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How Does JB Priestly Create Tension?

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How does J.B Priestley create atmosphere and tension in Act I of 'An Inspector Calls'? J.B Priestley's play, 'An Inspector Calls', includes many techniques to create tension. Written in 1945, but set before the first world war, irony is present as Priestley subtly mocks the audience, as he uses Birling to explore the faults of capitalism. In 1946, when the play was first performed, the stereotypical spectator to the post-war play would have been those typically of Birling's societal class. In contrast to his own personal beliefs, Priestley creates Birling to be a strict capitalist, common to the period in which the play was set. Dramatic irony is established as the audience know the outcomes of Birling's ignorant predictions in Act I Scene I. Priestley wrote the play to show the divisions between the classes before the war, and the general middle class person's disposition; ignorant, impatient, and selfish. Priestley manipulates stage directions, such as lighting, props and setting to create tension. As an example of this, in the primary scene, as the Inspector enters, the lighting is brighter, as though the family are under spot light interrogation. Characterisation, the integration between characters and how we perceive them, as well as the language they use, can create tensional suspense by revealing only elements of an individual's personality at a time. ...read more.


Tension is built up between the pair when Birling persists in 'cutting in' to the Inspector. Additionally, whereas Birling is acquiring an angrier tone throughout the interview, the Inspector has a steady ambience all the way through. Birling has an entirely different relationship with his son-in law Gerald, though. Birling is almost sucking up to Gerald, as he and Gerald's father are in the same business. He even states that Gerald could have done better for himself than Sheila. This shows some cracks in the family unit, and reveals Birling's desperation for success. Sheila and Gerald's relationship also sparks some tension within the household. It's is obvious that their relationship lacks the bonding and trust it should possess, seeing as they are engaged. Sheila says 'Now I really feel engaged' on receiving the ring, suggesting that she didn't feel like that before. This is also collaborated when Sheila mentions last summer, when she didn't see Gerald much. He says he was on business, to which she replies 'That's what you say'. Gerald goes on to admit his guilt near to the end of the act, but insists that that the Inspector doesn't have to know about it. The Inspector's intelligence goes further than he is currently letting on, which Sheila is aware of, so she replies '(laughs...hysterically)...he knows... ...read more.


The Inspector says 'Well?' to Sheila and Gerald after they have had a discussion outside, and discovered Gerald's deceitfulness. It was almost as if the Inspector knew what they were discussing, and was waiting for them to uncover it themselves. This adds to the atmosphere because it seems like the Inspector knows all that he needs to, he is simply trying to make the family realise that just because they have money, doesn't mean they are any different to anyone else of a lower class. In conclusion, J.B Priestley uses many techniques to create atmosphere and tension in Act I Scene I. Stage directions are used by, for instance, Birling, as he shows his true character by interrupting others and possessing an angry tone. Lighting is used to symbolise the change of mood and presence, adjusting to the new balance of characters onstage. The Inspector himself brings a number of unanswered questions with him, some unconnected to his case, with his name and manner. The language and actions also contribute to the shift of atmosphere in the scene, by revealing extensions of each character bit by bit. Subtle hints from Priestly, alongside the climax of the scene, bring additional tension and suspense, as the audience can get involved with what's going on. The details of the scene are what really consume the audience, enveloping them with interest and intrigue, so they can perceive events how they wish, to generate tension of their own. ...read more.

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