J.B Priestley’s “An Inspector calls” Act One

“An Inspector Calls” is a play set in 1912. J.B Priestley wrote it in 1945. The writer’s reputation is significant because he was a social commentator and the play has a social message. The main themes of the play are capitalism is bad, and that everyone in society has a duty to each other. The play is also concerned with guilt and responsibility.

The writer sets the scene very clearly, making sure he gets the message across that they are a well off family. The atmosphere at the start of the play is happy and cheerful as they are all celebrating Gerald and Sheila’s engagement, we can tell they were happy because the stage directions tell us Gerald and Mrs. B were “smiling” at times and Sheila was being “half serious half playful. The stage directions at the start of the play also tell us that Mr. Birling is a “heavy looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties with fairly easy manners but rather provincial in his speech”, this suggests that his character is very self involved. During one of Mr. Birling’s speeches about Gerald and Sheila’s engagement he says to Gerald “Your father and I have been friendly rivals in business for some time now – though Crofts Limited are both older and bigger than Birling and Company – and now you’ve brought us together, and perhaps we may look forward to the time when Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing but are working together – for lower costs and higher prices”. This tells us that his character may be at sometimes more interested in business than his family.

The speeches that Mr. Birling makes are most of the time long, boring and show that he is egotistical. His speeches reveal a great deal about the social context. They include allot of dramatic irony for example when Mr. Birling says “Why. A friend of mine went over this new liner last week – the Titanic – she sails next week – forty six thousand eight hundred tons – forty six thousand eight hundred tons – New York in five days – and every luxury – and unsinkable”. This is dramatic irony because the audience know that titanic sunk on its first sail this creates tension and makes Mr. Birling look foolish. I think Mr. Birling is very much in control at the start of the play because to his family he is a “practical hard headed businessman” as he always reminds them.

The language in the stage directions on page 10 shows the mood has changed because Gerald and Mr. Birling create tension by talking about why a police inspector might be there, which makes Eric start to worry. Mr. Birling says, “I’m still on the Bench. It may be something about a warrant.” And then Gerald says “(lightly) Sure to be. Unless Eric’s been up to something. (Nodding confidentially to Birling.) And that would be awkward, wouldn’t it” Then Eric says, “(who is uneasy, sharply) Here, what do you mean?” Gerald replies, “(lightly) Only something we were talking about when you were talking about when you were out. A joke really.” Then in response Eric says, “(still uneasy) Well, I don’t think it’s very funny”. It shows the mood has changed because the stage directions tell us that Eric also becomes “uneasy”. We can also tell that the party has been interrupted because the characters stop the cheerful and playful conversation and become more serious as Br. Birling and Gerald begin to talk about why the Inspector may have called. This conversation between Mr. Birling, Gerald and Eric creates tension because Mr. Birling and Gerald are talking to each other about Eric, which makes Eric very anxious because he overhears. The dialogue on page 10 reveals that Mr. Birling’s character is not very close to his son.

When the Inspector enters Mr. Birling says, “Have a glass of port – or a little whisky?” this is to break the ice, as Mr. Birling has never met the Inspector before. Mr. Birling also asks, “You’re new are you?” Mr. Birling says and then leads on to say “I was an alderman for years – and Lord Mayor two years ago – and I’m still on the Bench – so I know the Brumley police officers pretty well – and I thought I’d never seen you before” he said this to let the Inspector know that Mr. Birling had some authority to try and scare the Inspector. The Inspector uses dramatic language to shock the Birling family of the girl’s death, He says, “she was in great agony”. The stage directions tell us that Mr. Birling is impatient; this suggests that he could be worried or possibly guilty about something.

Mr. Birling responds to the questions quite impatiently because he is scared of what the inspector might find out. Mr. Birling is against collective responsibility because he feels that he is above the problems of people of a lower social class. He says “put it like that, there’s something in what you say. Still, I can’t accept any responsibility. Mr Birling starts to show his annoyance when the Inspector starts questioning him He says, “I’ve half a mind to report you”, this also shows ho easily agitated he is.

When the Inspector arrives Mr. Birling becomes defensive as the Inspector tricks him into revealing information. He also gets very agitated when the Inspector twists his words. His attitude reflects the key themes of the play, which are responsibility and guilt. Priestly achieved a simple yet interesting display of Mr. Birling’s character by showing how mixed up his priorities are and by showing his attitude to other characters. It also showed clearly everything that he represents which is carelessness and slyness.