Priestley uses the stage details to help set the scene. Just little things that are done tell us about the Birlings e.g. the seating positions, Mr. and Mrs.
Birling at each end Eric ‘down stage’ and Sheila and Gerald ‘up stage’. Also the stage directions tell us about the characters which means they can act ‘pleased with themselves’ or ‘portentoius’ or ‘cold’ etc. Because they are in evening dress it tells us this is a special occasion.At the start of the play you get the impression that Mr. Birling is a very proud man, or ‘Portentous’ as the stage directions say.
He is very eager to please Gerald and keeps on about ‘The special occasion’. During this ‘special occasion’ Mr. Birling gives a toast.
It isn’t normal for a speech to be given at an engagement, and while he is talking Mr. Birling makes a slight fool of himself. He does this by saying things like ‘Birling and crofts ltd are no longer, competing but working together for lower costs and higher prices!’This is of course important because it is the reason he fired Eva- because she wanted a raise. He also talks about all the ‘silly talk around these days’ and that ‘the Germans don’t want war’ because there’s ‘everything to loose and nothing to gain’ This of course is preposterous and shows how much Mr. Birling knows about what’s going on in the world. He interests the audience because they can see how silly some of the things he says are and they want to see him make a fool of himself.Mrs.
Birling is very cold and acts above the rest of her family. She is forever telling Mr. Birling off for certain things that he says.
In fact most sentences Mrs. Birling say in this act are comments on the language that the others use. She is a very dramatic character because its not normal for a wife to tell her husband how to talk and this keeps you aware of the social content of the play. Gerald is ‘an easy, well bread man about town’ he is very pleased with himself for engaging Sheila to be his wife, and he generally seems a very innocent character with no mystery surrounding him- save the incident ‘last summer’ when he didn’t see Sheila for two months because he was ‘ busy at the works.’ He keeps the audiences attention because they are all itching to know what he was doing in that time, because it is so obvious that he wasn’t always at the works.Sheila is very excited in being engaged to marry Gerald.
She is very playful- especially towards Gerald and particularly when they are having their little debate ‘ accept for that time all last summer when you hardly came near me!’ There’s a lot that Sheila is hiding – as we find out later. Eric mentions her temper, which is her downfall. Eric has lots of mystery surrounding him because we don’t learn much about him from the text. The stage directions describe him as ‘not quite at ease’ ad ‘ half shy, half assertive’.
He doesn’t say much, but what he does say seems really silly and even rude, so you get the impression that he is a very immature adult. At the beginning of the play it is hard to imagine how he is involved but there are clues, for example, how easy he is when pouring drink for himself- it shows he could have a drinking problem, linking him with Eva’s suicide.The characters are quite interesting when you study them because; like with Eric, we don’t know much about them. Some of the things said tell us how much we don’t know about them, or what we don’t learn form their appearance. Gerald, Sheila and Eric are the more interesting characters because they are the more mysterious characters. Mr.
and Mrs. Birling in particular are very typical of the period. Mr. Birling is a prosperous businessman and Mrs. Birling doesn’t work so she spends her time doing leisure activities like shopping.
The play, being set in the dining room makes it more interesting for us to watch, because you can concentrate on what’s going on in the play, rather than having new surroundings every act or scene to look at.Priestley doesn’t keep all his characters on stage all the time to create dramatic interest, so, that we have to keep up with the play and so the characters aren’t left hanging around on stage when they are clearly not needed. Even though they exit and enter it is always for a reason; ‘mummy sent me along to see why you hadn’t come along to the drawing room’ Tension in the play is created with a delay from when the doorbell rings to when the inspector arrives, during this time there’s quite a lot of discussion as to why he has come. ‘I’m still on te bench. It maybe something to do with a warrant’.
Most of the talk is very light and no one suspects anything bad to happen, until the inspector comes in and says to them why he’s there. When the inspector enters Mr. Birling had just finished talking about how there’s all this talk about looking after everyone else as well as yourself, and how he thinks that ‘a man has to mind his own business and look after himself…’ This is really ironic because this is the exact opposite of the socialist message that priestly is trying to get across.
The Birlings disagree about this because they are very individual. I don’t think that the Birlings like the idea of having to look after all the poorest people in their society, ‘a man has to look after himself-‘, they are just here for one singular purpose. This is very typical of the time and slowly it has got better, but the Birlings are a very good example of this. Priestley has strong socialist views on the way he looks at life. As he has been through two world wars this is hardly surprising.
Priestly as like many others in 1945 were afraid of another world war, so to try and prevent it they used plays and other such things to get their message across.