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How does Priestley use the endings of Acts to add interest and mystery to the play 'An Inspector Calls'?

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Introduction

How does Priestley use the endings of Acts to add interest and mystery to the play 'An Inspector Calls'? The play 'An Inspector Calls' was written in the winter of 1944-5, a time when the world was ravaged by a terrible war, as it had been just twenty years previously, in 1914-8. I believe the author, J. B. Priestley, was making a point about society and what he perhaps saw as man's unwillingness to learn from his mistakes. In order to engage the reader, Priestley leaves the audience on tenterhooks at the end of each act. We are introduced to the Birlings, seated around the dinner table, celebrating their daughter Sheila's engagement to Gerald Croft who is also present, along with Sheila's brother, Eric. It is clear from the outset that Mr. Birling, as was usual for the time, 1912, dominates the family unit. He seems incredibly pompous and his capitalist views are revealed almost at once; 'A man has to make his own way-has to look after his family too, of course, when one has one-and so long as he does that he won't come to much harm. ...read more.

Middle

The scene closes with a hushed argument between Sheila and Gerald, concerning his relationship with Eva Smith and with Gerald wanting Sheila to help him hide it from the Inspector, but Sheila, perhaps the brightest of the family proclaims, 'Why-you fool-he knows. Of course he knows. And I hate to think how much he knows that we don't yet. You'll see. You'll see.' Sheila is perhaps slightly more intelligent than the other members of the celebratory party, her claim that the Inspector knows that Gerald is in some way connected with Eva is insightful and her worry that the inspector knows a great deal more than perhaps even them, the apparent perpetrators, is perhaps a premonition of things to come. By the end of Act two it is clear to the audience that Eric is the father of Eva's unborn, illegitimate baby. However Mrs. Birling fails to realise this as her hierarchal view of society and firm beliefs cloud her vision, preventing her from seeing the truth. ...read more.

Conclusion

The point of the play is that one persons happiness is dependant on the next persons action, a hypothesis that is relevant even in today's society, sixty years later, the inspector sums this up; '...there are millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives...' The play challenges social and moral values, it ridicules the Birlings and their pompous ideas that simply because they are of a high class they are better and therefore not connected to those of a 'lower' social status. A little hope is offered through Sheila and Eric who seem most affected by the inspector and have begun to recognise their responsibility in the 'death' of Eva Smith, if such an event ever occurred. Sheila's claim that it all could have ended badly anyway is perhaps an allusion to what happens when the curtain falls and the second, real, police inspector arrive; maybe they have in fact been responsible for the suicide of a young girl. ...read more.

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