The mood in Act 1 of the play undergoes a significant change. Priestley uses different techniques throughout the play to build up suspense and tension and the end of the act catches up the audience in the tense atmosphere Priestley has created. In the beginning of Act 1 the mood in the Birling household is jolly and high hearted, “Giving us the port Edna? You ought to like this port Gerald” this give us the impression that the mood is joyful because they are drinking and wanting to include everyone in the party; “special occasion” this just adds to our ideas concerning the atmosphere between the characters conveying an image of happiness and celebration. Gerald makes the comment “You all seem to be a nice, well-behaved family” which is ironic because of all the troubles to come later in the play.
The special occasion is the engagement between Sheila Birling and Gerald Croft, Mr Birling is pleased that Sheila is marrying Gerald for two reasons: he likes Gerald and Gerald’s father is the owner of a more powerful business and Mr. Birling is hoping for a merger between the two companies. The statement: ” It’s one of the happiest nights of my life” proves that he likes Gerald and he is happy for Sheila. This next quotation conveys that Mr. Birling would like a merger with Gerald’s father’s company: “We may look forward to a time when Crofts and Birling’s Are no longer competing but are working together – For lower costs and higher prices.”
This shows Mr. Birling’s enthusiastic interest in the engagement, which therefore provides added reason to celebrate in a happy atmosphere. Mr Birling always has a lot to say, and is the dominant speaker out of the family so they all follow his lead, which gives a decisive encouragement to the merger. The entrance of the Inspector plays an essential part in the changing of the atmosphere. Firstly as soon as the Inspector is mentioned the tension increases, ” A police inspector. He says his name’s Inspector Goole”. This event adds to the tension on two counts: initially the name Goole adds suspense by the association with the ghoul as an evil creature, casting a shadow and adding an edge.
Here Priestly hints to the audience that the Inspector is going to be the cause of something unfortunate for the Birling family. Secondly, mentioning that he is a police inspector adds to the tension because usually when the police are mentioned all the signs point to trouble. Priestley’s technique here to add tension is good because the audience are now drawn into the play, eager to see what business a policeman has at a jolly family gathering and waiting to see what twist the plot will take. The Inspector’s approach to the investigation also adds to the suspense building, as he uses questions and technique. One of these ways is by how hostile and formal the Inspector is:
“It might be, you know, I don’t like that tone” The hostility really gives the impression of the mood starting to turn bitter and sour through the role of the inspector and the questions he asks: ” I think you remember Eva Smith now, don’t you Mr Birling?” The language used conveys the impression of bitterness the way the Inspector says “you” twice makes us think the inspector is patronising Mr Birling by telling him what he knows and perhaps hinting at Mr. Birling knowing more than the others about Eva Smith.
Another way is to give his own judgment to the events in asking leading questions, whereas a genuine police inspector would not do this: “Better to ask for the earth than to take it” shows his opinion when Mr Birling is telling him about Eva Smith, the strike and the sacking. Giving his opinion adds to the tension because it is an alternative viewpoint of the of the strike which implies Mr Birling seem in the wrong to sack her. In these comments, the Inspector is of acting as a social commentator, comparing and contrasting the power of Mr Birling over Eva Smith, and perhaps suggesting that he does not wholly agree with his actions prior to the suicide.