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How does Priestley show that tension is at the heart of the Birling family?

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How does Priestley show that tension is at the heart of the Birling family? Tensions in the Birling household are shown from the beginning of the play. In the opening stage directions the house is described as ?not cosy and homelike? which reflects the cold and uninviting atmosphere, these characteristics mirror the family itself. There is also tension between the older and younger generation, which is clear straight away when Sheila says she would hate Gerald to end up like ?one of those purple-faced old men?. This indicates to the audience a clear gap between the two generations. Through the stage directions, particularly at the beginning of the play, tension is created. The use of the ?pink and intimate? lighting at the start suggests a happy and relaxed atmosphere. However, this is does not fit with the real feelings of tension and uncertainty as shown through the adverbial choice of stage directions ? ?possessively?. The lighting, therefore, could be being used to hide the true feelings of the family as it would not be deemed acceptable for an upper-class family to bring up such issues. ...read more.


The way the characters interact and speak with one another is a clear indication that there is underlying tension. In particular, the relationship between Mr Birling and Eric seems very strained. Eric has a familiarity with alcohol and he ?takes the decanter and helps himself? when he re-enters to join Mr Birling and Gerald after dinner. This suggests that Eric has turned to drinking to try and escape, emphasising how the relationship between him and his father has broken down. Throughout the beginning of the play and once the Inspector has arrived, Eric is a dramatic irritant to Mr Birling. When Mr Birling begins to give hi s speech about Gerald and Sheila?s engagement, Eric interrupts ? ?Yes, I know ? but still ?? ? followed by Mr Birling responding with ?Just let me finish, Eric.? This is a prime example of Mr Birling talking down to Eric, despite the fact that Eric is the voice of reason and is usually expressing the audience?s views. ...read more.


The fact that the Inspector arrives when Birling begins disparaging socialism is very significant as is creates a sense of tension and mystery for the audience. Whilst Eric and Sheila are both from the younger generation, there is clear conflict between the brother and sister from the beginning of the play. At the start of the play, Eric ?suddenly guffaws? when Gerald is trying to convince Sheila that the only reason he didn?t talk to her last summer was because he was busy working. The way Eric spontaneously guffaws suggests that he knows something about what Gerald has been up to, but is unable to control himself due to his drinking problem. This shows underlying tension between Eric and Sheila as they obviously do not have a very close relationship if Eric is holding back something quite so secretive. Sheila then goes on to call Eric ?squiffy? which shows that she is very childish and the use of slang emphasises her youthfulness. Gerald plays a key role in showing up the tensions in the family. ...read more.

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