End of Act 3

Extract Question

Reread from page 69 ‘Anyway we’ll see’ to the end of the play.  Consider how Priestley develops the drama in these last moments of the play.

NOTES

The characters display anxiety, when Birling ‘wipes his brow’ and ‘Sheila shivers’.  Dramatic tension is built up in the silences: as Gerald looks up the number, as characters wait for response to Gerald’s enquiries, and as the audience itself waits for the response to be conveyed, after the telephone call.  There is an assumption, made by the characters, that it is important whether there has been a suicide or not.  Dramatic tension is released when the news is conveyed that there has been no suicide ‘for months’, with a ‘huge sigh of relief’ from Birling.  However, there remains an uneasy feeling because the inspector’s message is being ignored.  Note the biblical reference, in Sheila’s words, to the end of the world and the way they echo the inspector’s.

Note the contrast between Sheila’s and Eric’s attitude with that of Birling, Mrs Birling and Gerald; this contrast reveals that the actuality of a death is not the point.  The cyclic nature of the last scene is a predominant feature e.g. Gerald offers Sheila the ring again, Birling shares a drink with Gerald again, Gerald is praised again (‘clever’ p5) and respected again, an employer is again showing lack of genuine concern for an employee, Birling restates his wish for no scandal ‘just now’.  These examples show that the lesson has not been learnt: the older characters glory in their victory over both responsibility and guilt.    Birling, however, inadvertently reveals his true feelings of guilt when he admits that he had been ‘on the run’.

The play is suffused with satire and irony – do not overuse these words, but do insert them where relevant e.g. Mr Birling’s obsession with his knighthood is a satire of the aspiring middle class industrialists who value profit above people and are awarded honours for doing so! Another example might be how. Birling celebrates with a drink when, ironically, it was Eric’s drinking that caused Eva to become pregnant.

Remember that if you cross-refer in the extract question, you must do so briefly with the sole purpose of explaining the importance of an element in the extract itself.  By the way, ‘audience’ is a collective noun, therefore refer to ‘it’ (singular), not ‘they’ (plural).

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