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In the play ‘An Inspector Calls’, the character of the Inspector is used as a dramatic device in a number of different ways which all help the play to become more interesting and gripping. In this essay, I shall aim to analyse and explore these dramatic devices. Our perceptions of the genre of this play often change throughout its course, beginning as a ‘whodunit’ play and developing into a didactic one with a strong moral message. The Inspector is crucial to the play as he is the one that helps us to see the transition between the genres and allows it to take place. This is only one of many roles that the inspector plays; he works as a narrator, he acts as a catalyst for action, he is used as a vehicle for socialist views and he conveys Priestley’s own political views.
The Inspector is used to convey the viewpoints of Priestley and the overall socialist viewpoint. This political view was one that was shared by Priestley, and so, by making the most dominant and interesting character represent these ideas, they are conveyed directly to the audience through the language used and the overall actions and movements of the Inspector. Most of these ideas are shown in the final two speeches of the Inspector where he says that ‘we don’t live alone,’ ‘we are members of one body,’ and ‘we are responsible for each other.’ These are prime examples of where the Inspector is not only talking to the other characters, but also to the audience directly therefore conveying the socialist viewpoint in much more clarity and with greater effect. Further still, the omniscience of the inspector helps to both emphasise the socialist view and criticise the capitalist views. Using strong emotive language like ‘fire and blood and anguish’ and linking that to the ignorance of man really helps to perform both of these tasks simultaneously and effectively. The prediction of the upcoming war, which contradicts Birling’s earlier statement, suggests that the Inspector is not all that he seems. It also contradicts Birling’s previous ideas, further emphasising Priestley’s hatred for capitalism and introduces the idea that he is a visionary who can predict the future.
The Inspector’s name, Goole, may symbolise some sort of ghostly presence, and this is backed up further throughout the play by the Inspector’s actions and his omniscient abilities. Priestley may have used this name to convey to us right from the beginning of the play that this character is not all that he seems, and that he will be a mystical character. The language that he uses is also very strange, using phrases that insinuate his knowledge, such as ‘because what happened… driven her to suicide.’ This statement shows that the inspector already knows everything that has happened, he knows what each family member has done and he knows how to force them to blame each other for this. All of this adds to the theory that the Inspector is a very ghostly and eerie presence who is omniscient and omnipresent, and who knows how to manipulate the room to add dramatic effect.
In addition, the lighting changes when the inspector enters from a pink, cosy light to quite a cold blue one. This adds effect as it sets the tone for the character of the inspector as soon as he enters and it shows the clear divide between the cosy life of the Birlings and the hard reality that the Inspector brings. The final speech of the Inspector, which is only one of two extended sections of monologue that he has, greatly imposes Priestley’s ideas and views upon the audience. It is at this point that we begin to see this play as being didactic and begin to understand the message that the play is trying to convey. This final speech also acts as some closure to the Inspector’s overall narration and control of the play so far. Up to this point, Goole has been controlling the other characters, ‘cutting in, massively,’ ‘massively taking charge,’ and doing it all ‘with calm authority.’ These stage directions help us to clearly see that the Inspector is intended to dominate a situation and take control over what happens. He only hears what he needs, and when he has done with what he needs, he cuts in and asks another question or makes another statement. This, therefore, means that the play is quite fast paced. As he only lets the other characters say what he wants to hear, he gathers all of the necessary information and moves on rather hastily and this is another way of Priestley showing the dominance of the Inspector and that he is an unstoppable force. He also acts as a sort of puppet master, controlling when the other characters enter and exit, which helps to, again, show the dominance of the Inspector within the setting of the play.
Priestly often uses dramatic irony in ‘An Inspector Calls’ to show that the Birlings are egotistical narcissists with no real understanding of current affairs, contrasting with the Inspector’s own interruptions and insinuations that contradict those of the Birlings and turn out to be true. Mr. Birling thinks that ‘there isn’t a chance of war’, whereas the Inspector, in his final speech, contradicts this with a correct statement that hints at war, in that men ‘will be taught in fire and blood and anguish.’ This use of juxtaposition of these statements and the overall juxtaposition of the Inspector in that environment add tension and irony to the play, making it more enjoyable and exciting to watch. It also further exaggerates the Inspector’s overruling personality by expanding it to include intellect as well as just physical actions and mind games. The language that the inspector uses to contradict the birling family is another way in which dramatic effect is achieved in this piece, and one such example of this is ‘I don’t play golf.’ This shows that the Inspector is telling Birling that he does not care for any threats from him and that he will carry out his duty no matter what. It is an example of when Birling has tried to assert his authority, but has been immediately shut down by the Inspector, further emphasising his pure dominance of the room. In addition, the longer phrase ‘Miss Birling… with her responsibility’ shows how the inspector is pinning the blame on everyone, not just one person.
The order in which the Inspector chooses to interrogate the family creates a lot of dramatic effect also, as he chooses to interview them all in a chronological sequence except for the final two people, which is again done to add effect. Priestley enjoys manipulating time in his plays, and I believe that this is an example of where he does that superbly. By putting them into some sort of order, the Inspector is showing that he knows more than he is letting on, and this adds tension as we begin to realise that the Inspector is not all that he seems. However, the final two interrogations are the wrong way around chronologically, but they work together to create an impressive dramatic effect. By hearing Mrs. Birling’s side of the story first, the Inspector manages to turn her against her own family, making her say that ‘he should be made an example of’ and that ‘it’s due to him’ that all of this happened. This is very clever writing from Priestley, as it makes the family turn against one another and this adds dramatic effect to the play. The timing of the Inspector’s actions in the play, for example ringing the doorbell immediately after one of Birling’s speeches, act as a way of discrediting everything that he has just said without blatantly opposing it. One thing Priestley does well is that he hides his political agendas in his plays, only insinuating his message but rarely ever stating it. Birling has just stated to Gerald that ‘a man has to look after himself and his own’ and then the one character who opposes these views ‘cuts in, massively.’ The way in which time is used in the play is fascinating, and it suggests a more eerie atmosphere to the entire play, especially when the phone rings again at the end and time seems to repeat itself.
Another key role of the inspector is to act as a catalyst for action in the play. He is often seen to be speeding the action in the play up and forcing the confessions out of the other characters. This helps to keep the play flowing and means that all of the action can be linked more easily, and overall this makes the play more enjoyable and watchable, especially when this genre of play can seem to ‘drag on’ a little. Priestley uses this speed to help to convey his message to the audience as quickly as possible and ensure that they all absorb all of the information available in the shortest time possible.
In conclusion, the character of the Inspector is used in many ways as a dramatic device, both to convey Priestley’s real world political views and the Inspector’s own agenda within the setting of the play. He controls and dominates the situation at all times and acts as a ‘puppet master’ figure in the play, allowing him to interrogate the family as he wishes. He also creates much tension in his language and in his actions, and he is an almost omnipresent character within the play’s universe.
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