Preistley is very careful to recreate 1912 exactly in terms of props and setting. The furniture is ‘good and solid’ and ‘of the period’. The wedding ring Gerald presents Sheila with shows how materialistic the family are and how they perceive possessions and business propositions as a higher priority than sociability. Sheila and Gerald care more about their ring than their relationship. Even in his toast Birling informs his family of how he sees his daughter’s marriage as a business opportunity, he doesn’t once mention the sentimental side of it enthusiastically. At the end of the play Sheila rejects the ring, ‘No, not yet. It’s too soon’, as she has accepted responsibility and has seen the error of her ways.
Dramatic irony involves the audience. They are able to see how wrong Mr Birling is on so many important topics, for example: ‘the world’s developing so fast it’ll make war impossible.’ This encourages the audience to take the Inspector’s side and make Priestley’s message even more momentous.The play being set in 1912 and written in 1942 gives Priestley an immense advantage to exploit dramatic irony for comical and political purposes. Birling makes numerous erroneous remarks on upcoming events such as the Titanic, which he says is ‘unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.’ He labels himself a ‘hard-headed, practical man of business’, but from what he actually says, we can see he hasn’t a clue.
On the announcement of the Inspector’s arrival, Gerald states his visit is because ‘Eric’s been up to something’. Eric feels ‘uneasy’ about this, as Gerald is partly correct. Along with the rest of the family’s, he contributed to Eva Smith’s death. This shows how unattached and irresponsible the family are with one another – not knowing or either bothering to follow up what other members have been up too in unexplained time away. Gerald later reports to the Inspector that they’re ‘all respectable citizens and not criminals’, when in fact they are all accomplices in murder without even realising. They display a total lack of responsibility.
Mrs Birling, whilst being questioned by the Inspector, reveals her feelings about the father of Eva Smith’s child. She states he was ‘some drunken young idler’ and that he ‘ought to be dealt with severely’. The audience already knows the father is Eric, but Mrs Birling doesn’t and is truly mortified when she finds out. Eric seems to be very separate from the family, and his parents knew little about his alcohol problems. On discovery, Mrs Birling was ‘staggered’, highlighting a serious lack of interest previously.
Characters within the family have seemed to develop an unrealised system of hierarchy. Mrs Birling being the social superior speaks to her grown up offspring as if they were young children. For example she says ‘It would be much better if Sheila didn’t listen to this story at all’, trying to protect her. She also forces her upper class manners upon her husband when he shows lack of proper conduct, for instance when she says ‘Now, Arthur, I don’t think you ought to talk business on occasion like this’.
Although shallow at the start of the play, Sheila is very intelligent. Unlike her parents (and along with Eric) she accepts responsibility thus proving herself to be very mature. She knows ‘It doesn’t matter whether he was an Inspector or not.’ However her parents take no heed of this as they don’t understand the concept of responsibility, so Sheila’s morality goes widely unnoticed, indeed she loses respect within the family hierarchy. Gerald doesn’t seem to fit in with the family either. He and Sheila do not usually interact much, unless they have something criticising to say or are ‘half playful, half serious’.
Birling seems to constantly hark on about his capitalist ways, being a ‘hardheaded businessman’, and having ‘all the experience’. He rarely cuts into conversations unless these obsessions are mentioned. He tries to prove himself to his future son-in-law, by making long drawn out speeches about society, business and war, topics that he has no idea about. He repeats these prolonged monologues throughout the play when he sees fit, reiterating that ‘a man has to mind his own business and look after himself’.
The Inspector speaks ‘harshly’, ‘swiftly’ and ‘sternly’ to the family. When he enters the scene the parents become far firmer with their children as if to show to the Inspector they have total control. The Inspector makes numerous commands to the family and retains order among the emotional havoc he causes.
The use of short sentences is quite frequent, appearing mostly when the Inspector is questioning characters: they often answer simply yes or no. One exception is Mr Birling who usually goes on to talk about profit margins and his business. These keep the audience engrossed. The audience would not wish to hear the same two characters engaging in some tedious conversation. Instead they want language where everyone butts in and anyone could say anything at anytime changing the whole course of questioning the Inspector has to offer. This type of language keeps the audience awake.
Through this play Priestley wanted his audience to understand his socialist views. He made them very clear through powerful dramatic devices such as lighting and dramatic irony, and not least through the Inspector, who is a key character dominating the minds of the family. Priestley argues that socialism was needed in those times and that history should not be allowed to repeat itself. He wanted his audience to know that it should not take two World Wars for the nation’s classes to unite. There was no excuse for society to revert to its pre-war brainless class-divided status quo. At the same time, Priestley is successful in constructing a well-crafted three-act stage play with memorable characters and a good story.