The play starts off with the setting of an apparently normal family, the Birlings. They are celebrating Sheila Birling’s engagement to Gerald Croft , the son of Mr Birling’s friendly business rival. At first it appears as though nothing is wrong until an Inspector appears from seemingly no-where ,claiming to be investigating the suicide of a young girl. From this point on the tension in the play builds as one by one the characters are interogated by the Inspector.The highest points of tension are at the end of each of the three acts and Priestley does this in a number of different ways.
Act one One of the first things Priestley does to set the scene would be the lighting.At first it would be bright and cheerful ,with colours such as white,yellow and pink.But as the play goes on and reaches the climax the lighting changes and thus does the mood of the audience. It is Birling’s speech in Act 1 that sets the scene for the action in the play. Birling is confidently talking to Eric and Gerald about what he thinks about the future.He thinks of everything as though it is business and openly gives Eric and Gerald advice that every man has to look out for himself ,which may leave the audience wondering if this good advice or not. During the early stages of the first act Sheila hints at a problem .
“What about that time you hardly came to see me over the summer?”This is revealed to be a real problem at the end of the act when Gerald lets out that he knows the girl (Daisy Renton) when the Inspector mentions her.This is played out fully at the very end of the act when Sheila confronts Gerald about his involvement with the girl in an argument when the Inspector has “conveniently” left the room.
During the heated conversation it is plainly obvious that Gerald knows or has met Daisy Renton but he is very eager to drop the topic and stop Sheila questioning him. “I’m sorry Sheila.But it was all over and done with,last summer.I hadn’t set eyes on the girl for at least six months.I don’t come into this suicide business.” This leaves the audience desperate to find out what Gerald has been doing with this girl who they know so little about so far, other than she was working in one of Mr.Birling’s factories.Priestly did this to keep the audience interested and wanting more details of Gerald’s involvement with Daisy Renton.
During this Act the audience’s thirst for knowledge over the affair between Daisy Renton and Gerald is quenched for the most part but there is still some detail that is not found out till later. By this point in the play the lighting and mood have been lowered considerably to show the evidence that all is not well. As the Act draws to a close it appears as though it is Mrs.Birling’s turn to stand trial before the Inspector,who by now is beginning to arouse suspicions amongst the characters and the audience. It is very noticeable that his manner and tone are not that of a police inspector and it is curious still that Birling ,who knows the Chief Constable very well has not heard of this Inspector. “I was an alderman for years-and Lord Mayor two years ago-and im still on the bench and I thought I’d never seen you before!”
As the Inspector begins to question Mrs.Birling she begins to elevate herself above the questions she is being asked and attempts to build a psychological wall around herself to protect her from the Inspector’s accusations. But this evidently does not work and even though Sheila tries to warn her not to “Mother-stop-stop!” she continues and is tricked by the Inspector’s clever words into admitting she refused the girl refuge even though she could have and saying the father of her un-born child is blame. Due to this her wall is steadily beaten down by the Inspector.
The mood of the play is now seriously dark and forbidding with the revelation of Eric’s involvement with the girl and to such a major extent.The tension is running high with the audience and the characters.The characters are in a state of shock after hearing of Eric’s part in the plot.The audience are also in slightly in shock but most likely knew that Eric would be involved at some point and probably guessed that Eric was the Father during Mrs.Birlings interrogation. Priestley left the viewers in this state to once again make them want to come back eager for more and also to maintain the feeling of a”whodunnit?” series into the play.The inspector seems to be working his way systematically through all the characters and one has the feeling that at the end he could almost finish with an “Agatha Christie” style climax.
Now the play is in its final stages and nearing its climax. Eric’s return at the beginning of Act 3 is greeted with fury by Birling, who bitterly tells him that “you’re the one I blame for this,” and is joined by Mrs Birling, who is “also ashamed,” of him. This throws Eric into a wild rage in which he shouts at his mother for turning help away from Eva Smith when she needed it most. Birling dismisses Eric as a “hysterical young fool.”
After Eric is “interviewed” by the Inspector, he admits to having had an affair with Daisy Renton. As the end of the play nears, the Inspector gives a final speech about how they are all to blame for Eva Smith/Daisy Renton’s death and that they will never forget it.The Inspector’s final speech makes a point about responsibility.His references to what will happen in the future make him sound prophetic and more than just an ordinary police inspector. They are also used to deliver Priestley’s own strong moral message,because Priestley himself felt very strongly about the under privileged,this comes across quite clearly in the play.
As the Inspector leaves there is a noticeable change of mood. Each member of the Birling Family is clearly shaken, and their feeling of self-satisfaction has been destroyed. When the family try to make sense of what has happened Gerald comes out with his theory of the Inspector being an imposter.This makes the audience begin to think more about who the Inspector really was and all the clues they have received thus far. Birling is very eager to accept this notion and tries his best to explain all that has happened. Birling sees the confessions they have made as rash and weak behavior.He says how they have allowed themselves to be “bluffed.”
The audience is beinging to relax now into an uneasy calm but are still wondering who the Inspector really was.As the characters move through all the evidence this causes the audience to relax further until they are almost certain that the Inspector was an imposter until the telephone rings.Mr.Birling picks up the telephone and then, a moment later, quietly replaces it and says, “A girl just died at the Infimary after swallowing some disinfectant,they are sending round an Inspector to ask…,some questions.” This final point brings the tension to a huge climax before fading as the curtains close. Priestly did this to first reassure his audience and then hits them with a final Coup de grace ending which happens so quickly the audience barely have time to react before the cutain falls.
It is my conclusion that Priestly does end each act on a note of high drama in many ways but for the main purpose of keeping the viewers of his play enthralled and to make them feel like part of the story.His main tool for doing this is to present the characters with a dilemma or a problem which will be solved in the next act and to keep the audience entertained,by producing a fantastic cliffhanger that they cannnot wait to find out about in the next act.