on lower class people are that they are vermin who live in their own filth and squalor, who will never achieve anything of significance, but be stuck in a dead end job for the remainder of their life. Her views on the lower class highlight her contradictory nature and arrogance about the lower class. Priestley sets the play in the fictional industrial city of Brumley. Brumley is probably typical of many towns where the factory owners, who provided much-needed employment, were able to run their businesses exactly as they wanted to.
The number of women who are poor and in need of help is indicated by the existence of the Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation. Such organisations, which relied upon the financial support of rich people, were frequently found in large industrial towns and cities during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It is interesting that whether someone received help depended on whether the women like Mrs Birling thought that they deserved help or whether they deserved to suffer. Throughout the play priestly aims to convey the message ‘We are all responsible for each other.
Priestly tries to with this message warn of the dangers of complacency and self satisfaction and smugness that we all need to learn from our mistakes. The audience watching this play would understand how important it is not to be greedy but be as one by supporting each other, creating a sense of unity instead of exploiting people or treating other classes differently. During both wars there was no class division there was just togetherness and the aim of destroying an enemy who threatens peace and freedom. Without the wars families like the Birlings would have gone on exploiting and stereotyping working class people.