English Coursework: “An Inspector Calls”
In Act 1 of “An Inspector Calls”, how does J.B.Priestly use dramatic devices to convey his concerns and ideas to members of the audience as well as interest and involve them in the play??
John Braine Priestly, playwright of “An Inspector Calls” uses many dramatic devices in the play as a means of communicating his humanitarian ideas to the audience. In this way he also expresses humanistic views in the hope of enlightening his audience and to make them more aware of how their actions affect the lives of others. Examples of these devices include the play’s lighting, introduction of new characters and stage directions.
Priestley’s main concerns are, that people do not realize the consequences their actions have on other people’s lives; and also the lack of realization that ignorance of the world around us will not prevent suffering. This first point is demonstrated through the series of events leading up to the young girl’s suicide in the play, with causes such as that of Arthur Birling when he sacked ‘Eva Smith’ from his business or when Sheila used her influence to discharge her from Milwards dress shop; both of which “didn’t seem to be such anything terrible at the time” but in series with the other incidents that lead to the suffering and eventually suicide of a young girl, seem otherwise.
The second issue is conveyed through the speech Mr. Birling gives and the dramatic irony produced; as “An Inspector Calls was written in the winter of 1945 (post world wars) and produced in the UK in 1946 with audiences obviously well aware of the suffering that occurred because of the wars and also of events such as the sinking of the ‘Titanic’. However, the play itself is set in 1912 before the second world war in Europe began. Therefore in the play Birling is ignorant of how the future unfolds, “The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war.”, “ In 1940 you’ll be living in a world that’ll have forgotten all these silly little war scares.” & “ the Titanic-unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable!” All these quotes create dramatic irony as Birling’s points are completely wrong; in addition they also back up Priestley’s claims of humanitarianism theory. Birling’s speech is also a way of engaging the audience as the character’s lack of knowledge puts the members of the audience in a higher ranking position of intelligence.
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The authors use of lighting is another dramatic device as it can effects the ambience of each scene and the mood of the characters. At the beginning of Act 1, “the lighting should be pink and intimate” Thus producing happy, romantic surroundings for the engagement party; whilst symbolizing the close relationships between the family and expressing the hazy glow of conversation.
Different lighting effects are produced when Inspector Goole arrives as the lighting changes to “ a brighter and harder” emphasis. This stresses the stern character of the Inspector, how he interrogates witnesses (like in police custody cells) and also the importance of Priestly’s warning whilst creating harsh, brash atmosphere. The difference between the two lighting qualities is a metaphor for the different views of Birling and the Inspector, the changes of attitude in the younger characters and thirdly the hopeful recognition of the audience.
A third dramatic device used by J.B.Priestly is the “doorbell” and the precise timing of its use. Birling’s character is lecturing the younger men on his experience in life with the input of inhumanitarian opinions: “a man has to make his own way- has to look after himself”, “a man must mind his own business and look after himself and his own-and- “When a “sharp ring” interrupts the speech which incorporates completely different views to that of Priestly and the Inspector. The bell also symbolises a metaphoric warning (like a siren) who’s ringing effect will be echoed throughout the play. As well as announcing the arrival of a new character with a new status and yet unknown opinions.
The arrival of Inspector Goole provides the script with a strong authoritive figure who acts as an almost God-like, omniscient narrator to the story. Priestly conveys an impression of massiveness and purposefulness in Goole’s character as it is the Inspector and not Mr. Birling who is in complete controls of the situations of the scenes form beginning to end; for example when the Inspector defies Birling and sending Eric to bed and the fact that it is he who decides when and whose stories are told first, and in what order. Goole also remains a strong mysterious character where the others lose there solidity as there secrets unravel. The Inspector also shows godlike qualities as he allows those characters who realise their mistakes to redeem themselves through future ‘good behaviour’ – repent of their sins. J. B Priestly uses this introduction of a new character; whose views mimic those of his own, as a dramatic device to awaken the audiences’ sense of curiosity and make us more interested in the performance and its message. The Inspectors’ unexpected appearance on the scene has different effects on each character; for example Arthur Birling, who is firmly set in his ways and proud of his selfish “every man for himself” views, finds Goole an annoyance and a threat to his status “there’s a good chance of a knighthood so long as we don’t start a scandal” This quote proves that Birling doesn’t care about the welfare of others ( the dead girl ) only his place on the ‘honours list’ and “looking after his own”. Sheila birling, on the other hand, is more influenced by the Inspector and his message as the Inspector finds himself “more impressionable on the young”. This statement emphasises the age gap between the two characters and also Priestly’s hope that with a new generation will come a new way of life with less suffering if people accept the facts that their actions do have consequences, and start taking responsibility for other people as well as themselves. This age difference is also a metaphor which exposes the belief clash between Birling and the Inspector – Priestly and the people, and therefore due to the tension caused by the two clashing sides and it’s metaphor in the reality which the audience can relate to, the scene is made more dramatic
In addition to the dramatic devises previously mentioned J. B. Priestly also uses the scripting at the end of Act 1 as a way of conveying his concerns over to the audience and involve the audience members’ in the play through means of: the last line “ Well? ” spoken by the ( God-like ) Inspector. In this line he is not only interrogating the characters on stage but also the audience, he is questioning them on whos opinions they agree with most ( Priestly or Birling ), and whether or not they are ready to start changing the world by being responsible for each other as the author refers to in Act 3. His threatening manner also hints at the ‘ hell ‘ that will happen if they do not apply. Another way Priestly shows his ideas is through the conversation between the two young lovers Gerald and Sheila, in their first domestic argument, using dramatic accusations “ were you seeing her last spring and summer? ” , and suspense for the outcome, “ Im sorry Sheila ” This gives a realistic edge to the message and proves to the audience that Priestly’s message really can change people ie) the before romantic couple now fighting. Another way he communicates his thoughts to the audience is through Sheila’s ultimate line “ You’ll see. You’ll see! “ This serves as a repetitive warning that encourages people to take heed and make serious changes to their lives.
In conclusion to the question J. B. Priestly uses many dramatic devices such as dramatic irony, lighting and other such effects to portray his humanitarian views to the audience and involves them by showing us how ordinary lives can change for the better, and the effect a different lifestyle can have on humanity.