The Second World War

“An Inspector Calls” by JB Priestley is set just before the First World War and it was written just after the Second World War, yet it is still one of the most frequently performed plays by both amateur and professional companies. Try to explain why the play still has such a strong appeal to audiences today?

“An Inspector Calls” is a drama written by JB Priestley just after the Second World War in 1944; however the play is set in 1912 just before the outbreak of World War 1. It tells us of the unfolding drama in the Birling family household as they come to realise that they have all contributed to the suicide of a young woman named Eva Smith. The play is still frequently performed by both amateur and professional companies and still has a strong appeal to audiences today especially the younger generation, the reason for this is that this tense play has an important message to teach to it’s audiences, everybody is responsible for everybody else.

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The Birlings are a middle class family but are very complacent and consider themselves to be upper class in the society in which the family live in at that period in time. Arthur Birling is the father who is full of his own self-importance. He is a prosperous factory owner whose first priorities are money and trying to keep up a reputable reputation as he aspires to be upper class. His wife, Sybil Birling is her husband’s social superior who comes from a wealthy upper class family.

The Birlings have two children Sheila and Eric. Sheila is an attractive young woman who has just become engaged to Gerald Croft. Gerald Croft has had a rich upbringing and his parents do not want him to marry Sheila as they believe she is of a lower, poorer social class but believe it will benefit both family businesses as the Crofts and Birlings join forces. Eric is a young man who works with his father in their family business but he is an alcoholic. The play starts when the family are celebrating the engagement of Sheila and Gerald when they are interrupted abruptly by a police Inspector Goole who breaks the news of Eva Smith’s death. One by one the audience come to realise that all the family members were involved in the death of Eva.

Priestley is a social commenter who uses “An Inspector Calls” as a method of teaching his audience his message. JB Priestley’s main message is that we, the audience, should not be so complacent and self-centred. The playwright wants us to work as a community and be concerned about others as this might bring peace to the troubled world we live in. Not only is Priestley trying to teach the audiences of today and from 1945 this lesson, but he tries to teach the characters this message in a dramatic thriller.

A way Priestley puts his message across to his audience is by manipulating characters into saying phrases which determine whether or not the audience like or dislike this particular character. These are not the characters own words but they are Priestley’s views. All the words the characters say in the play are really Priestley’s. He wrote the play carefully as the characters are dramatic constructs of the writer as the characters are not real people. One character the playwright uses this method on is Mr Birling. Priestley puts ironic words into Birling’s mouth deliberately, to make the audience think he is a fool and that he does not know what he is talking about.

By doing this the audience dislike Mr Birling immediately. “I say there isn’t a chance of war.” Here dramatic irony is used, as the audience know that when the play was set in 1912 it was shortly after this that the First World War broke out. This would have been especially profound for audiences of 1944, as they would have just experienced the Second World War meaning they would hate Mr Birling even more as the war was so terrifying and here Birling is saying it will never happen.

JB Priestley wants the audience to regard all Birling says as nonsense so he continues to manufacture Arthur Birling’s words so the audience continue to dislike him. Another example of dramatic irony is when Mr Birling is talking about the Titanic and explaining how great and unsinkable the ship is when the audience know that the Titanic sank. “Unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.” The audience begin to realise all what Birling says is completely false and that he does not know what he is talking about. This is a very strong dramatic device were the audience are manipulated by the writer making “An Inspector calls” thrilling for its audiences.

Priestley makes us dislike the older generation like Mr and Mrs Birling as they do not learn the message of the play, even at the end they still refuse to believe they have done anything to Eva Smith which would have made her kill herself. Birling still believes that the whole incident was a scandal and totally untrue. “The whole damned thing can have been a piece of bluff.” Priestley manipulates his audience by giving his view on Mr Birling and how all he is interested in is his reputation and not about the death of this young girl. “You! You don’t seem to care about anything. But I care I was almost certain for a knighthood in the next honours list.” This quotation shows the audience just how complacent and selfish Mr Birling is as he does not care that a girl has died he only cares for his own life.