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In Act one of "An Inspector Calls", how does J.B. Priestley use dramatic devices?
An Inspector Calls - J.B. Priestley
Member Name: jennyFer
An Inspector Calls - J.B. Priestley
Date: 26/09/09, updated on 29/09/09 (8448 review reads)
Advantages: Quite mysterious at times
Disadvantages: becomes obvious too quickly that the whole family are involved
An Inspector Calls
In Act one of "An Inspector Calls", how does J.B. Priestley use dramatic devices?
An Inspector Calls is a play written by John Boynton Priestley in 1945, and based before World War I, in 1912.
The story tells of a prosperous family, who fancy themselves aristocratic, and above the rest of society. They live in an entrepreneurial atmosphere, mostly however, filled with lies, prejudice, and greed. Priestly was known for his concerns about the social order of the world, and conveys this through morality in An Inspector Calls, giving his audience the chance to appreciate his values, and the ways he believed people should treat one-another; with the same attitudes and respect we would appreciate for ourselves.
Many of his works have a socialist aspect. An Inspector Calls, as well as being a "time play":-a play that toys with a different concept of time, and becomes a central metaphor or theoretical device, it also contains many references to socialism, and the inspector is arguably an alter ego, through which Priestley could express his views. An Inspector Calls is namely classed as a "time play", as the family undergo a police investigation into a suicide which they later discover has not happened yet.
An Inspector Calls focuses around the Birling family, this consists of: Arthur Burling; head of the family, Sybil Birling; Arthur's wife, Sheila and Eric Burling; Arthur and Sybil's two spoilt children, and Gerald Croft; rich and successful, and Shelia Birling's FiancÚ.
The Play begins with the family celebrating not only Shelia and Gerald's engagement, but Mr Birling's initiative to revolutionize his business along with Gerald's father, sir George Croft. The atmosphere is joyful and light-hearted until Inspector Goole arrives, and announces the death of a young girl-Eva Smith. This throws the family into disclosure as it is revealed that in one way or another, they all knew Eva Smith, and played some part in her suicide.
Throughout the sum of Act 1 in An Inspector Calls, Priestly uses an extensive array of both dramatic and ironic devices to entail the audience into the play, and make the plot rational and plausible, whilst all-the-while enjoyable to watch.
First and foremost, Priestly uses lighting as a dramatic device. Depending on the situation, and ambience on stage, the lighting adjusts to the appropriate brightness. For example, in the beginning of the play in the dining-room where the family are seated, the lighting is "pink and intimate"; signifying the closeness of the characters, as there is no tension or discord between them. The fact that the lighting is "pink" suggests that the atmosphere is warm and friendly, and as the audience would expect from an "intimate", evening celebration between families.
This However changes when the Inspector arrives on scene. When the Inspector arrives on stage, the lighting becomes more intense, and concentrated on the most important character on stage; himself. This is shown in the text which states when the Inspector arrives, "it should be brighter and harder". Additionally, this gives you an idea about the Inspector's character, illustrating that he is of great importance, and is the bringer of a harsher, more realistic truth to the family, rather than the artificial "pink" that is being created on stage.
Priestly uses the "doorbell" ringing as a chance to interrupt the "pink" lighting, as a suitable change from the glow on stage, to a spotlight on the door, which the Inspector will walk on stage through. This is an effective dramatic device as it immediately changes, not only the atmosphere, but it sub-consciously influences the impression the audience will have on the Inspector, as a spotlight is used to draw attention to one particular importance on stage; inevitably the Inspector himself.
J.B then goes on to use the plays least important character, Edna, as a further device to create drama through lighting, as when she announces that "an Inspector has called", Mr Birling asks her to "give them more light" before she leaves, illuminating them all up, and exposing them not only on stage, but to the Inspector's questions.
As well as the above, Priestly uses the "doorbell" itself as a dramatic tool. Before the "doorbell" rings, Mr Birling is talking at Gerald and Eric about men needing to "make their own way" and "look after their family" and himself, as well as "minding his own business". In spite of this, the "doorbell" interrupts his speech, demonstrating to the audience that the Inspector is superior to Mr Birling. This contradicts the earlier element of Mr Birling's speech, where he implies that is of higher superiority than anyone else, and likes people to echo it back to him, and between others. The ringing of the "doorbell" also insinuates an important change that is happening to the family, resulting in elevated commotion throughout the audience.
