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An Inspector Calls - Dramatic Tension

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An Inspector Calls is a play written by J. B. Priestley in 1945 about the prosperous Birling family being confronted by a Police Inspector who reveals during the play each family member's involvement in a young woman's suicide. The play has socialist undertones, as Priestly was a prominent socialist himself. The play is set in spring 1912 in the dining room of the Birlings house in Brumley, just before the First World War. It was first performed 1 October 1946 to an audience who had just lived through the Second World War.

Priestley uses dramatic tension through the play to make it interesting and full of suspense for his audience.

Mrs Birling's interrogation begins half way through Act Two. So far in the play Inspector Goole entered the Birling Household in Act one whilst they were having a small engagement party for the Birling's daughter Sheila. The inspector begins to interrogate each of the family members of their involvement of a young working class woman named Eva Smith, who committed suicide. The first member of the Birling family to be linked to Eva Smith's death is Mr Birling, who owns a large business. Birling admits that Eva worked for him and discharged her after she was part of a strike. Sheila is next in line for the inspector's questions, and it is revealed that Sheila had Eva sacked from her next job in a shop called Milward's. Eric Birling, the son of the Birlings, leaves the room against the Inspector's wishes and it is revealed he is a hardened drinker. Gerlad Croft, Sheila's fioncee(?), admits his involvement next, as he met her at a haunt of prostitutes and 'rescued' her from her poor lifestyle giving her place to stay. She then became his mistress. Mrs Birling is next in the line of fire and it is revealed that a now pregnant Eva Smith came to Mrs Birling's charity committee for help.

The inspector begins questioning Mrs Birling. " Mrs Birling, you're a member - a prominent member - of the Brumley Women's Charity Organization, aren't you?"

The Inspector is quite polite to her, even complimenting, by calling her a "Prominent member". This feeds into Mrs Birling's craving of status and being of high standing. This is key as the inspector has been quite blunt so far when questioning the other family members so this way of approaching is quite out of character. Strangely, Mrs Birling does not answer the inspectors question as if she is guilty or has something to hide, immediately making the audience question why she is ignoring him. She is defiant and shows she places herself above the investigation and the Inspector himself. This leads the audience to question her involvement in the leading up to the suicide of Eva Smith. We learn from this line that Mrs Birling is a "prominent" member of a charity, which the audience would see as a good deed.

Sheila quickly answers for her mother, which is also out of character as what she is portrayed as from the beginning of the play. "Go on, Mother. You might as well admit it. (TO INSPECTOR.) Yes, she is. Why?" She shows guilt, by helping the inspector. She is going against her family, which shows a new character with a conscience developing. Sheila is used as a dramatic device through the play. She begins to shake off her parent's views and reflect the audience. The makes a connection and a relation through the character, to the audience. Sheila uses the word "admit" which is usually associated with guilt. Admitting is seen as confessing, finally revealing the truth.

The inspector then goes to state the simple truth of the nature of giving help to women in distress and makes clear that as a member of the charity that is her duty and is expected of her. "It's an organisation to which women in distress can appeal for help in various forms. Isn't that so?" The inspector uses powerful words such as "distress" and help, which makes the audience and the characters in the play empathise with the women, who come to Mrs Birling's charity for help. This line also makes the audience connect Eva Smith with these women in distress.

Mrs Birling is said to answer back to this with dignity. "Yes. We've done a great of deal useful work in helping deserving cases." Mrs Birling shows her defiance and stubbornness in this line. At this point in the story, it has not been revealed that Eva was turned away by Mrs Birling, stating she wasn't "deserving" enough of aid. This shows her character and tells the audience and Inspector clearly that she didn't think she could of done anything.

After this line is spoken, the inspector begins to become more severe with his questioning, in contrast to his politeness at the beginning. The mood becomes more severe and the atmosphere becomes tenser as the inspector begins to dig deeper with his questioning.

Suddenly, Mr Birling enters "looking rather agitated" to inform the family and inspector that Eric has indeed left the house and the situation. This creates a new problem. Priestly uses Eric's absence to create a level of tension as the play is set in one room in 'real time'. This makes the audience wonder why Eric has left and where he has gone to as the audience can only see what I happening in the dining room. These questions cannot be answered created suspicion and tension. The inspector stresses

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