Britain in the early 1900’s was a class-ridden society. Life was not easy for some. Some found it very easy, this was because of the unjust system of class, it all depended on whether you were rich or poor, and upon education. People were labelled as working, middle, or upper class, so the upper class would have titles and were very important people, whereas the working class were known as cheap labour.
The poor just got poorer and the rich got richer, time – workers had no rights and there was little social security. There had to be some kind of people who had a desire to change things socially, someone had to rebel against this unfair system before things got any worse. These people were the socialists, and some of them wrote plays to change the way of thinking, one of which was “an inspector calls.” John Boynton Priestley was the successful writer of the play.
He was born in the county of Yorkshire on the 13th of September 1894. He knew early on that he wanted to become a writer, but decided against going university, as he believed that the world outside classrooms and labs would help him to become a writer. He was gaining experience to achieve success in his writing career as he said, “it was the years 1911-14 that set their stamp upon me.”
He was politically minded and liked to discuss politics, this may have been because he was growing up into his father’s socialist friends (which must have influenced his writing), and joined in with their political arguments, but never was able to put politics first. He had been through two world wars, and joined the infantry in the first. He served for 5 years before he left, and escaped death on numerous occasions. He was also a victim of a gas attack; ” I was lucky in the war and have never ceased to be aware of the fact.” He later became a successful writer.
The contempary setting of the play would be very plain and simple. The main effect of this was substantial and heavily comfortable, not cosy and homelike. The play itself would be set in the Birlings’s dining room, and there wouldn’t be any set changes throughout the play, partly because Priestley didn’t want the audience to get distracted from the dialogue. The lighting should have been pink and intimate until the inspector arrives, and then it would be brighter and harder which would change the atmosphere as they were interviewed. The contempary audience did not need reminding of the two world wars considering they had experienced at least one already. However the set for a modern day audience would be entirely different.
The performance for a modern audience would have been rather complex: to the side of the stage there was a radio and a trap door; this was to remind the audience of the war. The house is positioned on stilts, which represents them being superior to ordinary people. At the beginning of the performance some children would be seen playing, but as soon as an air raid sirens sounds from the radio, the children would exit down into the trapdoor which acted as an air raid shelter.
On one side of the stage is a phone booth: this is used when Gerald phones the police about the inspector, and later when he phones the infirmary. When the inspector arrives he stays at street level, as each character departs downstairs one by one to be inspected, this represents that they will be “brought down to Earth.” The house starts to fall apart as the guilt is exposed, the floor gives way, cutlery smashes and it starts to rain to emphasize the misery of the Birlings.
The Birlings are celebrating a special occasion – their daughter’s engagement with Gerald Croft, who is described as “rather too manly to be dandy but very much the easy well-bred young man-about-town.” Gerald’s parents (who are upper class) are not here to celebrate with him; this may suggest that they don’t approve of the marriage.
Mr Birling is described as a heavy-looking man who is portentous, and in his fifties. He is overwhelmed about the marriage, but not for his daughter’s happiness but to heighten his business. Priestley has made Birling a businessman who thinks he knows everything when he doesn’t, ” I am talking as a hard-headed, practical man of business. And I say there isn’t a chance of war.” He also says that the development of aeroplanes will make war impossible, and we all know that aeroplanes played a big part in the war. This makes Mr Birling look pompous in front of the audience. People like Mr. Birling are the kind of people Priestley wants to change. Mr. B goes on to talk of his philosophy to Gerald and Eric; he says that a man has to look after himself, his family, and make his own way, when a sharp ring of the doorbell interrupts him.
The inspector enters with a dramatic effect. He stops Birling explaining his views and attitude towards life, stops him in his tracks. His name is inspector Goole; he is a man in his fifties, dressed in a plain dark suit. He’s not a big man but he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity, and purposefulness. He has a displeasing habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before he actually speaks. No know actually knew who he was.