AN INSPECTOR CALLS PREVIEW
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ACT 1 UNIT 2
The Birlings are celebrating the engagement of Sheila to Gerald Croft.
P: At the start of the play, Birling seems to be extremely pompous and boasts about the type of port the men are drinking after their dinner. He is keen to inform Gerald, ‘ Finchley told me it’s exactly the same port your father gets from him.’ Birling is keen to make Gerald feel like a member of the family:
E: I’m treating Gerald like one of the family. I’m sure he won’t object. (P2/B)
E: The opening scene of An Inspector Calls demonstrates the patriarchal nature of society in 1912 and the dominant position that Mr Birling has in the family. He is delighted by Sheila’s engagement to Gerald because he is the son of his rival in business, Lord Croft, a member of the local gentry. Birling’s reference to the social mores or customs of the time, the ritual of drinking port after the evening meal, shows that he is impressed by upper middle class customs and is a social climber obsessed with class and social status.
P: Sheila tells Gerald that she does not want to marry an over-indulgent man like her father who is preoccupied with upper middle class capitalist values:
E: I’d hate you to know all about port – like one of those purple faced old men. (P2/Sh)
E: Sheila implies that her father is one of those, ‘purple faced old men.’ From the start of the play Sheila appears to argue for change and rejects the idea of marrying an archetypal ‘hard-headed businessman,’ who is a know-it-all and preoccupied with profit and class-consciousness. This epitomises the view that in 1945 people wanted social change and a better way of life after the horrors of World War 2.
P: Edna the maid has very few lines to deliver in the play but has a detailed mise-en-scene, or set of choreographed stage movements to perform as she tends to the needs of the Birling family.
E: To Edna who is about to go with tray. (P2/Pr)
E: Edna lives in a very different world to the Birlings. However, she is present during key moments in the play and it could be argued represents the hard working British working classes along with Inspector Goole and Eva Smith. It has been claimed that Priestly wrote, An Inspector Calls, in an effort to promote the election of a socialist Labour government because the political party promised to improve the lives of the working classes and usher in a movement of social responsibility. Clement Attlee's Labour Government won a landslide victory in 1945 and introduced the welfare state and National Health Service. This shows that Priestly perfectly captures the growing sense of collective responsibility in 1945.
P: Once again Birling demonstrates his desire to promote his social standing in society by using the engagement between Sheila and Gerald as a vehicle to enhance his social position. He tells the family:
E: I’m treating Gerald like one of the family now. (P3/B)
E: Throughout Unit 1, Birling tries to promote his social position to impress Gerald who tells Birling, ‘I insist on being a member of the family now. I’ve been trying long enough haven’t I?’ This revelation implies an underlying tension between Gerald and Sheila and the audience wonders why he has been forced to try and secure an engagement for a long time.
P: The reason for the underlying tension between Gerald and Sheila becomes clear when she remarks:
E: Except for all of last summer when you never came near me. (P3/Sh)
E: This is extremely important exposition (information) since Gerald did not see Sheila the previous summer because he was conducting an affair with Daisy Renton. Gerald immorally lies about his disappearance, ‘I was very busy at work all the time,’ he tells Sheila, refusing to take personal responsibility for his indiscretion.
P: Mrs Birling comments that businessmen are very busy people and that Sheila will:
E: Have to get used to that just as I did. (P3/Syb)
E: Marriage in Edwardian society was not always based on love but more importantly on the attainment of social position. Extramarital affairs were accepted provided that both parties were discrete and conducted relationships in private. If it were not for Inspector Goole’s intervention, Sheila would have remained blissfully unaware of Gerald’s indiscretion with Eva Smith/ Daisy Renton.
WOMEN IN SOCIETY