Setting and Subtle hints
Priestley uses the lighting to convey the mood of the play. Priestley wanted it 'pink and intimate' before the inspector arrives and then 'brighter and harder' to show the impact of the Inspector as he arrives.
There are subtle hints at the beginning of the play which create the feeling that not all is as it seems.
-Sheila was wondering where Gerald was last summer
- Eric is nervous about something
-Lord and Lady Croft were not present at the dinner
This arouses the audience and makes them want to know what is going on.
Dramatic Irony and Tone
Dramatic Irony - Mr Birlings confident predictions about the war and the Titanic which we know are wrong. The war happened and the Titanic famously sank on its maiden voyage. This puts the audience at an advantage over the Inspector and it makes us doubt Mr Birlings views.
The Inspector - He adds drama to the situation
- He controls the pace and tension dealing with one line of enquiry at a time.
- He is in control at the beginning (apart from Act 1) and end of every Act. He is a brooding, inescapable presence very much in control.
Tension and Timing
Numerous changes in tone throughout the play - E.g Mr Birlings confidence is soon replaced by self-justification as he tries to explain his part in Eva's death , then by anxiety.
Timing of entrances and exits are crucial. E.g. The inspector arrives immediately after Birling has told Gerald about his impending knighthood and about how "a man has to look after himself and his own"
Leaves the audience on a cliff hanger.
In Act 3 the Birlings believe they are off the hook when they discovered that the Inspector wasn't real and that no girl died of suicide in the infirmary. This releases some tensions - but the final telephone call, announcing that a real inspector is on his way to ask questions about the suicide of a young girl which suddenly restores tension very quickly. An unexpected final twist.
The inspector wanted each of the family members to share the responsibility of Eva's death. He tells them "each of you helped to kill her". However, his final speech is said not only to the characters on the stage but to the audience as well.
In his final speech he talks about 'collective responsibility', everyone in society are linked just like how each of the characters were linked to Eva's death. Everyone is a part of 'one body'. The inspector (or Priestley) see society as more important then individual interests. The views displayed are those of a socialist. Priestley wanted the characters (and the audience) to consider a social conscience and to embrace a collective responsibility.
Furthermore, the inspector adds a clear warning of what could happen if they were to ignore responsibility:
"And i tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, when they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish"
Priestley relates this to the War which has just occurred - the government blindly pursuing 'national interest' at all costs. Also he was thinking about the Russian revolution in which the poor workers and peasants took over the state and exacted a bloody revenge against the aristocrats who had treated them so badly
We only see the rich and upper class part of society in the play. However, we learn a lot about the lower classes as we see what Eva Smith has been put through.
Priestley attempts to show that the upper classes are unaware that their easy lives rest upon the hard work of the lower classes.
The play was during the days before women were valued by society and had not yet been awarded a right to vote so Eva was in a worse position then a lower class man.
Mr Birling is dismissive of the several hundred women who work in his factory - "We were paying the usual rates and if they didnt like those rates, they could go and work somewhere else"
Gerald saw Eva as "young and fresh and charming" - in other words , someone vulnerable he could amuse himself by helping
Mrs Birling couldn't believe that 'a girl of that sort would refuse money'. Her charitable committee was a sham: a small amount of money was given to only a small amount of women, hardly helping the problem in society.
Priestley uses a working class 'woman' rather then a man so he is able to emphasize how the lower class are vulnerable to a further extent.
Age - The old
- They are set in their ways. They are utterly confident that they are right and they see the young as 'foolish'
- They will do anything to protect themselves: Mrs Birling denies that she has seen Eva before when she is shown the photo, Mr Birling attempts to cover up a potential scandal
- They have never been force to examine their consiquences before, and find they cannot do it now - 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks'
- Mr and Mrs Birling have much to fear of the real inspector coming as they know they will lose everything
Age - The young
- They are open to new ideas. This is first seen in Act 1 when Sheila and Eric express sympathy towards the strikers, something that Mr Birling finds horrifying, who can only think about production costs rather then any morale concern.
- The young are honest and admit their faults. Eric refuses to try and cover up his part - "the fact remains that i did what i did"
- Sheila and Eric see the human side to Eva's story and are very troubled by their part in it. They do examine their consequences.
- Sheila and Eric have nothing to fear from the 'real' inspector because they have already admitted what they have done wrong and will change.
GERALD [laughs]: You seem to be a nice well-behave
Coming early in the play, these lines also exemplify Priestley's love of dramatic irony: the last thing the Birlings have been is well-behaved. These lines also suggest the alliance between Gerald and Birling, two men who share the same values, whose bond will become stronger after the Inspector's exit.
