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How " and how successfully - does Priestley set about making An Inspector Calls(TM) powerful and thought-provoking?

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'A powerful and thought-provoking dramatic text.' How - and how successfully - does Priestley set about making 'An Inspector Calls' powerful and thought-provoking? 'An Inspector Calls is what is known as a well-made play.' In my opinion, this statement - from Tim Bezant, a literary critic - is a very accurate description of J. B. Priestley's work. Significantly, I believe it is the fact of the play being 'well made' that makes it so dramatically powerful, and indeed thought-provoking. In calling the play 'well made' I believe firstly that the critic is reflecting upon its straightforwardness, relative simplicity, and also the steady progression, or evolution, of different aspects of the work. He is also, perhaps, referring to the skilful ways that Priestley involves his audience - both through his dramatic, tension building effects - and the way he integrates several real-world events into the drama, which his audience would easily be able to relate to. To begin with, one critical factor making the play 'powerful' is the definite and 'solid' way that Priestley has structured it. Firstly, An Inspector Calls was written to be performed in 'real time' - so the time it takes for the play to run equals the amount of time needed for the events to unfold in real life. This alone should go toward engaging the audience further into the plot - making it easier for them to relate to the feelings and emotions the Priestley's characters are experiencing, and making the play seem more 'real,' as opposed to a mere production of story. Secondly, throughout the play the action all takes place in the same location - the Birlings' dining room. This also contributes to making the audience feel more involved - perhaps even providing viewers with a 'fly on the wall' perspective - as well as simply keeping the performance compact, uncomplicated and so, perhaps, 'powerful'. Lastly, Priestley's drama comprises one plot only. ...read more.


He brings us in explaining nothing; an audience will first wonder 'why the celebration?' Then, beneath the happy, contented outward appearance of the diners there are certain irregularities - hinting at problems undermining the simple engagement party. For example: '(Half serious, half playful) Yes - except for all last summer, when you never came near me...' There are also Eric's odd actions to be considered: 'suddenly guffaws,' '(Eagerly) Yes I remember - (But he checks himself.)' Moreover, after these first ominous possibilities, the sudden arrival of the Inspector creates a whole host of new questions - most of which are painstaking unravelled throughout the rest of the play. In my opinion, Priestley's use of suspense like this is very skilfully orchestrated to keep the audience engaged - and make them think. To add to this effect, he also makes frequent use of cliffhanger endings - for example: 'The door slowly opens and the Inspector appears, looking steadily and searchingly at them' - at the end of every act. Furthermore, there is the simple fact that An Inspector Calls is intrinsically a 'whodunit?' And, as such, we want to know who was responsible for the death of Eva Smith - so we become engaged in the play, possibly think up our own theories, and make sure we follow it through to the end - in the hope that the mystery will be solved. Finally, the very ambiguous way the play is ended is definitely thought-provoking. Yet another cliffhanger, it suddenly restores all the tension that the Birlings have just eased away from - after discovering that no girl had died and Goole was not a real police inspector. It leaves a whole range of possible explanations - but perhaps there is not meant to be an explanation? The ending seems to remove all sense of logic from the plot - and that it might be that the only way to interpret the play after this is as a metaphor - a didactic drama to portray social inequality. ...read more.


However, by 1945 there was a great desire for social change. Immediately after World War 2, Labour's Clement Attlee won a landslide victory over the Liberal Winston Churchill. I believe this change is actually represented in the play - through the way the general mood and, more importantly, through the way the attitudes of the younger generation of Birlings change. Interestingly, if - as Priestley states - Gerald and Shelia were in their early twenties in 1912, by 1945 they would be in their late 50s - and could really act as a symbol for comparable members of the audience to compare themselves, and their own changes, to. Consequently, all that had happened, and changed, since the time the play was set would have been thrown into sharp relief by An Inspector Calls, really making people think about how their world had advanced - and how, as Priestley wished, yet more could be done. Today, I believe the play could still be effective and powerful - if perhaps not quite in the same way. In my opinion, rather than the play's meaning referring to social injustice and a need to break down class barriers, today it could be interpreted internationally. A need to break down racial barriers, so that - in theory - everyone is responsible for everyone else, across the entire world. In conclusion, I believe that Priestley very successfully makes An Inspector Calls a powerful and thought-provoking text, both through skilful use of several dramatic effects and also the way he brings in the context of the two eras - 1912, when the play was set and 1945, when it was first produced. Furthermore, it is certainly a very 'solid' play, with very clear moral and political views - which are 'taught' to the audience through the play (perhaps a reason why the play had to be both 'powerful' and 'thought provoking - so that Priestley got his message across) this effect makes An Inspector Calls a 'didactic' text, a function it fulfils very effectively. ...read more.

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