This section looks at the dramatic devices that Priestley uses, within An Inspector Calls.
Priestley uses a change in lighting to show the change in atmosphere that the Inspector’s arrival brings: ‘The lighting should be pink and intimate until the INSPECTOR arrives, and then it should be brighter and harder.’
The sharp ring of the doorbell interrupts Birling’s speech about social responsibility. This forces the audience to make a connection between the Inspector’s arrival and Birling’s Capitalist ideology that promotes self-interest and believes that community is ‘nonsense’.
The Inspector only shows the photograph to one person at a time. This means that no one character can ever be sure that they have seen the same photograph as any other character. This adds to the sense of mystery which surrounds the girl and the Inspector. It is important to notice that the photograph always has an immediate impact on whoever sees it.
The audience know that Birling’s first speech is full of inaccuracies. This makes us question the reliability of his judgement – if he’s wrong about war and the Titanic, what else will he be wrong about?
‘And I say there isn’t a chance of war...the Titanic – she sails next week -...unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable’
‘let’s say in 1940...by that time you’ll be living in a world that will have forgotten all these Capital versus Labour agitations and all these silly little war scares. There’ll be peace and prosperity and rapid progress everywhere.’
Birling is overconfident when he tells Gerald that he is expecting a knighthood and his throwaway comment about getting into trouble makes the audience expect something bad to happen:
‘so long as we behave ourselves. Don’t get into the police court or start a scandal – eh?’
Sheila’s taunting of her brother hints that he may have an issue with drink: ‘You’re squiffy’
Priestley uses opposites or contrasts as an effective device:
He juxtaposes the beliefs of Birling with the attitude of the Inspector
He also forces the audience to make links between Sheila and the dead girl to highlight the differences in their lives because of their social classes
Act 1 ends with the Inspector saying ‘Well?’ to Gerald. This is the same way that Act 2 begins. This cliff-hanger means the audience have to wait to find out what happens, even though they have already anticipated what will happen.
There is dramatic irony in the way Mrs Birling is trapped at the end of the scene. When she forcefully blames ‘some drunken young idler’, the audience realise that she is describing Eric. This also highlights her hypocrisy to the audience: we know that she would not apply the same standards to her own family.
Again, the audience are forced to make contrasts between the Birlings’ self-interested attitudes and the beliefs of the Inspector.
The Inspector himself
It is especially clear in this scene that Priestley is using the Inspector to move the plot along, to control the pace of events and to decide the order in which the characters are questioned.
The timing of Mrs Birling’s entrance mean that she is unaware of the impact the Inspector is having and insists on trying to control events herself.
The timing of Eric’s entrance is also significant: he reappears at the end of the Act just at the moment when the audience and the characters on stage realise that Eric is the father of Eva Smith’s baby.
Priestley uses sound effects again in Act 3 when the telephone ringing heralds the significant information about to be shared
The final denouement is a shocking surprise to the characters on stage and the audience – a ‘twist in the tale’.