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An Inspector Calls: How are timing and stage directions used for effect?

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An Inspector Calls 'An Inspector Calls' is a political play written by J.B Priestly in 1945. Set it 1912, it unravels the mystery of a working class girl's suicide and how her death was entwined with a family from a middle class background. The Birling family are Capitalists and believe that every man should look after himself, until a suspicious inspector arrives at the house and interrogates each of them as he aims to prove to them that we are all responsible for one another. Timing and stage directions are crucial to the building of suspense in this play and was one of the reasons why it was, and still it, such as success. The author wanted to express his views about the 1912 vision of society and how socialism was going to change it all. The story of 'Eva Smith' reflects the injustice of Edwardian society and emphasizes the point that we should help out everyone in the community, instead of putting ourselves first. In the Inspector's final speech, Priestly sums up socialism in a few paragraphs, including the phrase 'We don't live alone. We are members of one body'. The play begins with an engagement party being held for Sheila Birling, daughter of successful business man Mr Birling, and her fianc� Gerald. Mr and Mrs Birling are at the dinner party along with their unmarried son, Eric. They are seated around the dining table in a 'fairly large, suburban house' which shows that the family are wealthy. ...read more.


The feeling is now uneasy and suspicious, unlike the happy, positive atmosphere before. It now feels like a murder mystery, and although is isn't murder you get the feeling that it is a similar situation. Someone is definitely guilty. The Inspector interrogates everyone, and successfully gets the story out of them bit by bit. His movements show that he is always in control, for instance he "interposes himself between them and the photograph" He questions each of them separately so as to build tension and suspense until everything is uncovered. As this happens, each character reacts differently. Mr Birling is questioned first about his involvement in the sacking of Eva Smith from his works, to which he remains impatient and apathetic. He refuses to take any kind of responsibility, which makes the audience dislike him even more. The use of a cliff hanger at the end of act 1 creates more suspense when Gerald confesses to Sheila that he had an affair with Eva Smith, and suddenly the Inspector enters and says 'Well?' When Gerald is interrogated, he takes a little while to confess, which shows he is ashamed of what he has done, but also quite untrustworthy. He says "In that case - as I am more - upset by this business than I probably appear to be," and (distressed) "Sorry - I - well, I've suddenly realised - taken in properly - that she's dead -". He sounds remorseful and upset so as an audience we like him a little more and respect him for telling the truth eventually. ...read more.


When it is discovered that no girl died, Mr and Mrs Birling are relieved and overjoyed that the whole thing was just a wind up. Sheila and Eric don't see what difference it makes, which shows that they are far more sorry than their parents. Everything is almost going back to how it was at the beginning and the tension levels drop right down. Gerald even asked Sheila "Now, what about this ring?" At that moment when we think it's gone back to the way it was before, it is timed perfectly so the telephone rings to inform them that a girl has just died and a police inspector was coming round to ask questions. This catches everyone off guard as the audience think they know the twist. The tension is full on again, the characters are dumbfounded and it leaves the audience feeling exhilarated and asking questions about who the 'Inspector' really was. I think this play would not have been as nearly as successful if it weren't for the use of stage directions and timing because it would have made it quite boring and unexciting. The stage directions tell us more about the characters by the use of their facial expressions and movements and the timing makes it gripping and thrilling. I think it is a very clever play in the way that it reveals the plot slowly instead of all at once, which makes it not only exciting to watch, but interesting to read. ...read more.

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