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How does J.B.Priestley interest the audience in the contrast between the ideas and beliefs of Authur Birling and Inspector Goole, in 'An Inspector Calls'?

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Introduction

How does J.B.Priestley interest the audience in the contrast between the ideas and beliefs of Authur Birling and Inspector Goole, in 'An Inspector Calls'? In this essay I hope to identify and discuss J.B.Priestley's use of genre, tension, characterisation, irony and any other factors that contribute to making this play a success. A successful play is one that keeps the audience's interest throughout, and this is one such play. The two main characters in question are Authur Birling and Inspector Goole. They are very contrasting characters in almost every way. Apart from discussing these differences, it will also be interesting to see how Priestley keeps to the detective thriller genre, while conveying a moral lesson, and also not focusing too much on Birling and the Inspector's views on social and moral issues of the period. I will also use key aspects of the play like the speeches made by both Birling and the Inspector. The conclusion I hope to make will be on the basic ways in which Priestley engineered this specific play to suit the needs of the audience and engage them in the play he wanted them to see. J.B.Priestley's play on the moral issues of the 1940's can relate to any era. 'An Inspector Calls' is a play in the guise of a detective thriller genre (although no imprisonable offence has been committed). Priestley had to disguise his play because at the time (1947, just after the end of the war), the most popular types of play were those written by famous crime and detective thriller authors, such as Agatha Christie and Emlyn Williams. His play, similar to the original morality plays of the late middle ages, but written in a more modern, secular manner, wasn't the type of play that was attracting the masses. To gain the audience he needed to make 'An Inspector Calls' a success it assumed the disguise of a detective thriller. ...read more.

Middle

The Inspector's description - 'He need not be a big man, but he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. He is a man in his fifties, dressed in a plain darkish suit of the period. He speaks carefully, weightily and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking'. The Inspector's mannerisms including the way he speaks are different to Birling's to create the most impression on the family and audience. The unfamiliar could also prove intimidating for Birling, and coupled with the solidarity and purposefulness of the Inspector's persona it is not surprising that he manages to take control of the situation from the beginning. The Inspector interrupts the happy occasion at the Birling's house to bring news of a young girl's suicide. He carries out one line of inquiry at a time just like in a real investigation and although he is rude and somewhat impertinent towards the family, there is no reason at this point to doubt his role as a real inspector. Inspector Goole controls the play from the moment he tells the shocking news of Eva Smith's death, 'Two hours ago a young woman died in the Infirmary. She'd been taken there this afternoon because she had swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant'. He uses simple to the point language and stays relatively quiet, thus making an impact when he does raise his voice, and takes authority 'Stop', and 'Your daughter isn't living on the moon'. Birling is annoyed by the Inspector's ability to control the situation and does not like his actions being questioned as they are when concerning Eva Smith's dismissal. The Inspector simply asks why he wouldn't give her a rise in pay - 'Why?' 'Did you say why?' Birling also becomes agitated at the involvement of his family and in the middle of act one he says angrily 'We were having a nice little family celebration tonight. ...read more.

Conclusion

That is the very end of the play and the curtain falls. There is no conclusion or epilogue to round off the play. But that is what makes it so entertaining. There is mystery and a chance for the audience to make up their own minds about how the family will be able to cope with another inspector and all his questions. The characters are already exhausted, confused and emotionally drained, and although the audience can now relax and return to reality, you feel that for the Birling family it is not over. The powerful ending showing the recycling of events is about to begin, and the rest is left to the imagination. This makes Priestley's play different to a usual detective thriller, and more educational and as well as entertaining, more thought provoking. Because that is the aim of the play; to affect the audience enough to make them think about their own lives fears, hopes, suffering and chances of happiness. The play is hard-hitting on the audience, as there may well be people that can relate to the Birling parent's status and therefore have to ask themselves how they would react in such a situation, (no matter how extreme it may seem). 'An Inspector Calls' keeps your interest throughout with a mixture of mystery, intrigue and a need to see how the Inspector and Birling face their own total opposites. Questions arise, like 'How would I have treated Eva Smith?' 'Would I have accepted the blame?' 'What are my beliefs on the subject of community?' 'Am I a Mr. Birling or an Inspector Goole in my beliefs?' and 'Has the world's attitude changed at all from 1912, to this day?' There are so many questions that are designed to help the audience to help themselves. Mr. Birling's views are portrayed as wrong and the Inspector's are right. So, if the world still hasn't learned the valuable lesson, then we will be forced to learn it again and again and again in 'fire and blood and anguish' until we understand. Philippa Young ...read more.

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