an inspector cals form and structure


Form, structure and language

Use of form in An Inspector Calls

The form is the type of text and genre that the writer chooses to write in. An Inspector Calls is written in the form of a play and so it is meant to be heard and seen in performance.

An Inspector Calls fits into three possible genres:

  • well-made play
  • morality play
  • crime thriller
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Form, structure and language

A well made play

A well-made play is a popular dramatic genre from the 19th-century. In a well-made play the action builds to a climax. This is often concerned with events that happened before the events of the play. A well-made play usually ends with a return to order but Priestley moves away from this genre with the revelation at the end. An Inspector Calls is a well-made play because the events are all influenced by what happened to Eva Smith before the play takes place

What is the effect of this?

This structure allows J B Priestley to manipulate the audience. They do not know what happened to Eva Smith and so each revelation about her treatment by the Birlings and Gerald Croft adds to the drama. Each revelation is more shocking than the last and so Priestley cleverly builds to the climax. In An Inspector Calls there is a twist at the end of the plot the characters are unsure if the Inspector existed at all. This gives the audience time to reflect on the events of the play. When it is revealed that another inspector is on their way the audience would be stunned.

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Form, structure and language

Morality play

Morality plays were popular during the 15th and 16th-centuries. Historically they teach the audience lessons that focused on the seven deadly sins. Whilst characters who committed these sins were punished, morality plays showed that if a character accepted they were wrong and changed then they could redeem themselves. An Inspector Calls is a morality play because all of the Birlings and Gerald Croft commit crimes which are similar to the seven deadly sins. Mr Birling is greedy because he wants more money, Sheila is guilty of wrath and envy when she spitefully complains about Eva Smith and so on. Not all of the characters manage to redeem themselves.

What is the effect of this?

Priestley uses the morality play structure to teach a 20th-century audience a series of lessons that relate to his beliefs about social responsibility, age, gender and class. The audience is invited to enjoy judging these characters - they are also forced to question their own behaviour. Priestley would have hoped that people watching the play would have left the theatre as better people.

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Form, structure and language

A crime thriller

A crime thriller is a genre that tells a gripping tale based around a crime. The audience receives clues on who has committed the crime and will enjoy trying to guess what happened before the end of the action. An Inspector Calls is a crime thriller because the action centres around the suicide of Eva Smith. Initially, as this is a suicide and not a murder investigation, it would seem that there is no clear suspect. It soon turns out that all the characters are potential suspects for different reasons.

What is the effect of this?

The crime thriller genre encourages the audience to become involved in the events of the play. In this case they would be considering who is 'more' to blame for the death of Eva Smith. Ultimately, Priestley makes the audience suspects, their behaviour is questioned and they are left wondering if they had committed any 'crimes' like the Birlings had.

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Form, structure and language

Use of structure in An Inspector Calls

Structure is how the writer chooses to order the events of the story. Does it follow a traditional structure with a beginning, middle and end, or does it follow a different order?

An Inspector Calls is written in three acts. Priestley cleverly structures the acts so that they end on gripping cliff-hangers. There is also a final climax and then a twist at the very end. This use of structure helps to keep the audience gripped and on the edge of their seats.

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Form, structure and language

Before the play (Pt 1)

As we know, the Inspector is here to investigate the death of Eva Smith. What the audience don't know is what happened in the two years prior to the evening the play takes place. Priestley slowly reveals these events. We never actually meet Eva Smith but we empathise with her as a character. It is through the Inspector that we get a sense of who she is and what happened to her.

In the following extract, the Inspector begins his investigation and reveals why he is at the Birlings'.

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Form, structure and language

Inspector: I'd like some information, if you don't mind, Mr Birling. (1)Two hours ago a young woman died in the infirmary. She'd been taken there this afternoon because she'd swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant. (2) Burnt her inside out, of course.

Eric: (involuntarily) My god!

