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Priestly's political views in an Inspector Calls
An Inspector Calls
Member Name: djwill
An Inspector Calls
Advantages: Exciting, ironic and funny - A good read
Disadvantages: Nothing really !
HOW DOES PRIESTLEY USE DRAMATIC DEVICES TO CONVEY HIS POLITICAL VIEWS IN AN INSPECTOR CALLS?
The play An Inspector Calls conveys a strong political message. It promotes the idea of socialism, as a society in which community and responsibility are central. This is strongly contrasted with the idea of capitalism, in which 'every man is an island' and has to work for himself, with no second thought for other people. The playwright, J.B.Priestley, uses many dramatic devices, such as dramatic irony and tension in order to effectively convey this political message throughout the play. He uses them appropriately for the time in which he is writing the play and for the time in which the play is set.
The play is set in 1912, Edwardian England, just before the war. This was a very difficult time for England. It was a period when there were many strikes, food shortages and great political tension. In contrast to that, the play was written and published in 1945, just after World War II, when the country was also in disarray. Priestley uses this time difference effectively, showing people that the way forward is socialism. He implies that in order to move forward and to rebuild the country, people have to work together as a society, instead of reverting back to capitalism.
At the beginning of the play, Priestley sets out an extensive series of stage directions. He applies them effectively as a dramatic device, in that he uses them to show how the Birling family are cold, distant people and how capitalism has corrupted them as a family. He illustrates how the family are very well off, alluding to "dessert plates" and "champagne glasses" as well as other expensive items. However, there is also a sense of formality and distance between the family members as he writes that "men are in tails and white ties" and that it is "not cosy and homelike". He also emphasises the remoteness between Mr and Mrs Birling by situating them at opposite ends of the table.
Included in the stage directions is the colour and brightness of the lighting. Priestley also uses this as a dramatic device skilfully. The lighting first used is described as "pink and intimate" showing a 'warm' and 'joyful' atmosphere. However the audience gets the sense that it is just a screen covering up secrets and that they are in fact looking through 'rose-tinted glasses' and that it is not really what it seems. This is confirmed when the Inspector appears and the lighting changes to a "brighter and harder light" where it gives the impression of exposure and the revelation of truth.
In this way, the character of the Inspector has also been used as a dramatic device. He is used to convey a message, as a mouthpiece to Priestley's views. He makes it seem as if socialism is the true and honest way to live. The Inspector does not use euphemisms and instead uses graphic imagery in order to shock the Birlings into giving him information, "she'd swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant. Burnt her inside out of course". He also has a feeling of omniscience and an almost ghostly presence. His name, Inspector Goole, indicates this as Goole sounds like Ghoul and Inspector sounds like spectre. The Inspector is used to 'correct' the capitalists and makes a strong statement in favour of socialism in his final rhetorical speech. In this speech he states that for lower class, "Eva Smiths and John Smiths" there is a "chance of happiness" in socialism. The Inspector also makes the audience realise that they are "members of one body" and that they should try their best to help people like Eva Smith, otherwise, as the Inspector implies, "they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish". This almost acts as a threat to the audience and incites them to recognize the value of Priestley's message.
Dramatic irony is also used in many ways as a dramatic device. It is used to promote the Inspector yet mock Mr Birling. In Mr Birling's speech at the beginning of the play, he proudly states that "as a hard-headed businessman" he thinks that "there isn't a chance of war" and that the Titanic is "absolutely unsinkable". With the play being published after two world wars and the sinking of the Titanic, Priestley makes the audience think that Birling is a fool. Whereas the Inspector, who states in his final speech that "they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish" indicating that there will be a war, is elevated by the use of dramatic irony. This makes the audience believe the socialist views of the Inspector instead of the 'foolish' views of Mr Birling.
During the play, Priestley uses the juxtaposition between the Inspector and Mr Birling as a dramatic device. Mr Birling and the Inspector's views completely oppose each other. As the Inspector puts others first, whereas Mr Birling believes that you are responsible only for yourself. An example of this is during Mr Birling's and the Inspector's speeches. The Inspector talks about how "we are members of one body" and that we "are responsible for each other". However, Mr Birling makes a speech about how "a man has to make his own way" and how "a man has to mind his own business and look after himself". Priestley uses this opposition in order to dishonour capitalism and instead promote socialism. Another effective device used by Priestley is that of timings. He times the entrance of the Inspector so that he enters just after Mr Birling has made his speech, as if to discredit everything Mr Birling has just said.
