JB Priestly showed his ideas, about Edwardians, through the characters and play that he wrote. He thought that during the Edwardian times, everyone wasn’t treated fairly and someone should show everyone the truth. During that time, there were many different classes, and the poor should stay poor and the rich should stay rich. The classes shouldn’t mix. In the Edwardian times, women were treated inferior to men. They were expected to cook, clean and look after the children during the day, and make sure that their husbands’ food was ready laid on the table for when they came home form work. They were not expected to work and men thought women didn’t know anything anyway.
JB Priestly put the events in chronological order, which was a very important part of the whole play. By putting it in order it showed the stages that Eva Smith went through, and how everyone played a small part in her death. Priestly thought that people were responsible for one another. He thought that everyone should look out for one another. However, the character that he created, Mr. Birling, thought that it was every man for himself. The Edwardian society treated all workers unfairly and most got away with it. The owners paid all of the workers the minimum wage, and no one could do anything about it as it was legal. Priestly used Inspector Goole as a voice to express his thoughts. For example in Inspector Goole’s final speech, he said that everyone was responsible for everyone else, which is was Priestly thought.
The whole play takes place in one room. Act One starts when everyone is at the dinner table and they are celebrating Sheila and Gerald’s engagement. They are all dressed up for the dinner and are all very happy. The lighting is soft and romantic. Their furniture shows they are rich but not very friendly and welcoming. “It has good solid furniture of the period. The general effect is substantial and heavily comfortable but not cosy and homelike.” Their table wear is also just as elegant.
JB Priestly describes each character briefly before the play starts, and what they look like shows us a part of their personalities. Mr. Birling is described as “a heavy looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties.” This shows he thinks a lot of himself and is very proud of himself. The word “portentous” tells us that he thinks he’s very important.
Before the Inspector arrives Mr. Birling is in the middle of a speech he is making for Sheila and Gerald. He says “you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as id we were all mixed up together, like bees in a hive – community and all that nonsense” … “a man has to mind his own business and look after his own – and – .” This shows that he doesn’t think that he should be responsible for helping anyone else and thinks it’s every man for himself. Then the Inspector walks in and everything changes. The atmosphere completely changes and all attention is directed towards him. The lights suddenly go brighter and harder and sort of yellow, which signifies the truth. This is to show that the Inspector is here to find out the truth. The Inspector is described as “Not a big man but creates an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness.” This shows that he is here for a reason and knows what he has to do.
At this moment the audience is wondering why the Inspector is here and so he briefly explains why he is here. He says what happened to Eva Smith, that she committed suicide by drinking bleach whilst pregnant. He then starts to question Mr. Birling. He starts with him because he is the first person that met Eva Smith and questions each person in order, except Mrs. Birling and Eric. This is because the story would not fit together as we would have to know what Mrs. Birling thought before Eric was blamed.
The Inspector questions Mr. Birling, but at first he does not remember who she is. He is shown a photo of her and then remembers her, but the Inspector is careful not to show anyone else the photo at the same time. This shows that when he is questioning one person he doesn’t want anyone else to get involved and just wants to get to the bottom of that person’s answers.
Next to be questioned is Sheila. She is described as “pretty” and “very pleased with life and rather excited”. Sheila got Eva Smith fired at her work because she was in a bad mood and feels very guilty for what she has done. When she tells everyone what she has done she runs off stage crying to show she is ashamed of what she has done and that she knows that it’s wrong. However, she comes back onto the stage and stays there because she is not afraid to face up to her responsibilities and actions. Sheila realizes early on, that the Inspector is no ordinary man and that he knows everything already. She is the only one that realizes this. In Act Two, there is a pause when she looks at him but then her attention is turned to Mr. Birling who strolls through the door, to speak to the Inspector in a “social” manner.
Then it is Gerald’s turn to be questioned. He is described as a “well – bred young man – about – town”. The Inspector says that Eva Smith changed her name to “Daisy Renton” and Gerald immediately looks up and interrupts the Inspector. This shows that he knows her and he knows her very well. However, when the Inspector first asks him he denies knowing her but he knows he has given himself away. Before he answers anything he goes to the counter to pour himself a drink, which shows he feels uneasy and he tries to play with time. Then he goes outside with Sheila, and tells her briefly about his affair with Daisy Renton. He doesn’t want to tell her too much because he doesn’t want her to know and find out what exactly went on between them. Then the act finishes and everyone has to wait until the next act to see what went on between Daisy Renton and Gerald. At the end of his questioning Gerald leaves the house and says he is going for a walk. This is because he wants to think about what has happened and wants to find out who this Inspector is. He wants to know how he knows so much. Then he comes back and he is in a much happier mood, because he finds out that the Inspector is not a proper inspector and feels relieved.
