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How does an understanding of the historical and social context of the play, and the use of dramatic irony, help shape audience responses, especially to the theme of responsibility?

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Introduction

Coursework: An Inspector Calls Essay Henry Agyei 10 Lowry How does an understanding of the historical and social context of the play, and the use of dramatic irony, help shape audience responses, especially to the theme of responsibility? The play entitled An Inspector Calls was written by J.B. Priestley in 1946, just after the 2nd World War. Although it was set in the spring of 1912; just before the 1st World War, it was almost immediately recognized as a grand work. J.B. Priestley was writing the play for a middle class audience and was trying to speak up for the working class by showing how the Birlings and Gerald Croft were all involved in making a young working class girl's life a misery. Priestley wants to show us that we have a responsibility to others to act fairly and without prejudice and that we do not live in isolation. Our actions affect others. This is the concept of collective responsibility. Priestley says, 'things could really improve if only people were to become more socially responsible for the welfare of others'. We have to confront our mistakes and learn from them. This Socialist message is delivered through the mouth of the inspector, who takes on the role of a teacher to the Birling family. ...read more.

Middle

The character of the Inspector is less realistically a human being than a super policeman - the character represents the theoretical idea of the human conscience, a force which never forgets, and makes someone feel responsible for their actions. A conscience is also responsible for guilt, in the same way that a policeman is responsible for catching the guilty. "An Inspector Calls" is a well-structured and well-made play because it contains many factors that captivate and sustain the attention of the audience. One of the factors that makes the play captivating is the use of climax, the way it holds the audience all the way through, building up slowly, gathering the plot as it goes on and then finally ends in a stunning climax, for example the way the Inspector extracts small threads of information from the members of the family and slowly puts the picture together and narrows it down to the main culprit as the climax. The whodunit genre keeps the audience guessing all the way through the play, and as clues are solved and stories are unfurled the culprit becomes clearer, but as soon as one thinks he or she knows who it is Priestley cleverly seems to switch to the inspecting of another character. ...read more.

Conclusion

While the rich think they can hide from the world of pain which they exploit, the play shows how it comes back to 'haunt them in their castles'. This book is very allegorical because the characters and events are representing other things and symbolically expressing a deeper spiritual and moral meaning. Priestley was trying to show the predominantly middle class audience that despite all the death and destruction of the Great War, the working class were no better off. The 1920's and 1930's were a time of unemployment, strikes and depression. This time around, Priestley says, things could really improve if only people were to become more socially responsible for the welfare of others. We have to confront our mistakes and learn from them. The fact that his use of time sometimes makes it seem as if events have not yet happened and the characters might have a chance to change their actions, reflects this - there was a Second World War and people have a second chance to change things. The older Birlings represent those who failed to learn from the First World War, while Sheila and Eric are the younger generation who still have a chance to learn and change. In conclusion, this play is a comment on the society of the Edwardian age, as well as being a play about relationships as a whole. Priestley sets out to show the failings of that society and succeeds. ...read more.

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