In the play ‘An Inspector Calls’, the author – J.B. Priestly – uses alcohol as a dramatic device throughout. A dramatic device is anything that can be used for any effect. Alcohol plays a very important part in the play, although not always in an explicit manner. It is used to reveal and unravel characters and it helps drive the plot. Alcohol is also very cleverly to illustrate the flaws in Edwardian society.
Alcohol plays a big part in influencing the Birling family and exploiting their individual connections to the murdered girl, Eva Smith. In act one, Priestly uses alcohol to demonstrate the family’s wealth with a dinner party in celebration of Gerald’s engagement to Sheila. Here, Mr. Birling is showing off to Gerald and trying to show that his family is just as wealthy as Gerald’s. He does this by commenting on the similarities in the types of alcohol drank by Mr. Birling and Gerald’s father. “Giving us the port Edna?… It’s exactly the same port your father gets”. This quote demonstrates Mr. Birling’s authority and tells us that he is concerned about his social status, and that to him, drinking the same alcohol as Gerald’s family makes him just as good as they are.
Mr. Birling fires Eva Smith from her job which sets off a whole chain of events that eventually leads to her suicide. He decides to fire her because she asked for a pay rise and Mr. Birling was too proud to worry about lower class people. Mr. Birling thinks of himself as an important upper class man, that cannot afford to spend more than minimum wage on his lower class workers. This is shown throughout the play as he strives to only drink alcohol that is as good as or better than those above him would drink. Even at the end of the play, after everyone in the family has been named and shamed as having something to do with Eva’s death, Mr. Birling still hasn’t changed his prejudice ways. After everything that had been said that evening, he still goes and asks the family if they want a drink. This shows that he thinks himself – and his family – too posh to have any hand in the death of Eva smith, even though everything had been proven that same evening.
Priestly also uses alcohol in the relationships of the characters (e.g. Gerald and Eva, Eric and Daisy (Eva Smith’s alias), Eric and his parents, etc.). This is first demonstrated when Gerald meets Eva in a bar. The fact that he met her in a bar ties in with the whole theme of alcohol. At first, Gerald tries to seduce Eva with alcohol but then because of the alcohol he had drank, he then tried to rape her. Eric and Daisy’s affair is also alcohol induced. Eric gets her pregnant and then tries to offer her money, but she won’t accept it because she knows he is a drunk and the money is probably stolen. Then, when Daisy goes to a women’s organization to ask for help getting her life on track, Mrs. Birling turns her away because – carrying Eric’s baby – Daisy pronounces herself as Mrs. Birling (Eric’s would be wife). Mrs. Birling starts to think her a liar and is convinced when she says that the father of her child was “silly and wild and drinking too much”.
Alcohol is used by Priestly to outline the chain of events leading to Eva’s suicide. First, the alcohol lover Mr. Birling refuses to pay her more than minimum wage. Then, she meets a drunken Gerald in a bar and becomes his ‘thing on the side’. Next, she is impregnated by an alcoholic (Eric). After that she is turned away by Mrs. Birling, who has no problem fitting in with a corrupt ‘alcoholic’ society. Lastly, she actually kills herself by drinking some disinfectant.
The author J.B. Priestly uses alcohol to illustrate flaws in Edwardian society e.g. class inequality, double standards between men and women, hypocrisy (e.g. pretending to be one thing but being/doing another). In the play, some people are of a different class, and those that are upper class love to show it off using mostly alcohol. Also, during the play, it was revealed that Gerald was having an affair with Eva smith, but no-one except Sheila saw anything wrong with this. This was because of the Edwardian double standards. In those days men were expected to have affairs and think nothing of it, but if a woman strayed from her marital home, there would be severe punishments to follow.
In conclusion, I think J.B. Priestly uses alcohol as a very good dramatic device because it’s behind every main event in the story and it fuels the plot. Also, alcohol is used to link everyone in the story together and it’s used cleverly to unravel and reveal a lot of the hypocrisies in the play. Put short, the story wouldn’t be the same if Priestly had decided not to use alcohol as a dramatic device.