Analyse the dramatic devices Priestley employs in "An Inspector Calls" to create tension and communicate his theme

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Analyse the dramatic devices Priestley employs in An Inspector Calls to create tension and communicate his theme

An Inspector Calls is a play set in 1912, Edwardian England written by J.B Priestley. It is a play that exploits many dramatic devices to create tension and communicate the key theme of collective responsibility. He employs his characters, dramatic irony, contrast, lighting and his ending to do this at the same time they contribute to the rapid pace of the play and the clarity of Priestley’s message. The time in which the play was both set and performed allows Priestley to convey his message most effectively and create a lasting impression on his audience.

Priestley uses the characterisation of the inspector to present his political views and therefore his view on collective responsibility. Priestly was a socialist, believing in a community where everyone is responsible for each other. He blames the death of Eva Smith on all of Birlings and Gerald Croft through his mouthpiece, Inspector Goole. The inspector tells the Birlings, “We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.” This is directly enforcing the theme of the play, social responsibility and the repetition of the word “we” helps to put across the sense that we should all be united together. Mr Birling states that the Inspector is, “probably a socialist” confirming that the Inspector is mirroring Priestley’s own political views and therefore his attitude on Priestley’s central theme. By using the role of the inspector to convey the views of socialism and collective responsibility, Priestley shows his ideas in a good light. The inspector appears to know every detail of the case and as the play pans out we see he is exactly right about everything he predicts. This makes the audience more likely to trust and believe his views on social responsibility and see them to be true, honest and a view that would benefit society. This is reflected in the general view one has of an inspector, and true and honest man of authority, doing good for the community.

Priestley also uses the Inspector to show how important he feels it is for collective responsibility to be adopted by members of society. It is described by the Inspector that without out the idea of collective responsibility our actions can have terrible consequences. The death of Eva smith is the example used by Priestley to show this. The inspector describes the death as “burnt her inside out” and she died after “several hours of agony”. The connotations of the word burning help to convey the destructive death effectively and it is clear Eva suffered for many hours. Henceforth, the description of her horrendous death is greatly emphasising the evil consequences of their actions where they didn’t realise their responsibility for people other than themselves. I feel Priestley uses this to show the urgency and importance that members of society take responsibility for each other. The Inspector also states, “And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.” This uses words such as blood and fire which have strong emotions attached to them with connotations of death and destruction. This almost acts as a threat to the audience inciting them to recognise the value of this message. Having first performed the play in 1945 this message would have had the desired effect on the audience due to the very recent ending on the Second World War where the country was in disarray and the members of society longing for the countries recovery and would naturally never wish for destruction on such a vast scale to repeat itself.

Using the character of Eva Smith, a working class girl adds more detail to a type of responsibility Priestley thinks society should have. It is made clear to the audience that the Birling’s are exceedingly wealthy. At the beginning of the play, Priestley sets out an extensive series of stage directions which is not typical of a playwright emphasising the importance of the details he writes about. Within them he describes the Birlings to live in a “fairly large suburban house” described as “heavily comfortable”. He also describes objects such as "dessert plates" and "champagne glasses" as well as other expensive items showing them to be an upper class family in society. Through the characterisation of Mr Birling it becomes apparent all he cares about it profit and society and its conventions, not the people within it. When he describes that if everyone took responsibility for everything that happened to people in society, “it would all be very awkward wouldn’t it”. The choice of the word awkward effectively shows how Mr Birling only cares about the social inconvenience it would have upon him. Birling tells the inspector, “We’ve been modestly celebrating his engagement to my daughter, Shelia” implying that they don’t want their evening ruined by the Inspector. Priestley is showing how in the rigid class system of 1912, the upper class didn’t have any respect for the lower class, portraying the selfishness of the upper class as they don’t appear to want to know the affairs of the lower classes. Being a rich man Mr Birling is hugely benefitted by the capitalist system and does not need to concern himself with the problems of the lower class. Mrs Birling also reflects a similar view of the lower classes. She turns down Eva’s plea for financial help and denies her responsibility, “I was perfectly justified in advising my committee not to allow her claim for my assistance.” The entire plot is demonstrating the responsibility the upper class characters have for the death of Eva Smith, a member of the working class, condemning the opinions of those who do not accept this. Through this Priestly is emphasising the responsibility the upper class should for the lower class and he uses this class divide to show that the rigidity of the class system is incompatible with his views on community and responsibility.
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Priestley uses juxtaposition of the characters Mr Birling and the Inspector in order to emphasise his own views on collective responsibility to be right. He does this by using the contrast of Mr Birling and other members of the Birling family to show Capitalism and the views of collective responsibility held by a capitalist in a bad light. This contrast is most prominently seen in the character of Mr Birling. He is a capitalist who believes that a man has to make his own way in life and not to worry about others. He brands socialists as “cranks” ...

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