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What reaction/s does Priestley intend the audience to have to the content of the play? How does he set about achieving them? Do you think he is successful in achieving his intentions?

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Introduction

Hannah Jones 10G English Coursework: 'An Inspector Calls' What reaction/s does Priestley intend the audience to have to the content of the play? How does he set about achieving them? Do you think he is successful in achieving his intentions? The play 'An Inspector Calls' was written by J. B. Priestley in 1945. However, it is set in 1912; the Edwardian era, in which conservative forces continually portrayed the working classes as a threat to capitalism, and capitalists such as Arthur Birling, who is the archetype of a wealthy industrialist. Due to this, the reactionary government resisted making any reforms to help the working classes, many of whom were, according to a contemporary account, 'underfed, under-housed and insufficiently clothed... their health is undermined'. Tax records of 1911-1913 show that 87 percent of Britain's total personal wealth was concentrated among 5 percent of the population; thus, as one historian put it, 'Class differences were never so acutely felt as by the Edwardians'. 1945, contrastingly, was a time of great optimism for a 'brave new world' and of a desire not to repeat the mistakes of the past - since 1914 there had been two world wars and a terrible Depression. Social barriers had been blurred by the wars; everyone was forced to pull together and support their country. By setting the play in 1912 Priestley is reminding a 1945 audience of an era long gone, that should never be returned to. ...read more.

Middle

they wanted the rates raised... I refused, of course.' He refuses to pay his workers more than 'is paid generally in our industry' because he is working for 'lower costs and higher prices'. It is ironic that he uses these terms, because the audience infers that 'lower costs' (for the ruling class) and 'higher prices' (for the working class) is not merely referring to money, and ultimately this attitude will contribute towards a depression, with too many people earning too little. He also attempts to treat the Inspector as if he is simply someone of a lower social status than his that can be ordered around; 'Perhaps I ought to warn you that [Chief Constable Colonel Roberts] is an old friend of mine', suggests that he is trying to put the Inspector 'in his place' and make him defer to them. The Inspector then interrogates Sheila Birling, who is instantly horrified at the news of Eva Smith's death. The Inspector makes an impression on Sheila very easily; 'But these girls aren't cheap labour - they're people.', she cries. Sheila 'went to the manager at Milwards [the clothes shop where Eva was working] and I told him that if they didn't get rid of that girl, I'd never go near the place again... I caught sight of her smiling at the assistant, and I was furious with her.' Although Sheila's action - having Eva Smith turned out of her job because she was jealous of her attractiveness - was devastating to Eva, Sheila instantly repents for it and makes no attempt to defend herself. ...read more.

Conclusion

Birling as hypocritical and ignorant. He achieves this by two ironies: firstly, Mrs. Birling's view regarding 'fine feelings and scruples', and secondly, she insists that the father of Eva's baby is 'entirely responsible' and should be 'compelled to marry her' and 'dealt with very severely'. Yet when she finds out that this is her own son, she is more shocked that Eric stole money, and protests, 'No - Eric - please - I didn't know - I didn't understand'. Act Two ends at a point of tension, when Eric walks in just as the family have realised what he has done. Not only has he got Eva pregnant, but he is also an alcoholic (or at least a heavy drinker). Ironically, the audience are more disgusted with his parents, for caring more about Eric's actions ruining the family's reputation than the damage they have done to Eva, and for accepting no blame for Eric's or Eva's situation ('you're not the kind of father a chap could go to when he's in trouble', says Eric). Like Sheila, Eric repents. What follows is the Inspector's 'final speech', which could be considered the most powerful and poignant part of the play. It examines the moral and social consciences of the characters and of the audience. First, on a more personal level, the characters are reminded that 'each of you helped to kill her', and of their role in Eva's demise. The characters are very subdued; Sheila and Eric bitterly repent, while Mr. Birling misinterprets 'You made her pay a heavy price... ...read more.

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