How Does J.B Priestly Use Dramatic Devices To Build Tension?
J.B Priestly was born on 13th September 1894 near Bradford, England. His mother died the year he was born and his father was a teacher. After leaving school, age 16, he started to write. In 1910 he began work as a junior clerk at a wool firm. Priestly often found himself indulged into political conversations with his fathers friends. He joined the infantry in 1904 at age 20 but then left in 1919 after front line service in France. Priestly said he was ‘Lucky’ to have been enabled the opportunity to fight in the war, even after he was injured by mortar fire. After returning from the infantry Priestly studied to get a degree in modern history at Cambridge University, finishing this degree in 1921. Alongside ‘An Inspector Calls’, Priestly also wrote many other plays and novels such as ‘Dangerous Corner’ and ‘Angel Pavement’. An Inspector Calls was written in 1946, after the Second World War had ended. The play itself, a thriller, was set in 1912, a time when society was very different, from a hindsight. At this time there was a great dispute between communism and capitalism. This is one way in which Priestly shocks and entertains the audience because in the play the Inspector is seen to appear as communist and Birling is seen to appear as a capitalist. This is just one of the ways Priestly shocks and entertains the audience.
One of the dramatic devices that Priestly uses to shock and entertain the audience is the use of lighting. This is made most apparent when the inspector enters the room. It shows this because the light changes from being a ‘pinkish’ color to a very bright strong color. The ‘Pinkish’ light conveys a relaxed, loving mood, however it could also connect to danger from being a close shade to red. The bright lighted then change the mood as it makes the audience and the characters feel awkward or uneasy. It also may make them feel more alert to what is happening.
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Another one of the devices that Priestly uses to build tension is the use of the sound effect of the doorbell. This ‘Sharp Ring’ creates tension because it causes the audience to become curious and to speculate at to who it could be at the door. Another reason as to why the doorbell could create tension is the idea that the ‘Sharp Ring’ could be from a serious, impatient person, making the person at the door appear to be an important character, therefore keeping the audience on the edge of their seats
Priestly uses Birlings’ speeches as a dramatic device through irony because the novel was written in 1945 and set in 1912; Priestly had the knowledge as to what happened in the time after the play was set. ‘Soon it will be an even better time’ Priestly creates dramatic irony through this because the audience will know that just after the play was set World War 1 started, this time not being a ‘better time’. This creates tension because it makes Birling appear to be wrong or foolish, this could be seen as to be mocking capitalism.
Another device which Priestly uses to create tension is the use of interruption. This interruption creates tension because in 1912 it was deemed as to be unacceptable for a wife to intrude her husband. When this is done it shocks the audience, building tension. In my opinion, the use of interruption also creates tension because it doesn’t let the other character finish their sentence, so it leaves the audience curious as to what that character may have said be them not interrupted. Another reason why not letting the character finish their sentence causes tension is it could make it appear that the inspector has control and power over everyone else or that he knows all himself. This shocks the audience because it could make them speculate as to why the inspector doesn’t just reveal all at one time, and not “drag it out”.
The use of revealing secrets creates tension; it creates this by causing the audience to think that the inspector could make any of the other characters reveal their secrets. The leading up to the revelation of the secrets creates tension because the inspector always is in control of the questioning and prompts the characters into revealing the secrets, ‘I think you remember Eva Smith now, don’t you, Mr. Birling’. It also leads the audience further into thinking that the inspector knows everything. However, it may also create tension by the audience thinking that these revealed secrets could be hiding deeper secrets.
One other device Priestly uses to create tension is the use of inappropriate behavior. One example of this is Gerald’s affair, “I’m sorry Sheila, But it was all over and done with last summer”, this creates tension because it shocks the audience as an affair was seen as inappropriate and unacceptable in the time in which the play was set. Another example of inappropriate behavior creating tension is Eric’s excessive drinking, “We were having a little party – and I have had a few drinks”. This creates tension because it shocks the audience because of the fact that a higher class man would over excessively drink this was seen to be more of a working or lower class thing to do. It could also create tension by the idea that his excessive drinking could ‘bring down the family name’. A third example of a use of inappropriate behavior is the way in which the Inspector and Birling speak to each other. This creates tension because it appears that the Inspector has the same respect for all the characters and does not treat Birling as though he was higher than the rest of the family. This shocks the audience because at the time of the play the husband / father was seen as the ‘highest’ person of the household. This could also make it appear that J.B Priestly was mocking Capitalism with Communist ideas. A final example of how the use of inappropriate behavior crates tension is Eric getting ‘Eva Smith’ pregnant out of wedlock, “Yes. And next time – or the time after that – she told me she thought she was going to have a baby”. This would have been seen to be an outrageous thing to do at the time and would have been shunned upon. This shocks the audience because Eric’s actions may also have ‘brought down the families high class name’.
The introduction of the inspector builds tension; this is created by his dramatic entrance, ‘solid and purposefully’. This dramatic entrance builds tension because it makes him appear to be an important, bold character and the other characters and the audience to feel intimidated by his presence. This also makes it appear as though he dominates the stage. It could also insinuate that he is a very important character and is important to the plot, creating tension.
The confrontation between characters creates tension. One way that it does this is by the contrasting views of Birling & the Inspector. This creates tension because most of the conversations between Birling and the Inspector end up getting heated fairly quickly because of their contrasting capitalist and communist ideas. This could relate to the real life debates between capitalism and communism at the time the play was set. It also appears that they are ‘fighting’ to become the ‘Alpha male’ of the situation. This is shown by Birling and the Inspector questioning each other, “Your new aren’t you” and “Yes. Why did you refuse?” In my opinion it is the Inspector who appears dominant in the confrontational conversations. I think this because the inspector answers with quick and to the point replies in which he doesn’t hesitate, unlike Mr. Birling who appears to hesitate when he answers. This gives the idea that Birling feels uneasy, creating tension. However, in most of these confrontations another character interrupts the confrontation, in effort to not lower the families’ class in front of Gerald, the guest. This also highlights the large class divide at the time in which the play was set.
The ending of act one creates tension. It creates this by ending the act on a cliffhanger; ‘Well?’. This creates tension because it makes the audience ask themselves questions. These questions could include ‘What will be the reply’ or they may even try to answer these questions themselves in the interval. This could also give the audience the suspicion that the Inspector knows something that the other characters do not, this building tension and shocking the audience. The audience could also develop a speculative suspicion from this that there could be secrets between characters.
J.B Priestly uses all of these dramatic devices to build tension among the characters and the audience. Personally I think that the use of dramatic irony to create tension is the least effective of the dramatic devices. I think this because the irony was not very clear compared to the other devices. However, in 1946 the irony may have been clearer as the people watching the play would know how the recent events unfolded. I also think that the use of lighting is the most successful at building tension of the dramatic devices. I think this because the lighting is visual and therefore the most obvious and dramatic change, creating a great deal of tension among the audience. Overall I think that Priestly successfully uses all these dramatic devices to build tension throughout the play.