When the curtains are pulled up ready for Act Two, everyone is in exactly the same position as they were when the curtains went down. “At rise the scene and situation are exactly the same as they were at the end of Act One. The Inspector remains at the door, for a few moments looking at Sheila and Gerald”. This shows that the Inspector already knows that Gerald knows this girl very well.
Then it’s Mrs. Birling’s turn, and she is the Inspector’s most difficult character to crack. He is very stern with her because he knows that if he is as compromising as he was with Sheila she won’t tell the truth. She is described as “a rather cold woman and her husband’s social superior”. The stage directions say that her behavior at first is that she is “smiling” and “social”, but this is fake as we know by her character description that she is a cold hard woman. When she looks at the photograph, she looks “hard” at it, which shows she is concentrating. It could also mean that she doesn’t like the person. Before she decides to tell the truth, she pauses, thinking to herself if she should tell or not. When she does finally explain what happened, she states her opinions very clearly. She says that the man who got her pregnant should be publicly named and shamed. She is so adamant, that she does not realize the trap that the Inspector has laid out for her. Sheila and the audience realize that the young man is Eric. Act Two ends on a cliff hanger.
Lastly, Eric needs to be questioned. He is described as “not quite at ease, half – shy, half – assertive”. It shows that he keeps to himself most of the time and is in his own world. Act Three begins with Eric walking in, and everyone knows what he has done. The first thing he does is pour himself a drink. When he does this he does is so well, that the audience realize that he’s familiar with how to pour drinks and must have an alcohol problem. The audience is shown how troubled he already is, without even telling us his story. He does tell the truth straight away and feels most responsible for Eva Smith’s death.
The Inspector has finished questioning everyone, and hopes that everyone understands that they have done something wrong. However, it is only Sheila and Eric who feel guilty and regret for what they have done. Mr. and Mrs. Birling think they have done nothing wrong and they played no part in Eva Smith’s death. When he leaves he has everyone’s attention and severely warns all of them. Then he walks out having the last word. After he has left all the characters are “staring, subdued and wondering” and the only noise that is made is from Sheila’s “crying”. Then Mr. Birling moves “hesitatingly” and has some of his whiskey. He then starts to “angrily” speak to Eric about how he has shamed the family name and how he cannot get his knighthood now. Eric responds by “laughing hysterically” at him still being worried about his knighthood. Then the whole family starts blaming each other. The argument suddenly stops when Gerald rings the bell. “They all look at each other in alarm”, this shows the Inspector has had an effect on them and has shaken them.
Everyone then turns their attentions towards Gerald and the mood changes. The atmosphere becomes more relaxed when Gerald explains that there is no Inspector Goole. Gerald and Mrs. Birling clearly state their views “triumphantly”, that they think that this may have been a hoax. Gerald then phones the infirmary to see if a dead body has been brought in, that committed suicide. The family shows “their nervous tension”: Mr. Birling “wipes his brow”, Sheila “shivers” and Eric “clasps and unclasps his hands”. The audience also doesn’t know what has happened as they are hearing a one – sided phone call, and anxiously wait to see what happens. The infirmary said that they haven’t had a suicide body for months and then they are all convinced that Inspector Goole was an impersonator. They all have different reactions to what happens when they find out that there is no Inspector. Mr. Birling “produces a huge sigh of relief”, to show he knows his knighthood is still protected. Gerald and Mrs. Birling smile showing that they are happy no one knows about what has happened. However, Sheila is more tense and passionate because she realizes that she has done wrong and is remorseful. She does not think that everything is all right and is not happy that everyone is relieved.
Mr. and Mrs. Birling then start going on about how no one knows of their deeds and how Mr. Birling’s knighthood is still protected. Simultaneously, Eric and Sheila are still guilty and make the audience feel that something is still wrong. Again Mr. Birling is talking about everything being a joke when the phone rings, “sharply” interrupting him. Then everything turns silent and the audience knows something is going wrong and something bad is going to happen. When he puts the phone down he is in shock and is very worried. He repeats what he has just been told, that a girl has died after drinking bleach and an Inspector is on their way to question them. The characters “stare guiltily” and “dumbfounded”, as the curtain comes down.
The timing and stage directions are very important in any murder mystery because even the slightest things give clues about the characters. Their feelings, thoughts, movements and appearances can give clues about what kind of person they are. Timing is especially important as it gives the audience a chance to guess what is going to happen next. The audience is left with a cliff hanger because they are not shown at all what is going to happen to the characters when they are questioned by another inspector.