How does Act 1 of "An Inspector Calls" reveal so much?

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How does Priestly reveal so much before the inspector comes? By Arjun N

The opening scene is set one evening in the spring of 1912 in the dining room of the Birlings’ house in Brumley; an industrial city in the North Midlands of England. Priestley specifies that the room has “good solid furniture” and is “heavily comfortable, but not cozy and homelike.” As the curtain rises, the four Birlings; Arthur, Sybil, Sheila and Eric, are seated at the table alongside Gerald Croft. This being the first tableau showcases the type of comfort the family is used to, and with Edna clearing away their dinner plates, this reinforces the power that the Birling family has, quickly shows the standards in which the family is used to with this being the emblem of this rich family’s life.

         This act plays a key part in showing the family’s mentality foreshadows what is to come during the play with sequences of mistrust and lack of respect for each other, setting further indicators of what is to come. Shiela’s bitter remark about Geralds’ absence during the last summer illustrates flaws in their relationship, which ate present in the very beginning. Erics’ unmotivated laugh halfway through the conversation brings to light his alcoholic tendencies, (although only being confirmed halfway through the play). With this cleverly organized structure of the play, Priestly suggests ambiguous possibilities of a clash to the careful listener or reader.

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Mr. Birling is the centerpiece of this part of the play, with his remarks indicating an egoistic, vain man, who is content upon raising his status amongst the upper class society. Mr. Birling recognizes his self satisfied attitude, and takes it as a compliment as he puts it, he is a “hard-headed man of business.” Smug and sure of himself, he launches into a series of assertions, which Priestley’s 1946 audience would have known only too well to be false. Birling asserts that there will not be another war, yet, two years after this statement the First World War ...

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