‘An Inspector Calls’: Priestley’s purpose

EXAM PREPARATION and REVISION

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.

A TYPICAL EXAM QUESTION ON PURPOSE:

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

YOU MIGHT CONSIDER:

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

—oOo—

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