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Essay

What is important about the period of time in which Priestley set An Inspector Calls, and why did he do this?

Write about:
The importance of the period of time in which the play was set
How Priestley uses this period of time to present his ideas to the audience

Priestley wrote a play that utilises messages of social responsibility, feminism and socialism in a time before the noticeable social change occurred. Seemingly, Priestley has lost hope in the older generation and therefore, he uses his younger characters to show the result of the change he wished to seek. He then uses his older characters to reveal why such change is necessary.

Firstly, Priestley uses stage directions and dramatic irony to emphasise his meticulous choice of the time period. The setting is in “an evening in Spring 1912”. It is purposefully before World War One. At that time, it was considered a war to end all wars until World War Two occurred only twenty years later. As well as this, the noun “Spring” is a symbol of rebirth, hope and optimism, suggesting that life for the outcasts of society will get better. The audience is aware that it did. Priestley also uses characterisation to reveal his careful choice of the time period. It is made clear by Mr Birling’s arrogance which Priestley shows through dramatic irony. Mr Birling states that the Titanic is, “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable”. Dramatic irony is evident here as the 1945 audience would have been well aware that the ship sank on its maiden voyage. As the play is about the tragedy of a suicide (Eva Smith), it creates a sense of foreshadowing. Priestley has used repetition of the adjective “unsinkable” to emphasise the level of condescension at the time. Birling makes a plethora of incorrect predictions of the future of society. Ultimately, the audience mocks the foolish hubris.


Priestley again uses characterisation to reveal his careful choice of the time period through the character of Mrs Birling. Even though she has a high status, she is still a victim of misogyny and circumstance. It was when the suffragettes were very active. However, women didn't have the right to vote. She was thrust into a society that made her believe that “girls of that class” weren't worthy. It actively demonstrates that she had to choose between her class or gender to survive. Priestley’s use of the abstract noun “class” exemplifies that Mrs Birling was more loyal to her class than her gender. Later on, she has to make a difficult decision on whether to believe Eva Smith but she ultimately doesn’t. It is made abundantly clear when she states, “I didn't see any reason to believe that one story should be truer than the other”. Eva Smith had lied to her about her name and who the father of her child was, so it was reasonable for her to have her doubts. Priestley had done this due to the time of the 1945 election, which brought the welfare state. He provided a commentary on how ineffective charity run organisations were. It resulted in the death of Eva Smith and her unborn child. Eva Smith and her child may not have died if they had the Welfare as it is not their job to make moral judgements. It may have made the audience inclined to vote for the Labour party as they were the ones who were bringing in the proposal. There would be a sense of disdain and understanding for Mrs Birling as she was a victim of her gender but she is unremorseful about the collateral damage she caused.

Finally, Priestley illustrates this through the character of Gerald Croft, someone who exploits pain for his personal gain. He cheats on Sheila who is forced to accept his infidelity in return for financial security and social status and he sexually exploits Eva. As an exemplification, he says that “she’d lived very economically on what I allowed her” which implies a sense of ownership he had over her, dehumanising her. Eva wasn’t allowed to be financially independent even after losing her job. Moreover, he “had the key to a nice little set of rooms” which establishes his premeditation and desire for free sex. This is further made clear with the adjective, “nice” which conveys that he had been looking forward to the frivolous affair. Gerald had the most to gain. He would’ve been old enough to avoid fighting in World War One but young enough to use anguish during World War Two to his advantage. Whereas, the other characters would have likely been dead by then. Therefore, this puzzles the audience as someone seemingly the most innocent was a symbol of everything that was wrong in the world.

To conclude, Priestley depicts a time where society was mayhem to highlight how important it is for time to evolve. Two of the biggest tragedies in history occurred during the play’s setting and performing date. It was a warning to avoid repeating history again.

Can I have feedback and a rough estimate of my mark?
A very good essay. Check you have answered the question however.

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