How does Priestley create drama and tension in ‘An Inspector Calls’?
In 1945 J.B. Priestley wrote the play ‘An Inspector Calls’. It was set in 1912.He created a lot of tension since his arrival? but what I’m here to investigate is, how did Priestley make the tension created effective? In this essay I hope to explore and evaluate the play to find the answers to these questions. In particular ‘How does Priestley create tension in the end of act 2 ‘An Inspector Calls’?
The end of Act 2 is full with drama and tension as all the clues that have been dropped finally come to sense to the audience. Although it is not mentioned, Priestley makes it clear that the inspector knew that Eric Birling was the father of Eva Smith's child and had wanted for Ms Birling to declare what punishment she believed should be given to the young man "Make sure that he's compelled to confess in public his responsibility." The stage direction (with sudden alarm) adds to the tension that Priestley ...view middle of the document...
Inspector Goole wants to emphasise what she has just said so he keeps asking what should be done to the young man. She replies that he should be “compelled to confess in public his responsibility”. By saying this, Mrs Birling not only shifts the blame off her own shoulders, but puts it onto her son’s. She cannot accept her own guilt because she is stubborn. She doesn’t see the Inspector’s power and tries to outsmart him.
Social vs. individual responsibility
‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body.’ So states Inspector Goole in his final speech.
His character can be seen as a device to voice Priestley’s views about social responsibility. To
what extent do the other characters learn from their encounter with Goole, and how far do
members of the audience agree with him?
Older vs. younger generations
Why are Mr and Mrs Birling so much more concerned about the potential for “public scandal” than
the consequences of their behaviour? Sheila and Eric Birling represent the future: surely there is
still time for them to change and adapt to the new order? Can their relationships with the other
characters, more entrenched in their views and social positions, survive?
Detailed stage directions are provided, but Priestley himself makes clear that “an ordinary realistic
set” may not do the play justice. What staging decisions can enhance the drama and tension, and
how can recent productions inform our understanding of the lasting significance of this play?
Status and power
At first, the main characters are united in their desire for social status. The arrival of Inspector
Goole undermines the natural paths of authority within the household, so how does power shift as
the action progresses?
The place of women
Represented by Sybil and Sheila Birling, the servant Edna and the invisible but omnipresent Eva/
Daisy, women are seen variously as innocents, social climbers, victims and suspects. How are
issues of gender played out and do they enrich or detract from the moral and political messages?
A murder mystery, a ghost story or a parable? The deceptively simple play follows the ‘three
unities’ (time, space and action) of Greek drama, but can be read in a number of ways.