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Post-1914 drama 'An Inspector Calls' by J B Priestley - Consider act one of the play.

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Introduction

GCSE English Literature: Post-1914 drama. 'An Inspector Calls' by J B Priestley. Consider act one of the play and address: * The effects of character and action; * The effect of dramatic devices; * The layers of meaning In language; * It's social and historical setting. 'An Inspector Calls' is a play. It follows an evening in the lives of a typical bourgeoisie family of 1912, as they celebrate an engagement between a younger member of the family, and an upper class businessman, a son of the aristocracy. The cheerful and confident atmosphere is diminished, and from there on slowly broken down, when an Inspector calls, and forces them to realise their joint responsibility in a girl's tragic and excruciatingly painful death. This shatters the belief they hold in their own invulnerability, as they realise that they can be brought down, and that their petty whims can irreversibly affect others for the worst. The events of the evening lead to a significant change in how the younger generation perceive the world and its injustices, even the older generation is worried by the turn of events, and is most definitely deflated. There is a sense of bewildered disbelief, and it has to be said, some genuine remorse and shame, when the family discover the Inspector is a fake. However, all their obnoxious hopes are dashed when they receive a phone call from the police, informing them of a young girl's death, and that an inspector is coming round to 'ask some questions'. The audience is left wondering whether Gerald will change sides again when he remembers that 'Daisy Renton' told him she had been fired from two jobs, meaning that at least Mr Birling, Sheila and himself had affected the same girl. In the very first scene, Arthur Birling is established as a central character, it becomes quite obvious to the reader that he is a pompous man, he has had to help himself over the years, and has shows great, and often unjustified pride, in his achievements. ...read more.

Middle

Unfortunately, he got too heavily involved, found himself in a sexual relationship with Eva, and backed away, disproving his own argument, and leaving her once more in the gutter. Neither Gerald or Eva loved the other, but both had come to each other in a time of uncertainty and worry. If Gerald were guilty of a sin it would have to be covetousness. He could not control his baser emotions, and because of that, a young girl slid even closer to the bottom of the dark, deep pit of despair. Although Gerald is a member of the younger generation he stand out because at the very end of the play he sides with Mr and Mrs Birling, as opposed to Eric and Sheila. Why he does so is at first quite hard to understand, but his actions alone directly hurt another member of the group, his fianc�, Sheila. And maybe it is because of this that he sides with the parents, because he doesn't want all that the inspector has said to be true. Not because he is an arrogant snob, but because he hopes, rather irrationally, that if her death isn't true, he is not responsible for any problem he has caused. All human beings sometimes find it hard to accept criticism and responsibility, and Gerald is no different. In a way, his reaction forces the audience back to the political message Priestley is putting across, that those in a position of power and privilege must accept responsibility for their actions, and for the state of those 'below' them on the social scale. Sybil Birling is the mother of Eric and Sheila Birling, as well as the wife of Arthur Birling. From the outset of the play she is depicted as a rather conservative, traditional, and arrogant old woman. I'm not sure why you get the impression that she is particularly old; certainly, it has always been there. Maybe it is because she is unwilling to accept change in any shape or form. ...read more.

Conclusion

This would make the Inspector some kind of spirit for good, and ironically, the Birling family the real ghouls, living off the flesh of the workers and the poor. This theory makes sense, as it enforces Priestley's own social message, that the rich in this world have a responsibility, and if they neglect that responsibility, choosing instead to focus on their rights, then others will suffer. Priestley uses language to its full extent, he knows how to make an audience feel for a character, he knows how to build up suspense, until the audience is sitting on the edge of their seats, scared to watch on, but determined to nonetheless. Priestley understands how a detective story or Whodunit should be written, and strangely enough, even though there is no murder in 'An Inspector Calls' he wrote his play in much the same way. Maybe he is trying to make the point that although an action may not be a crime it does not make it write. In 1945/46 the world was full of such moral dilemmas, the world is full of them now. For example, should a parent hit his or her child, simply because it is not against the law. Priestley is once again trying to get his message of social responsibility across; we have a moral culpability for any action that hurts another. In the same way that it is accepted we have a moral culpability for those things we do that help others. ' An Inspector Calls' is the best example of a well-made play I have ever come across, everything fits together, and everything has a meaning. Not just the words, but also the stage direction, the scenery, a lot of thought has gone into the precise detail of this play. I think that Priestley understood that if he didn't go into such detail the complex message he is trying to impart would not have been picked up by so many, as it was a message relevant for his time, but a much disputed one. ...read more.

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