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How does Priestley use the relationships between the various characters to bring out and develop the dramatic qualities of the play Essay Sample

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How does Priestley use the relationships between the various characters to bring out and develop the dramatic qualities of the play Essay Sample

In ‘An Inspector Calls’, there are four immensely strong and prominent relationships, which do not simply add dramatic effect, but are responsible for making the play work at all. These are the relationship between the Birling family members, the relationship between the Birlings and other people, most importantly the Crofts, the relationship between Shelia and Gerald, and, less specifically, the relationship between the different social classes. The relationship between the Birling family (in particular the parents) and the Inspector is also part of the relationship between social classes.

The way that the parents treat their children in the Birling family creates great misunderstanding and distrust between them. Arthur Birling’s great preoccupation with his social standing and the way in which he and his family are viewed by the Crofts makes him develop a great likeness for Gerald. Finally, the way in which the Birling parents look down upon the Inspector and try from the outset to assert their authority over him creates dramatic tension when he overrules and belittles them. These points will all be detailed on later.

The Birling household has a definite feudal system, or at least in the mind of Author Birling. Mr Birling is the head of the household, the decision maker, the wisest of them, and most important. His wife is second to him, except when it comes to management of the house, and other such female affairs of course. His wife however is of a higher social class, and Birling, his wife and the audience know that. Later in the play, when Mrs Birling is attempting to assert her class supremacy over the Inspector this is shown, and creates drama within the household.

The two children are equals, for although Shelia is the eldest, Eric is Birlings only make heir, and he seeks to shape him into a fit one. ‘Just let me finish, Eric. You’ve got a lot to learn yet. ‘ The Birling parents also assume a great deal about their children, and are very biased towards them. You could say this about nearly all parents, however, but the Birlings automatically assume the best of their children, and instantly dismiss thought of their wrongdoing. They do this not through parental admiration, but through simple ignorance.

For example, Birling and Gerald, when talking about the possibility of Birling being knighted, joke about Eric getting into trouble: ‘(Lightly) Unless Eric’s been up to something. (Nodding confidentially to Birling. ) And that would be awkward, wouldn’t it? ‘ The Birling children, although they have respect for their parents, which is proved by the way they are silenced by Birling in the beginning, often correct them.

‘I’m sorry, Daddy. Actually I was listening. ‘ Most notably, Shelia corrects Birling on many occasions. I’d hate you to know all about port – like one of those purple faced old men. ‘ ‘But then you don’t know all about port. ‘ Because of the ignorance that they have of their children, and because of the relationship between the parents and children, in which the parents demand respect that is not always given, it causes great tension when the children’s wrongdoings are discovered, most notably in the case of Eric. As the Inspector slowly reveals Eric’s involvement with Eva Smith, he uses Mrs Birling’s ignorance of her son to lure her into unknowingly condemning him.

He is the chief culprit certainly, and should be dealt with severely. ‘ The audience realise that it is her own son she is condemning, as does Shelia, and so the tension mounts. ‘(With sudden alarm) Stop – mother – stop! ‘ When the Inspector reveals that their precious son, heir to the Birling Empire, was the culprit, it is a moment of great shock, and therefore of moment of huge drama in the play, as the parents react: ‘(Thunderstruck) My God! But – look here! ‘ ‘I don’t believe it! I won’t believe it! ‘

As Eric enters and the audience eagerly wait for the confrontation with his parents, the curtains drop and create another ‘cliff hanger’ act ending, in a similar yet more dramatic way than Act 1 was ended. As the Inspector questions Eric and further details of his involvement arise, he shamefully sees the extent of what his mother has done ‘You haven’t made it any easier for me, have you, Mother? ‘ We know that relations in the Birling family are now at breaking point, and tension mounts.

Then Eric shouts at his sister ‘You told her! Why, you little sneak! The relationship between Eric and his Sister seems to be of love and hate. At the beginning of the play, they teased each other: ‘You’re squiffy! ‘ ‘Don’t be an ass, Eric’ ‘Steady the buffs! ‘ Eric has probably never before spoken to his sister in the way he does now, however, and this adds a greater sense of drama to the play. Eric seems to break down under the Inspector’s questioning, and screams insults at his family ‘Damn you! Damn you! ‘ The Birling family relationship that Priestly has built up has been broken down now with great drama.

The relationship between Birlings and other people of the same or higher social standing is very much a fronted one. Birling is very eager to see his daughter marry Gerald, most probably because of the business benefits for him. ‘When Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing, but working together – for lower costs and higher prices. ‘ He also favours the social standing of the Croft family ‘Lady Croft feels you might have done better socially. ‘ He therefore looks kindly upon Gerald, who is his ticket to greater success, both financially and socially.

Dramatic tension is created when he finds out about Gerald’s affair, and the audience wait to see if he will condemn him, something that he does not do. In addition, Birling is defensive of Aldermand Meggarty, who he does know to be a womanising drunk, however he would never say such a thing or have any of his family say it. He exclaims ‘Shelia! ‘ when she remarks about Meggarty. Shelia and Gerald’s marriage may be a convenient improvement of the Croft’s business relationship with the Birlings, but their marriage certainly is not a token; and they do love each other.

There are places in the play when they ‘silently stare at each other’ and ‘kiss hastily’. Although it is arguable that Shelia does love Gerald’s money, when she finds out about his affair she is genuinely upset, and this is displayed by her deep cynicism towards Gerald. ‘Why – you fool – he knows! ‘ In addition, Shelia and her movements and sentences are often described as ‘hysterical’ in the stage directions. This happens suddenly after Gerald’s affair is revealed to her, and not after she learns of her responsibility for the death, and is therefore a sign of her deep feelings for Gerald and how she is damaged by his actions.

When the loving relationship of Shelia and Gerald is broken, it is an emotional, dramatic moment. It is the type of thing used countless numbers of times by modern day soap operas. As the audience wait to see what will happen to this relationship, the Inspector re-enters the room, and character relationships create another ‘cliff hanger’ act ending. The Birling’s are very class-conscious, especially the parents.

The Inspector creates huge dramatic tension with these two by confronting them, accusing them, belittling them, and asserting his superiority over them. I don’t want any of it from either of you! ‘ ‘I warn you, you’re making it worse for yourself’ ‘I think you did something terribly wrong’. The self-righteous, self-assertive Birling will have none of this at first ‘Look here, Inspector, I consider this uncalled for and officious! ‘ He also threatens the Inspector, discreetly at first, then more obviously: ‘How do you get on with our Chief Inspector, Colonel Roberts? ‘ ‘I’ve got a good mind to report you! ‘ The Inspector, of course is completely un-phased by Birling: ‘I don’t see that much of him’, he replies to his first threat.

The Inspector is without doubt the most dramatic devise Priestly uses in the play, and creates more drama and tension than anyone else; therefore, his relationship with the Birlings is the most dramatic of all. The way the Birling parents view Eva Smith and other woman like her is also an important point in creating dramatic tension in the play. At the end, it is quite clearly shown how different the children are from the parents on their view of her, and the family is torn even more because of it.

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