Priestley uses symbolism extensively as a dramatic device during the play in order to express his views. He uses Arthur Birling as a voice for capitalism, who is ridiculed by the Inspector, a representative of socialism. The dialogue between them shows this, as the Inspector repeatedly twists what Birling says, showing that he is the voice of truth. For example,
"INSPECTOR: I'm sorry. But you asked me a question.
BIRLING: And you asked me a question before that, a quite unnecessary question too.
INSPECTOR: It's my duty to ask questions"
The Birlings could also be symbolised by the seven deadly sins; Mr Birling being greed for sacking Eva Smith, just to save a few shillings, or pride for boasting about his wealth and high status. Mrs Birling could be wrath for being angry with Eva Smith over calling herself 'Mrs Birling'. Sheila could be envy for being jealous of Eva in Milwards, and Gerald could be lust for having an affair with Eva. The fact that they can be identified as sins shows how Priestley emphasises the immorality of capitalism, placing An Inspector Calls within the genre of a morality play.
Eric and Sheila's positive response to the Inspector's message, compared to Mr and Mrs Birling's negative response, is also greatly symbolic. Priestley uses this generation divide to show that the younger generation symbolise hope for the future. The fact that they are remorseful of what they have done suggests that they (and the future generation of adults) will make a conscious effort to improve human relationships. Unlike their parents, who are only interested in wealth and material items, Priestley shows that the younger generation will endeavour to perform their moral duties towards their fellow citizens - especially people such as Eva Smith.
Throughout the play, tension is continuously building up both between the Inspector and the Birlings as well as within the Birling family. An example of this is when Sheila asks about where Gerald was "last summer" and Gerald tries to cover it up. This shows how the underlying secrets within the family create lots of tension. Another example of this is when Arthur Birling tells Gerald about his possible Knighthood, then refuses to tell Eric about it when he enters. Priestley also uses repetition in order to build up tension, even before the Inspector arrives Mr Birling keeps hinting that they might have done something wrong, he emphasises "so long as we behave ourselves". Priestley also uses uneasy laughter and accusations between members of the Birling family, such as "unless Eric has done something", in order to build up tension. Priestley uses tension as a dramatic device in order to keep the audience interested and anxious to find out more, and so alert to his socialist message.
Priestley also uses cliff-hangers to create tension. Such as at the end of the play, when Birling answers the phone to find out that a second Inspector is on his way and that what they thought was just a hoax was in fact true. Ending the play on this cliffhanger makes the audience want to watch more and find out what happens next. It also keeps them thinking about the play and it's meaning afterwards. Another example of the use of a cliff-hanger is at the end of Act One when Gerald admits to Sheila that he had had an affair with Eva Smith. The Inspector then enters and simply says "Well?" this hooks the audience, as they want to find out what happens next in the play, keeping them on the edge of their seats. Act Two then begins, exactly the same as Act One ended. Priestley decided not to change anything in order to achieve a sense of continuity. Continuity is thus used as a dramatic device to keep the play focused and concentrated on one subject. This also raises the tension and draws in the attention of the audience.
Priestley emphasises the difference between the upper and lower classes very strongly throughout the play. He uses the Birling family as a representative of the Upper Class and Eva Smith as a representative of the Lower Class. Priestley shows how in 1912, Upper Class citizens, such as the Birlings had no respect for Lower Class citizens. He uses this class divide to convey his message and to show that the rigidity of the class system is incompatible with his views on community and responsibility.
The fact that a meaningful message is represented would indicate that An Inspector Calls, as well as being a murder mystery, in the way that Preistley uncovers the story of the death of Eva Smith, is also a moralistic play. Preistley shows the audience how not to live their lives, using dramatic devices to demonstrate this. He makes the audience contemplate over the fact that they are actually "members of one body" and that they are all "responsible for one another" and has made them realise that socialism is the way forward instead of capitalism. In this way, An Inspector Calls is very relevant today's society where people still do need to work together and help others in need. J.B.Priestley effectively uses many dramatic devices in An Inspector Calls, such as symbolism and timings. He applies them in order to portray his political views, using an upper class, Edwardian family to do so.
Summary: Exciting, ironic and funny - A good read