J.B Priestly, through the use of language, dramatic devices and other literary techniques, manipulates the audience’s response to the characters of: Mr Arthur Birling, The Inspector and Sheila. By exploring and criticising the social system of when the play is set, Priestly puts across the socialist moral of the play; and this message is what ultimately defines the characters views at its conclusion.
There are two major contrasting views each represented by a central character; The Inspector, who acting like the mouthpiece for Priestly, portrays his socialistic views and Mr Birling, his moral rival, who represents the opposing capitalistic views of the era.
Through the use of language and dialogue, Priestly manipulates the audience’s response to these views by who gives them and the way in which they do so. Mr Birling’s display of his beliefs occurs prior to The Inspector’s arrival, here Priestly uses dramatic irony and historical reference to great effect, imbedding the image of Birling as a pompous, egotistical, fool.
Last month just because the miners came on strike, there’s a lot of talk about possible labour trouble in the near future. Don’t worry. We’ve passed the worst of it…The worlds developing so fast that it’ll make war impossible… unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.
This is an example of historical reference as at the time the play would have been performed; much of what Birling said would have already come to pass. His prediction of the titanic would have made him look very foolish alongside the false impression that war will be impossible as, after the setting of the play, the world experienced the most horrific war it had ever known, and also the audience would have been viewing it in a post war time.
Dramatic irony is also created as the audience know something he doesn’t and the arrogant nature in which he is making predictions only adds to the effect. He constantly refers to himself as a “hard headed business man”, an impudent boast to say the least, but yet seems completely oblivious to the goings on of the world around him. This suggests that he may not be as knowledgeable and informed as he would like others to think.
The audience’s impression of him is further re-enforced as he makes yet another speech, this time including much of his capitalistic views when he says ” a man has to make is own way – has to look after himself, and his family too of course,”. Here the audience is given the impression that he only thinks about himself and his family and in turn adds to the audience’s perception of him as not only ignorant and conceited, but also self-centred. Birling continues with his own derogative slant on socialists, calling them “cranks” and that what they have to say about “community and all that nonsense.” He alienates the audience even more so by constantly attempting to monopolise the family conversation with his speeches.
Priestly creates an opposing effect with the Inspectors dialogue, as his monologues are significantly less boastful and more didactic. He is the one to pull away with the facade the family is hiding behind to reveal the true reality of their actions. The Inspectors language is blunt and unerring, contrasting with the rest of the family’s use of euphemisms,
Two hours ago a young woman died in the infirmary because she’d swallowed some disinfectant. Burnt her inside out…she was in great agony…but she died, suicide of course.
By using blunt and coarse language, the audience feel a sense of respect for his character as it contrasts with almost everything the Mr Birling represents; and because of his obvious lack of interest in Mr. Birling’s boastful achievements, (“I was an alderman for years – and lord mayor two years ago,” The Inspector merely replies, “Quite so.”) the audience begin to relate to him as a character that will share their previous impressions of Mr Birling, leading to a affinity for The Inspector. He (unlike Mr Birling who uses long speeches to convey his own views) speaks in short sentences to as to the powerful effect of his words.
Priestly uses stage dierections and dramatic devices to further the audience’s views of the characters. Through the use of stage directions, Priestly enhances the opposing personalities of Birling and the Inspector by the way in which they react to the situation. The Inspector is shown to remain calm and whenever it seems that the “line of enquiry” is going astray, he will “cut in massively” and take charge. Throughout the entire play he is never shown loosing his composure and is described on his entrance as creating “an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness.
He speaks carefully, weightily, and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking.” The audience feel in awe of his commanding presence and the authority of his words that leads to the confession of every single Birling family member and Gerald. As play progresses the balance of power that Priestly has created, shifts, from Birling at the start, to the Inspector at the end, which only adds to the growing respect of The Inspector amongst the audience.
Arthur Birling on the other hand is far more agitated and has a very little patience with The Inspector or anyone else that speaks against him. Throughout most the play he responds “angrily” and “impatiently” with most of what is said. After the Inspectors departure he is the first to place blame on someone else. His use of euphemisms also leads the audience to have far less respect than for him as he unlike the inspector, he wants to cover up what has happened rather than admit to it.