Inspector: Yes, (3) she was in great agony. They did everything they could for her at the infirmary, but she died. Suicide, of course.

  • (1) The fact this happened to Eva two hours ago makes the death seems very current.
  • (2) The description of how she burnt her insides out is brutal and affecting.
  • (3) The Inspector lets the Birlings know that this was not a painless death. This adds to its impact.

Even though this event happened off stage, the Inspector's use of language helps the audience imagine Eva's horrific death.

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Form, structure and language


Consider how the ending of Act One adds to the drama of the play.

Sheila: (1) (laughs rather hysterically) Why - you fool - he knows. Of course he knows. And I hate to think how much he knows that we don't know yet. You'll see. You'll see.

(2) The door slowly opens and the INSPECTOR appears, looking steadily and searchingly at them.

Inspector: (3) Well?

  • (1) By the end of the act, Sheila is growing hysterical. She realises that the Inspector knows all and the audience would be struck by the dramatic change in her.
  • (2) The Inspector slowly opening the door as he returns to the scene is very dramatic, the look he gives them adds to the tension.
  • (3) Finally the act ends on a question - the audience are desperate to know the answer.
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Form, structure and language

The twist ending

Birling: That was the police. A girl has just died - on her way to the Infirmary - after swallowing some disinfectant. And a police inspector is on his way here - to ask some - questions.

[As they stare guiltily and dumbfounded, the curtain falls]

This is a very effective ending. The Birlings and Gerald are stunned, especially Mr and Mrs Birling and Gerald who just a minute ago had been sure they were in the clear. The audience would be shocked and left with lots of unanswered questions.

The ending also reflects Priestley's interest in theories about time, including the idea that individuals re-enter their lives again after death, living it all over again. They can make changes to their previous actions, beginning a new cycle where they do not repeat the mistakes of their past. We can see this in the structure of the play as the cycle of events is about to start all over again, with an investigation into the suicide of a young girl. Sheila and Eric have learned from their mistakes and could escape this cycle, whereas the others have not.

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Form, structure and language.

Use of language in An Inspector Calls

The language in An Inspector Calls includes dialogue and stage directions. Priestley has tried to make the dialogue realistic so there is less emphasis on imagery and more focus on plain, at times emotive, expression.

It is important to consider how the dialogue adds to the drama of the play. The dramatic features of the dialogue include:

  • dramatic pauses
  • repetition
  • gasps and interruptions
  • fluency and length
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Form, structure and language

The stage directions also add to the drama of the play. Early in the play, Sheila says to Gerald 'so you be careful'. This line could be delivered in a number of ways, each would change its meaning. Priestley specifies that the line is said 'half playful, half serious'. This stage direction gives a very early hint to observant audience members that all is not well between Sheila and Gerald. Without it, Priestley's dramatic intentions might be lost.

When analysing the language Priestley uses, you could use this structure:

  • What are the ideas Priestley is trying to get across?
  • How has he chosen particular words to reflect this?
  • What effect does this have on the audience?
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Form, structure and language




Stage directions

Priestley helps actors with their delivery of lines. Mr Birling loses patience '(rather impatiently) Yes, yes. Horrid business.'

This ensures that the tone of the scene is kept as Priestley intended.

The effect in this case is to show the arrogance of Mr Birling, he is trying to hurry the Inspector along. Stage directions can be used for a wide range of different purposes.

Fluency and length

Priestley varies the length of the lines the characters deliver, Sheila gives the blunt and snappy line 'Because I was in a furious temper' when explaining her behaviour.

The pace of the drama can be controlled by varying the fluency and length of the lines. At first, Mr Birling speaks with enormous fluency, delivering long, self-assured speeches. In contrast, Eric initially delivers lines with pauses and breaks in them. Short, snappy dialogue speeds up the action. Longer speeches can deliver themes and ideas.

Sheila's line shows how ashamed she is of her actions. It also shows her honesty. She doesn't make excuses, she just presents the facts.

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