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How does J.B. Priestley create dramatic tension and suspense in Act One of "An Inspector Calls"?

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Introduction

How does J.B. Priestley create dramatic tension and suspense in Act One of "An Inspector Calls"? "An Inspector Calls" is a rather dramatic play, written in 1945 by J.B. Priestley, and set in 1912. In the play's opening scene, a typical family party is happening, celebrating Sheila Birling's marriage to Gerald Croft. In this celebration, the audience can guess that something is already about to go horribly wrong (as most seemingly happy moments turn bad in the world of theatre). Indeed something does go wrong; with the arrival of a police inspector. As soon as the Inspector appears, the happy and relaxed mood transforms into a tenser atmosphere. At first, when the Inspector is invited into the Birlings' house, (Mr) Birling tries to guess why he has called, and acts quite boastful towards the Inspector, trying to impress him also by claiming that he used to be Lord Mayor. When Birling finds out that Eva Smith has just died, he becomes a lot more edgy, and immediately questions the fact that it has anything to do with him. The other members of the family, when interrogated, are also held in tense moments by the Inspector. Even before the Inspector arrives, the audience are made to feel that all is not well. At the very start of the play, when Edna the maid offers Birling and Gerald a glass of port, Birling tries to impress Gerald by telling him that it's the same port he gets at home from his father. ...read more.

Middle

before she notices the Inspector, and this may hint that Sheila knows something the others don't. After she is told about Eva's death and is shown the photograph, Sheila recognises it at once and runs away, which implies that she is involved with the events leading up to Eva's death. When she returns, she knows that the Inspector knew it was her, which signals that the Inspector is one step ahead of everyone. On page 25, when the Inspector informs the others that Eva changed her name to "Daisy Renton", Gerald gives himself away, and then the Inspector requests to see Birling just so he can leave Sheila and Gerald alone together, and Sheila tells Eric to show the Inspector out. This is so Sheila can ask Gerald about "Daisy", and how he came to know her. When the Inspector returns, uttering "Well?" before the curtain falls, it seems that the Inspector wants to know more, but of course he already knows about Gerald's affair with Eva. This instead makes the audience want to know more, and leaves the scene on an important cliff-hanger. The stage directions and props have great importance throughout the progression of the play. Throughout the opening description, the Birlings' dining room is described as "substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike". Also, it says that "the lighting should be pink and intimate until the Inspector arrives, and then it should be brighter and harder". This creates an atmosphere which is typical of an upper-class dining room. ...read more.

Conclusion

On page 22, Gerald tells the Inspector that he thinks he's "getting a bit heavy-handed", by not letting Eric leave the room. The Inspector then compares them to criminals, by saying "if you're easy with me, I'm easy with you". This means that if you are polite to him, he will be polite in return. It may be the reason why the Inspector was slightly colder towards Birling and his wife than anyone else. Gerald then informs the Inspector that he and Eric are "respectable citizens and not criminals" and the Inspector then comments on this, by saying he "wouldn't know where to draw the line", which is ironic as Eric has already established himself as a criminal, and no-one knows yet as Eric has tried to restore himself as a normal person. The scene then closes with Gerald revealing that he had an affair with Eva to Sheila, and then he tries to persuade her not to mention it to the Inspector. Sheila then mocks him, telling him that the Inspector already knows about this and he will be able to tell if Gerald is lying. Gerald is humiliated after his dismissive comments and his denial of knowing Eva. The scene ends on a tension creating cliff-hanger, with the Inspector saying a single word to begin the opening conversation of the next Act. In Act Two, the audience will immediately be expecting Gerald to reveal the details of his affair, and inevitably, where Eric and Mrs Birling are involved in the events leading up to Eva's suicide. ...read more.

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