BIRLING But take my word for it, you youngsters -
Birling is taking an individualist, capitalist point of view about personal responsibility, and his lines here provide the general attitude of his speeches since the play began. According to him, experience proves that his point of view is correct, in contrast to the possibly more idealistic "youngsters." Yet, the bell marks the moment at which the Inspector arrives, and it is no accident that the socialist-leaning Inspector arrives at precisely this moment.
SHEILA [laughs rather hysterically] Why - you fool
Sheila, shortly before the end of Act One, crucially understands the importance of the Inspector and the fact that he has more information than he is revealing. She is the first person in the play to really begin to understand the Inspector which, in turn, leads her to see her relationship with Gerald in a more realistic, more cynical way.
INSPECTOR She kept a rough sort of diary. And she
This is an unusually personal moment from the Inspector, who gives us one of the first insights into Eva Smith's feelings and personality. He claims, of course, that he has found a diary in Eva Smith's room, though many interpretations have argued that the Inspector in fact has a more personal connection to Eva Smith: perhaps he even is her ghost, or a ghoulish embodiment of her dead child? Priestley never tells us, but there is certainly opportunity for the actor in this part to suggest a more personal connection. Note, too, the interest in time on Eva's part, keeping a diary and making a point of remembering the past nostalgically.
BIRLING You'll apologize at once ... I'm a public
Here the Inspector, who by this middle act of the play is gaining in power and control over the situation, "massively" silences Birling with a putdown. It is not the first or last time that Birling is cut off mid-thought. It is also important because Priestley points an extra finger of blame at Birling not just for his actions, but for his failure to see that his public position entails a duty of responsibility to other people. Interestingly, this attitude draws on the traditional notion of the upper classes taking responsibility for the welfare of the lower classes, but in the newer, more democratic life of Britain, the "public men" are not necessarily of higher social class even if they have more public privileges; at any rate, their position of power comes with responsibility.
BIRLING ... we've been had ... it makes all the di
These lines illustrate the mood of this last part of the play, as well as the split between the Birlings and their children. Sheila and Eric realize the importance of the Inspector's lesson, notably that they need to become more socially responsible whether or not the particular scenario was a valid example. In contrast, their parents absolutely fail to learn such a lesson, arguing that the failure of the example invalidates the Inspector's argument. Why still feel guilty and responsible? It also is significant that Gerald Croft takes Birling's side (uncritically) rather than Sheila's.
Proud - Boasts about being mayor and tries to impress the inspector with his local standing and influential friends
Aware of his social superiors
Optimistic about the future
Loses knighthood, reputation and the chance to merge with Crofts limited at the end
Never accepts responsibility to his part of Eva's death
A snob - very aware of the social classes
Lack of respect for the inspector
Speaks patronisingly to the young ones and sees them as children
She denies reality (e.g. Eric's drinking problem)
Prejudice towards Eva (refusing her application)
Narrow sense of morality (She believes that the father is responsible for the welfare)
She learns that her son is a heavy drinker who made a working class girl pregnant and stole money from her. Also, her reputation will be sullied.
She also refuses any responsibility of the death of Eva
Playful at opening however, she has suspicions of Gerald
She shows sympathy and compassion towards the strikers - the beginning of her change
Horrified by her own actions towards Eva
She is curious
Angry with her parents - they do not admit responsibility - sees her parents in a new unfavourable light
At the end, Sheila is much wiser. Her social conscience has been awakened, aware of her responsibilities
Embarrassed and awkward from the start. First we hear of him "Eric suddenly guffaws" - unable to explain his laughter, nervous about something.
A hard drinker
Supports the workers cause - tension between him and his father
Guilt and frustration over his relationship with Eva
Had some innate responsibility - concerned enough to give the pregnant woman money - may of been the most socially aware at the start
Appalled by his parents inability to take responsibility - lost respect for his father - stands up to him
At the end of the play he is fully aware of his social responsibility.
Parents not overly impressed with engagement as Sheila is lower class. Stubbornness of upper class.
Not willing to admit his part in Eva's death because of his own interests - just like Mr Birling
Genuine feelings for Daisy Renton
Does whatever he can to prove that the inspector is a fake to get off the hook but was he really off the hook?
At the end of the play he has not changed or gained any social responsibility. Reason why Sheila did not take back the ring?
Works systematically - one line of enquiry at a time - confronts suspect and expects them to talk
A figure of authority - Firm with them - cuts through Mr Birlings obstructiveness
Knows things are going to happen
At a great hurry at the end - he may know the real inspector is going to be on his way soon
His last speech was like a politicians speech. Talks about 'collective responsibility' and warns them if they do not learn.
Is he real? May be a ghost, voice of Priestley, God , voice of our conscience?