An Inspector Calls - Language


Priestly's dialogue portrays a broad range of traits so that all the characters have distinctive personalities:

  • the moody and explosive Eric
  • the tight-lipped Mrs Birling
  • the discreet Gerald
  • Arthur and Shelia share the Inspector's directness


ACT ONE - (before the Inspector arrives) Mr Birling delivers many speeches to which the other characters, particularly Eric, are oblidged to listen to.

  • Mr Birling's dialogue is peppered with 'I hope Eric' or 'Just let me finish, Eric. You've got a lot to learn.' The effect is that we are immeadiatley aware of Mr Birling's pompous and self-righteous nature and the strained relationship between father and son. 
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Priestley's stage directions give us an idea of how he sees his characters. 

  • He tells us that Mr Birling is 'rather provincial in his speech', which conveys a lack of sophistication and refinement
  • Sheila is 'rather excited' which is borne out in her lively exchange at the dinner table
  • Eric is 'half shy and half assertive', which is shown in his badly timed exclamations or interuptions: 'Eric suddenly guffaws' 
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What is it?

Irony is the expressions or situations which may suggest something different from the obvious meaning

Irony is the device used most often in An Inspector Calls. The play's focus is the constant uncovering of each character's guilt, secrets or lies. The most shocking dramatic irony is Mrs Birling's persistent condemnation of the father of Eva Smith's unborn child, before she grasps that it is her own son. 


  • When Sheila reproaches Gerald for neglecting her the previous summer he dismisses her concerns and she retorts playfully, 'that's what you say' - Shelia did not know Gerald had been having an affair with Daisy Renton
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What is it? 

A word or phrase that is mild and less blunt than the actual subject 

IMPORTANT FOR CONTEXT - being well mannered was important in the Edwardian period and the use of euphemism in the play should be seen in this context, where it is mainly used to refer to any sexual matters in order not to shock the female characters. 


  • Mrs Birling refers to 'a girl of that sort' - we know that she really means a young woman who has few morals 
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What is it?

When an object or person represents something else, usually an idea or quality 

Most of the characters are symbols of particular social types:

  • The inspector is the truth seeker
  • Shelia and Eric are the younger generation whose views are as yet undeveloped
  • Mr and Mrs Birling, the older generation, are fixed and rigid in their views
  • Gerald symbolises the young upper-class gentleman - sophisticated and stylish 
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What is it?

It creates a word picture; common forms are metaphors and similies 


  • The most important metaphor Priestly creates is 'fire and blood and anguish' - spoken by the Inspector in his final speech and repeated by Sheila - it represents a breakdown in society, whether as war, revolution or another horror. The characters and audience feel its impact since the metaphor is part of a rhetorical monologue mean to arrest our attention. 
  • Mr Birling says, 'as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive - community and all that nonsense' - this simile compares the image of a hive of bees with all kinds of people mixed together - an idea which he sneers at 
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What is it? 

The technique of using language to persaude or convince others


  • Inspector Goole says, 'This girl killed herself - and died a horrible death. But each of you helped to kill her. Remember that. Never Forget it.' - the effect is to make the characters and audience pay attention to the seriousness of the point being made here
  • Priestley uses long and short sentences in quick succession to give impact through a sharp change of pace. A long sentence is followed by his final abrupt words to the Birlings, 'Good night', before he leaves the stage
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