Subsequently, J.B also makes use of irony right the way through An Inspector Calls, particularly through the duration of Act 1. The blatant place where it is used is throughout Mr Birling's speech, ranging from the end of page 5 of the play, towards the end of page 7. His speech shows to the audience that Mr. Birling thinks very highly of himself and that superiority and money are his main concerns and welfares. He fundamentally sets himself up to fail in this scene, as he talks himself up in such a way-that the only way is down. Birling speaks of how the "Titanic is unsinkable", and how he says; quite matter-of-factly-"there isn't a chance of war" which, can only be proved wrong by the audience. This also contradicts Mr. Birling's beliefs about his knowledge and arrogance towards himself, as the audience actually know more than him-a clever use of dramatic irony on Priestley's behalf.
A further example of dramatic irony J.B uses, is again through Mr Birling, whom he tends to create as the fundamental excuse to incorporate irony into An Inspector Calls, when Birling jokes to Gerald that his chance of a knighthood-which he boasts about accomplishing, , would be ruined if they got "into police court or start a scandal". Both Gerald and Mr. Birling "laugh" at this point, and Gerald concludes that they are a "nice well-behaved family". They both continue to "laugh" when Mr. Birling promises that they'll "try to keep out of trouble during the next few months". The entire conversation is established on irony, as their joke turns out to be inaccurate when the Inspector arrives on scene only a short while after.
Next, Priestly uses a range of stage directions as a theatrical device, most predominantly in Act 1. J.B uses subtle directions to establish how the characters speak and respond towards each other-and most importantly, the Inspector. Stage directions determine how the characters must act to ascertain conversations or actions. Priestley manipulates his stage directions to create tension within the Birlings and the audience. Priestley ensures that his characters 'slip-up' whilst engaging in conversation, even before the Inspector arrives, to generate an uncertain feeling about some of the characters. Whilst Birling is speaking to the gentlemen about the representation of women's clothes, Eric answers "(eagerly)", "(but he checks himself)", making the audience question what Eric has been up to, and why he is suddenly quiet.
Moreover, he uses stage directions to endorse further devices, such as irony. At the same time as Birling and Gerald are in discussion about staying out of trouble, Priestly directs that the two should "(laugh)", making the conversation seem light-hearted, and as a result, more ironic. On top of these instructions, J.B ensures that Birling's laugh is "(complacent)" or smug furthering the irony, as Birling appears to the audience as very sure of himself.
Another example of the above comes from Sheila, as previously in the scene, she is feebly ticking off Gerald about his knowledge of port. "(Gaily, possessively)" gives you an idea about Sheila's personality, as "gaily" suggests she is a happy, unworried girl and that she is content not only with her life, but that she has no worries up to this point.
However, "possessively" implies how she feels towards Gerald, and is important to acknowledge, as in the end of the play, she and Gerald brake off their engagement due to the Inspector's revelations.
As well as this, J.B makes use of the setting of the play as a dramatic device. Priestley states that the set of the house where the play is set should be a "fairly large suburban house, belonging to a prosperous manufacturer". This is an effective device, as it describes the family, sub-consciously to the audience, as it becomes obvious that they are a "prosperous" or wealthy family. He also excludes any additional comfort from the setting, as he requests "the general effect is substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike". This however, may not be noticeable before the Inspector's arrival, as the "pink" lighting creates an "intimate" environment, but becomes apparent after his arrival, and the lighting becomes intense.
Additionally, Priestley uses concealed props as a dramatic device, throughout the entire play. In Act 1 and throughout the extent of An Inspector Calls, the Inspector carries a "photograph, about postcard size" and shows it to each character individually. The purpose of this, being that he says he likes to work with "one person and one line of enquiry at a time", to avoid "muddle". This becomes a powerful tool of drama, as not only does it initially rattle the characters on stage, but fashions inquisitiveness amongst the audience too. As well as this, it generates annoyance, and intensity amongst the characters, especially Mr. Birling, as they are being made to wait, (something the high-born family would not be used to), whilst the Inspector prolongs his scrutiny of Mr. Birling, and his family before their eyes. The drama fashioned through this particular tool prolongs right through until the end of the play. This being when Gerald, questions whether the Inspector actually showed them all the same picture, or if truth be told, different photographs of different girls. The matter of how the Inspector had gathered such information about the Birlings and, how he had enough time to gather and correlate verification that they knew the girl in the "two hours" since her death comes into play also.
