An Inspector Calls revision guide,

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  • Created on: 30-04-11 14:28
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An Inspector Calls was written in 1945 by J B Priestley, but is set in 1912, so the
setting and characters are separated from the audience by two world wars and
other historical events. This important fact gives Priestley opportunities to use
the key feature of dramatic irony.
The play promotes ideas that were introduced by the Labour government, which
was elected in 1945: the Welfare State and the National Health Service. These
institutions, which have been a feature of life in this country for over sixty years
now, were new and quite controversial when the play was written. They are based
on the idea that we are all responsible for helping each other, those in need being
looked after from extra money paid in taxes by those with incomes.
J B Priestley does not deal directly with these big ideas; instead he looks at the
case of one person in need, Eva Smith. She suffers through her various
relationships with the Birling family and Gerald Croft. Although this story might
seem unlikely, it reflects how An Inspector Calls is a form of morality play. Eva
Smith does not actually appear in the drama, which means she can be seen as a
representative for all people in need of help, (and the Birlings as representatives
of a society which does not care for its weakest members).
The title and the character of Inspector Goole initially suggest that the play is a
detective story. The ending (which many do not feel happy about at first) adds a
strange, perhaps supernatural element. This ending is linked to the structure of
the play, which is based on classical Greek drama, in which the ending (sometimes
called the `denouement') is a learning experience for both characters and
audience. Some of the characters in the play clearly have not learned their lesson,
and so are doomed to repeat the experience until they do.

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Key terms
Dramatic irony: when a character in the play speaks lines that are understood
differently by the audience to the characters on stage ­ for instance Mr Birling
brags about how the manufacturing world to which he belongs has produced the
`unsinkable' Titanic, whereas the audience knows the ship will sink on its maiden
Labour government: In 1945 the Labour Party won the general election, despite
Winston Churchill, the great leader of the government in the war, leading the
Conservative Party.…read more

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Characters and annotations (annotations are shown in italics, next to page
Mr Birling
Mr Birling is rich, powerful, and extremely sure of himself. He is, however, a bit less
posh than the others. He makes various statements that produce dramatic irony, and
this signals to us that the world he thinks he can rely on is not what it seems to him. He
is a bully, not completely honest, and too arrogant to learn his lesson.…read more

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Eric and Sheila Birling
Eric and Sheila represent the next generation: they are still young and can learn from
their experiences. Both have genuine emotional responses to what they hear, and see
that life cannot carry on as if nothing has happened. However, they are both spoiled,
and treated like children by their parents, but in the end show a greater maturity in
their resolutions to change.…read more

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Page 72 (No, not yet ...): She needs to decide if she can trust him and if he can
Gerald Croft
Gerald Croft is from a slightly higher social background than the Birlings, and seems to
behave quite well to `Daisy Renton', as Eva calls herself. However, he deliberately
deceives Sheila, and like the older Birlings, at the end thinks life can just go back to
normal.…read more

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Her life ends in despair, abandoned by the people who had
a moral duty to help her. Priestley's message can be seen as both optimistic and
pessimistic: the world is getting better with new institutions to help people like her,
but some people will never accept their responsibility to others.…read more


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