‘An Inspector Calls’: Priestley’s purpose


This page provides notes for answering the standard essay question, which asks ‘What does the author do?’ and ‘How does s/he do it?’   The page deals with the specific exam criteria for drama texts, which expect you to show that they are different from other genres.


What do you think Priestley wished to achieve in ‘An Inspector Calls’ and how does he present his ideas?


The exploration of characters and themes:

  • Characters’ distinguishing features e.g. Sheila is, initially, jealous and spiteful; Gerald is untrustworthy; Eric is unstable; Mrs Birling is proud; Birling is opinionated and self satisfied.  Remember Eva!
  • Political/social perspective e.g. criticism of ambitious self-made men and their views, as expressed by Birling
  • Religious message ‘of one body’, collective responsibility and duty to all humanity.
  • Abuse of power and influence

Presentation: (i.e. the ‘How does he write?’) of dramatic devices, language use, elements of structure and the play’s form

  • Humour, including satire, irony and dramatic irony
  • Viewpoints on themes expressed by different characters
  • Contrast between characters and generations e.g. their confessions and denials
  • The blurring of real/unreal e.g. one girl or many, the nature of the inspector
  • The confusing elements of time and particular events in the last Act e.g. the  final telephone call
  • Creation of tension e.g. Mrs Birling blaming the father
  • Entrances, exits, use of props, stage directions
  • Words/phrases/ideas re-occurring (i.e. becoming motifs) and being given a different perspective

Thought-provoking entertainment

  • The audience to considers its own attitude towards the working and middle classes, entrepreneurs and gender issues
  • Identifies pride and selfishness as being the cause of the world’s problems
  • Concludes with the continuing plight of the oppressed, as shown in the actual death of a young woman


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