J.B.Priestley was born in Bradford on the 13th September 1894 and in this year his mother died. When he turned 16 he decided to get a job instead of working towards a scholarship. He became a “Junior Clerk” at the local wool firm in 1910. This is where Priestley gained all his understanding. He gained practical work experience in the wool firm. He liked the social company because they all “appreciated one of the arts and preferred real talk and hot argument to social chit chat” These political and elevated class discussions influenced and later dominated the way he wrote. This is maybe why his books are based on middle class citizens.
“An Inspector Calls” is what is known as a well made play. It has a progression from ignorance to knowledge and this is shown in the reaction of the characters and the audience. Its plot contains action which flows smoothly and all the parts fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Priestly wanted his play to have a uniformity of manner and tone with one situation quickly moving on to the next. He felt the best way to do this was to write quickly and this is shown as he finished writing it in a week. The play has a naturalist element as it covers situations which are the same as real life. Priestly doesn’t change them to be more extravagant situations but the characters come across as if they were a real family, for example, the daughter of the Birling family (Sheila) is getting engaged and the whole family are celebrating together.
The play is about a young girl who has been forced to her death by one family’s dishonourable sins. Eva Smith’s death is shown as being linked to each member of the Birling family. Mr Birling is the owner of Birling and Company and Eva Smith was one of the workers at his factory. Along with a group of girls Eva asked for a raise in their wages and Mr Birling though it was a ridiculous thing to ask and sacked her as punishment. This was then followed by Eva getting a job at Milwards. This was a store that Sheila was a regular customer at.
One day when Eva was working, Sheila decided to go and purchase a hat, but none of the hats suited Sheila so she was in a bad mood and decided to take it out on Eva. Sheila complained to the manager and as Sheila was a regular customer the manager had to sack Eva so he didn’t loose face with a very wealthy customer. When Eva was sacked she was in a sorry state and when Gerald, who is engaged to Sheila, noticed Eva he decided to help her. Gerald took Eva back to his apartment and let her live there. They built up a relationship but Eva realised that their relationship could not last. After a few months Gerald had to let Eva go and this was the beginning of the chain of events that led up to Eva’s death.
Priestly has set the whole play in the same room and this keeps the unity of time and place and maintains the action and suspense. There is also a reference to time when the telephone rings and the stage directions say “The telephone rings sharply. There is a complete moment of silence. Birling goes to answer it.” This is a mysterious moment in the play as the family thought that no one had died in the Infirmary but then the phone rings to tell them that someone has actually died and that is when the story ends leaving you in suspense. Priestly was fascinated about how time works. He set his play based around how a whole situation is repeated just after it has happened, which relates to the passage by Ouspensky.
During the play there are three acts. At the end of each one there is always a cliff-hanger. For example, (End of Act 1) “(Sheila) And I hate to think how much he knows that we don’t know yet. You’ll see. She looks at him almost in triumph. He looks crushed. The door opens and the Inspector appears, looking steadily and searchingly at them. (Inspector) Well?”. This is when the Inspector re-enters the room and begins questioning again and Sheila realises that he already knows what they are going to tell him. This is also a part in the suspense theme that is continued throughout the whole play. Right from the start of the play Priestley creates a feeling of suspense. For example, we learn that Mr Birling doesn’t really know what he is talking about “(Birling) The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war, except some half-civilised folks in the Balkans. And Why?
There’s too much at stake these days. Everything to lose and nothing to gain by war”. This example shows that he thinks he knows everything about what’s going to happen but we know for example, that there was a war in 1914 and he said that there wasn’t going to be. The suspense is then carried onto page eight as Gerald says “You seem to be a well-behaved family” We know this isn’t the case and that everything is not what it seems as each member of the family has done at least one bad deed. Another instance of the suspense is from Sheila “(Sheila) Yes, but you don’t believe me. And this is just the wrong time to not believe me.(Inspector)Massively taking charge Allow me, Miss Birling”. This is a prime example of the Inspectors control over the conversation and how he is “massively taking charge”.
His questions create tension in the family but the Inspector stays composed even when emotions are running high. The stage directions show how in control the Inspector is and how he speaks with authority, For example “Sternly to both of them, coolly, very plainly”. As the Inspector questions the family he shows them each a photo but all at different times. This is a clue leading to the family’s recognition that Inspector Goole isn’t actually an Inspector, for example “(Inspector) This young women, Eva Smith, was a bit out of the ordinary. I found a photograph of her in her lodgings. Perhaps you’d remember her from that. Inspector takes a photograph about postcard size, out of his pocket and goes to Birling,both Gerald and Eric rise, but the Inspector interposes himself between them and the photograph.(Gerald)
Any particular reason why we shouldn’t see this girls photograph, Inspector?”. This is a part of the Inspectors tactics to get inside the family so that he can make them admit what they have done. He speaks to them as normal citizens, not as ‘Middle Class’ people as they expect him to and they do not understand why he doesn’t recognise how important to the community they are. Mr and Mrs Birling think that they are more important than many other people and feel that they are not being treated in accordance to their status. They feel they have a right to be treated as ‘Middle Class’ people and don’t agree with the Inspector’s style of questioning.
Towards the end of the play the younger members, Sheila and Eric, realise their mistakes and are keen to learn from them after they learn that Inspector Goole isn’t actually a real Inspector. They understand what the Inspector is trying to say, which is getting them to realise what they have done and to change the way they treat people but Mr and Mrs Birling think that now that there will be no public scandal, as they cannot be reported, that everything should go back to the way it was. They think that Sheila and Eric are being childish and tell them to be quiet “(Birling) If you’ve nothing more sensible to say, Sheila, you’d better keep quiet”.
What they fail to realise is that they are the ones being childish not Sheila and Eric. The message from Priestley is that the individual and the community have responsibilities. We can all pursue our own self-interests but we have to think about others as well as ourselves. Priestley also read a passage called ‘A New Model Of The Universe’ written by Ouspensky. It suggested that when we die we come back into the same house and the same people unless we change the circle. If the circle is changed then we move on.
When the audience watched this play they would have known what was going to happen in the war and what happened to the Titanic so this would have made a difference to thir view of Mr Birling. Also the way the family wanted to be treated as ‘Middle Class’ would have been a normal suggestion in 1912 but now we think of people as the similar class even if they live in poorer conditions.