J. B Priestley’s purpose of the play is to make people question themselves both the audience and the characters; are we too self-satisfied and wrapped up in are own lives so much so we do not care for others? The characters that question themselves the most and learn their lesson are the younger Birlings, Sheila and Eric. The audience are made to dislike the children at first by Priestley, as they seem very self-satisfied and quite spoilt. At the beginning of the play the family are celebrating Sheila’s engagement and Sheila asks her mother to celebrate the news. “Yes, go on, mummy. You must drink to our health.” Sheila speaks in a posh dialect so the audience get the impression she is spoilt.
As the drama continues, Priestley manipulates the audience further by getting them to begin to warm to Sheila and Eric as they begin to change and show remorse for the death of Eva. The children start to realise that they were involved in Eva Smith’s suicide after being questioned by the police inspector, Inspector Goole, who visits the family during the meal. Sheila starts to learn of her involvement while Mr Birling is set too much in his ways to change and understand that the inspector (Priestley) has a message to teach all the family, for example Sheila says “I didn’t seem to think it amounted to much – but I felt rotten about it at the time.”
Sheila feels guilty and is deeply upset about the death of Eva, she realises the inspector’s message that everybody should look after one another. Priestley’s hopes for the future lie with the younger generation, but this optimism is a false interpretation as audiences today still have not learnt this lesson about caring for others as war and people arguing still occur today. “An Inspector Calls” has a strong theme which makes the audience question themselves. Are we too selfish like the Birling Family? This is why the drama still has a strong appeal to audiences today. Having the audience questioning themselves creates tension and interest meaning the play has been successful in delivering an important message to its listeners.
Priestley not only influences the Birling family but he represents the Inspector. When Inspector Goole questions the family about the suicide of the young woman the audience are really hearing Priestley’s words. The Inspector is J B Priestley. The playwright gives the Inspector his name for a purpose. Inspector “Goole” is play on words of “ghoul” a ghost/spiritual being. By doing this Priestley could be letting the audience know that the Inspector is a ghost, and he is a conscience paying the family a visit to warn the Birlings that if they do not change their ways they will suffer severe consequences.
The inspector is the person who tries to teach the Birlings that we must work as a community. He is stern and stays strong, refusing to let Birling intimidate him. “I think you remember Eva Smith now, don’t you, Mr. Birling.” This shows how Priestley wants the inspector to stay in control and make Mr. Birling feel as low as possible so he realises he is partly to blame in the girls suicide. The most important speech through which the audience will understand Priestley’s message is delivered by the Inspector telling the family they must change or they will experience difficult times! “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other”.
This is the inspector talking but we are really hearing the voice of Priestley. This speech makes the audience think of times when they have had problems and makes them learn this lesson to change to make the world a more peaceful place. Even though the audience have learnt this lesson from the play, selfish and complacent people still exist meaning Priestley’s lesson has not been learnt. Sheila learns the Inspector’s/Priestley’s message showing his view on how the young only learn while as for the old generation, change comes slowly and takes years to understand. “It doesn’t make any real difference, a girl has died.”
The play was written in 1944 to 1945 just after the Second World War. During this period many people suffered great devastation as homes were destroyed, families were killed and communities were separated. After the war there was great optimism that the world would be more peaceful and that people would learn to stop wars from arising, Priestley was one of those optimistic people. He wrote this play to try to teach his audience this very important message.
The play would have been extremely poignant for audiences around 1945 as they would have just experienced this miserable and disastrous war. You may think this play would have had more of an influence on the audiences of 1945 than the audiences of 2002, but war still exists today. For example the September 11th tragedy in New York, where two aeroplanes were purposely flown into the twin tower buildings and thousands of people were killed. This was an act of terrorism and it shows how even though the play has a strong, clear message and is still performed to audiences today we have still not learnt the lesson, people should learn to get along and look out for one another. This is why the play is still relevant today and attracts as many audiences now as the play “An Inspector Calls” did in the late 1940’s.
Another method Priestley uses to portray a dramatic thriller which makes the audiences of today enjoy “An Inspector Calls” is the social setting and historical setting of when Priestley wrote the play. The whole drama is set in one room, the dining room. It is here where the audience become involved deeply in the unfolding thriller and develop relationships with the different characters. We are told that: “The dining room is of a fairly large suburban house/it has good solid furniture of the period”. By only using one room Priestley does not confuse his audience with different sets and this allows the audience to concentrate more on the characters and the message of the play.
The social setting and class boundaries of characters in the play are a very strong influence on the audience. Priestley uses the different social classes to make the audience like and dislike certain characters as some aspire to be of a higher class than they are. The main character in which Priestley uses the social setting is Mr. Birling. The Birling family are a wealthy, middle class family but aspire to be upper class.
Mr. Birling tries to use received pronunciation to act of a higher class but sometimes his proper accent comes out “By Jingo” and “Chump” The class boundaries are very clearly defined by the way the characters speak, this sets the play 1912. Priestley deliberately uses these words for this purpose, “Steady the Buffs” and “Squiffy”. Another part of the play where social class is considered important in 1912 is between Sheila and Gerald who are engaged to be married.
The Birlings are of a lower class than the Crofts and it shows just how important social classes are as the Crofts think Sheila is not good enough for Gerald while Mr. Birling thinks she is. Here Priestley shows that Mr. Birling is of a lower class than the Crofts as Mr. Birling refers to Mrs. Croft as “Lady Croft”. This is suggested that classes are very important. The different social classes interest the audience making “An Inspector Calls” more entertaining.
In “An Inspector Calls” the playwright J B Priestley also uses a range of theatrical devices to create tension and interest for his audience. One type of stage craft he uses is interruptions. These interruptions could be a phone call or a door bell ring which interrupts a character’s speech. This is symbolic. A doorbell rings in the middle of Birling’s speech for a reason, “But take my word for it, you youngster-and I’ve learnt in the good hard school of experience- that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own-and-” The doorbell cuts off Mr Birling on purpose. This is a dramatic device Priestley uses to show the audience that what Mr Birling was about to say was false and wrong. This pattern occurs through out the play which the audience come to realise and recognise. This is an extremely good way of keeping the audience interested and understanding the message of the play.