Another tool Priestley incorporates to craft drama is most obviously, through Inspector Goole himself. Priestly incorporates the Inspector as a major conflict to the Birlings and their morals, and as the bringer of reality and realisation to the family. The Inspector is arguably Priestley's alter-ego, as he conveys the same socialism as J.B. On the basis of the fact that Priestley is trying to craft that socialists, such as himself, and unmistakably, the Inspector, have an upper hand over aristocrats, such as the Birlings in An Inspector Calls, the Inspector obviously dominates the Birlings immediately. The Inspector results in making each of them look very juvenile at times. An example of this being, 'I think you remember Eva Smith now, don't you, Mr Birling?', this shows that the Inspector governs Mr Birling, making him look and feel very small; a sentiment that as a conceited man, he doesn't feel too often.
One of the most important devices that Priestley develops drama and commotion through is Eva Smith, the suicidal girl, and retrospectively, the most significant character in the play. The whole concept of Eva Smith is metaphorical, as Priestley composes her to represent the lower-class, lesser people that both he and Inspector Goole represent in the play and real life. Priestly crafts the name "Eva Smith" to relate to the audience, as "Smith" was, and still is today, a widespread surname, whilst "Eva" creates a pretty quality about her, therefore making her liked by the audience. J.B anticipates that this pretty, common name will associate a bond with the audience, and help them to further associate her with being a normal girl of the time period, and that she could have easily have been, and represents any low-class girl.
This technique broadens when we discover she used a series of fake names, one of which was "Daisy Renton", this also being a pretty first name, however with a more unusual surname. This conceivably showing how when she changed her name, she endeavoured to make something of herself, believing that by having a more uncommon name, she be regarded as more than an everyday, low-class girl. An additional tactic was that as an audience, you never actually meet Eva Smith, guaranteeing that, not only do we as an audience believe everything that the Inspector tells us about her, but that as we do not see the "photograph"; it is left up to our mind to imagine her, thus sub-consciously, picturing a girl that appeals to an audience's individual mind; but fits the personality and traits we are told about her.
Furthermore, because the image an audience would conjure up of Eva Smith would be particular to them, the sympathy and sadness Priestley incorporates about the girl become stronger, due to the fact that she has been re-created in the audience's sub-conscious.
Perhaps the dramatic device that Priestley integrates most into An Inspector Calls is dramatic tension. J.B makes use of dramatic tension with a very ordinary structure, making the device realistic and credible.
The final dramatic device used by Priestley at the end of Act 1 is a climax; often known as a cliff-hanger, and as a member of the audience watching the play, makes you eager to witness what happens next. Priestley uses this technique right at the end of Act 1, where he closes the Act and Scene with the Inspector asking what his story is, as he clearly knows-or knew, Daisy Renton a.k.a, Eva Smith. Priestley closes the Act with a single word from the Inspector, reinforcing his status amongst the Birlings, as he has the last word. "Well?", although written as a question, is more of an imperative command from the Inspector, proving his authority over the family, but also revealing his true knowledge about them, reinforcing Shelia's prediction that "he knows. Of course he knows. And i hate to think how much he knows that we don't know yet." Obviously, this juts adds to the drama and tension amongst the audience already, as it is about to be revealed how Gerald contributed to Eva Smith's death.
The absolute final dramatic device priestly uses, is that this is when he chooses to end the Act, and most probable, call an intermission, leaving the audience buzzing with anticipation, and not actually wanting to refresh themselves.
In conclusion, J.B. Priestly uses dramatic devices throughout the duration of Act 1 in An Inspector Calls repeatedly, however he keeps them fresh, and although some may be predictable, the time at which he uses them may not be. He crafts his characters specifically to ensure uttermost drama, and plays his stage-directions brilliantly.
Summary: An okay read, not to be read more than 4 times
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