From a close examination of Act 1 of ‘An Inspector Calls’ discuss Priestley’s dramatic techniques and explain how an understanding of the historical and social context helps to shape the audience’s response to the scene and the play as a whole. “An Inspector Calls” is a play by J.B Priestley set in 1912. It is about a wealthy family sitting down at the dining table after dinner with an unexpected visitor entering and disturbing the mood.
In this play, Priestley is trying to communicate a message of responsibility towards others and taking liability for our own actions. This style of writing is called a didactic or morality play. Preistley was influenced to write this play in 1945, after having witnessed the disturbing and terrible images of both World Wars as a front line soldier; therefore Preistley was determined to share his experiences with other people. It is significant in “An Inspector Calls” that the audience is aware of the events that transpired between the time the play is set and the time that the play was written, as this aids the audience in gaining a better perception and becoming conscious of irony that occurs in the play.
Priestly uses his characters to represent different moral views; the main representation is the Inspector who represents one’s conscience and how our conscience can have a significant effect on our actions. To engage the audience’s attention the author uses the Inspector’s presence and his actions to make both characters and the audience feel tense. We find the timing of the Inspector’s arrival rather ironic, as Mr Birling is preaching to his family about how one should only look after themselves, “that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own”. We find his speech being, ironically interrupted by a doorbell, which shows the audience that there is a disturbance to the somewhat egotistic mood. This focuses audience’s attention because they want to uncover what the disturbance is and why the timing of the disturbance was so ironic, and this creates a tense and dramatic atmosphere.
Upon entering the room, the Inspector is described as giving “an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness”, the words used to describe the Inspector make both the audience and other characters feel tense, because the Inspector’s character is portrayed as intimidating. The word “massiveness” suggests that the Inspector is immense, deep and has a vast knowledge of each character. The word “solidity” portrays the Inspector’s character as firm and vigorous. Finally, the word “purposefulness” shows the audience that the Inspector has a strong intention and is determined to uncover the truth. The use of these three words shows to both characters and the audience that the Inspector has a very daunting presence and creates a significant amount of tension upon entering the scene.
As the Inspector begins to interrogate the Birling family, the audience recognizes that the Inspector’s method of interrogating is very different from any other Inspector in that era. It is evident that the Inspector maintains direct eye contact with the character he is interrogating, “Coolly, looking hard at him” This phrase creates an unfriendly and cold tone, which manifests tension in the characters, because the words “Coolly” and “hard” emphasises the Inspector’s unique composure and his firm approach to interrogating each character. This method of interrogating captures the audience’s attention, through the pressure that is created in using direct eye contact.
The Inspector’s method of interrogating has a significant effect on each of the characters. The characters are experiencing a small amount of disrespect and disregard that the lower-class citizens generally received during this time period. “Birling: (after a pause, with a touch of impatience) Well, what is it then?” “Eric: (bursting out) Well, I think it’s a dam’ shame.”
It is highlighted to the audience that the characters on stage are becoming very agitated and annoyed from just a small amount of this treatment. The words which describe the way the characters deliver their lines, “impatience” and “bursting out”, show to the audience the aggravation and misery that the characters are experiencing. The audience associates this poor treatment to the lower-class citizens and how the frustration that is demonstrated eventually leads to depression; this creates a dramatic atmosphere.
When the Inspector shows the photograph of Eva Smith he only lets Mr Birling look at it, which creates tension among other characters in the scene. “Any particular reason why I shouldn’t see the photograph” The difference in knowledge of Eva Smith’s appearance creates a dramatic atmosphere because other characters feel like they have been excluded from the scene. This can be related to how the lower-class citizens were treated in 1912; they were not shown as much respect as higher-class citizens were. As well as the characters, the audience does not get to see the picture of Eva Smith and are left to conjure up their own images of the girl in their own mind, which is based purely on their own perception.