J.B.Priestley’s Use of Genre, Tension, Characterisation, and Irony

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How does J.B.Priestley interest the audience in the contrast betweenthe ideas and beliefs of Authur Birling and Inspector Goole, in AnInspector Calls?

In this essay I hope to identify and discuss J.B.Priestley’s use ofgenre, tension, characterisation, irony and any other factors thatcontribute to making this play a success. A successful play is onethat keeps the audience’s interest throughout, and this is one suchplay. The two main characters in question are Authur Birling andInspector Goole. They are very contrasting characters in almost everyway. Apart from discussing these differences, it will also beinteresting to see how Priestley keeps to the detective thrillergenre, while conveying a moral lesson, and also not focusing too muchon Birling and the Inspector’s views on social and moral issues of theperiod. I will also use key aspects of the play like the speeches madeby both Birling and the Inspector. The conclusion I hope to make willbe on the basic ways in which Priestley engineered this specific playto suit the needs of the audience and engage them in the play hewanted them to see.

J.B.Priestley’s play on the moral issues of the 1940’s can relate toany era. ‘An Inspector Calls’ is a play in the guise of a detectivethriller genre (although no imprisonable offence has been committed).Priestley had to disguise his play because at the time (1947, justafter the end of the war), the most popular types of play were thosewritten by famous crime and detective thriller authors, such as AgathaChristie and Emlyn Williams. His play, similar to the originalmorality plays of the late middle ages, but written in a more modern,secular manner, wasn’t the type of play that was attracting themasses. To gain the audience he needed to make ‘An Inspector Calls’ asuccess it assumed the disguise of a detective thriller.

Priestley was very interested in exploring time. This is shown in ‘AnInspector Calls’ as the play was written in 1947 but is set in 1912.Priestley is able to use hindsight to make comments on events withdramatic irony. Birling makes his ironic speeches about the good timesahead, the ‘unsinkable Titanic’, and ‘prosperity that will make warimpossible’, to characters that are unaware of future events and thelessons they will be forced to learn in ‘fire, blood, and anguish’.For the audience the Inspector’s view of the world is an alternativeto that presented by Birling. Priestley’s influences for themanipulation of time are two theories: Ouspensky’s ‘A New Model of theUniverse’, and Dunne’s idea that individuals could look forward aswell

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