Dramatic devices such as lighting greatly affect the overall mood of the scene. At the start of the play the lighting is pink and soft, like veil covering the deeds of the family, the light in which Birling is shown at his most comfortable. But then it changes upon the inspector’s arrival, to a much harsher glare, foreshadowing the interrogations that follow and how everything will be laid before him to judge clearly, there are no more false pretences to hide behind now. The Inspector’s entrance coincides with the doorbell adding to the overall effect, which incidentally also cuts through Mr Birling’s speech on capitalism. The audience at that point can already begin to feel the ripple of change and discomfort even before his arrival.
Eva/Daisy’s diary adds to the powerful presence of the Inspector by giving him an aura of omniscience. The knowledge he posses from the diary and also the ability to shock the Birling’s with the photograph help him control and shape the play. The audience feel ever more impressed as through the alleged diary, he hints he knows something prior to it being admitted and using this knowledge he sees through the denials and frivolities of the Birling’s excuses and traps them within their own words; Like during his interrogation to Mrs Birling, he inadvertently gets her to admit blaming the father of the baby for Eva’s Death, knowing full well it was Eric, but waiting until the last moment before revealing the truth, he manages to get Mrs Birling to condemn her own son. The audience see him as sly but not untruthful and through this he also revels the hypocritical views of some of the family members.
The Inspector’s exit is as powerful as his entrance with much more of his socialist views expressed. His speech is far more accurate than Mr Birling’s vague prediction of the future and differs completely in its point of view,
All intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will come soon when, if men will not learn that lesson, they will be taught it in fire blood and anguish. Good Night.
His speech is far more impressive than anything Birling has said all night and the audience feel a greater feeling of respect for him because of his views. His warning of the “fire blood and anguish” is almost biblical in a sense and would ring true with the audience who could interpret it as a metaphor for war. It is only after the Inspectors departure that the audience can really see what he has achieved.
Now without the controlling voice of the inspector to guide them, the Birling family break down and immediately start blaming each other. It becomes apparent that he has split the Birling family into two, the older generation with Mr and Mrs Birling and Gerald, and the younger generation with Sheila and Eric, who seem to take a more open minded approach to the incident and are willing to accept responsibility. The generation gap widens with the realisation The Inspector wasn’t who he originally claimed to be.
Sheila, the one most distressed by the Inspector powerful departing words takes over as the mouth piece for Priestly and, alongside Eric, tries to convince her parents and Gerald that just because the Inspector wasn’t real, doesn’t mean what they did wasn’t wrong. “And don’t let’s start dodging and pretending now. Between us we drove that girl to suicide.” The audience immediately feel the same sense of decency and moral correctness they did for the inspector, for Sheila; and begin to realise just how much she has developed through the course of the play.
Her newfound impression of her parents and Gerald has led her to openly defy their judgements and with The Inspectors help she has turned from the seemingly naive and childlike girl to the grown woman who begins to try and convince the family they committed terrible deeds. Her calling Mr Birling, “Father” instead of “Daddy” shows this. Her use of language is far more adult and almost resembles the harsh blunt tone of the Inspector himself.
On the other hand, the audience feel a greater sense of anger and animosity towards Mr Birling as he seems to have learnt nothing from the whole experience and quickly convinces himself it was all a hoax, his constant blaming of other people and apparent acceptance of Gerald’s affair, and moreover the general lack of sympathy he feels for Eva’s plight, lead him to be, in the eyes of the audience, the single most loathed and abhorred character in the entire play.
Priestly explores the Social System of the Edwardian era and with Eva Smith as a metaphor for the working class, criticizes it for its unfairness. The Inspector, apparently outside this system is able to break it down and it is that causes such a rift between the Birling’s and eventually leads to the change within Sheila. Priestly conveys his message through the play by using language; stage directions, exits and entrances to react get the audience to react to different characters in different ways. In particular the Inspector and Mr Birling, who represent the Social and Capitalist struggle of Priestley’s time.