What reactions does Priestley intend the audience to have to the content of the play? How does he set about achieving them? Do you think he is successful in achieving his intentions? Do you think a modern audience would react in the same way? J. B. Priestley wants the audience to understand social responsibility, that everyone’s actions have consequences. This play was first performed in 1946 but it was set in 1912 before both of the wars. In 1946 the Second World War had just ended so the audience would have welcomed the idea of social responsibility.
When World War Two ended the people in Britain were unwilling to go back to the way the country was before. Previously to the war the social class of people was very important. Rich people had more opportuities and rights than poor people. In the war rich and poor people fought side-by-side against the enemy so the class barriers were broken down. When the soldiers returned to Britain they were promised ‘a land fit for Heros’ but it turned out that the goverment just wanted Britain to go back to normal.
The people did not want to go back to the way the country was before the war so in the next election they voted the Conservatives out (who led them through the war) and the labour party in. They did this because labour promised everything that the people of Britain wanted but did not have. They promised a National Health Service (NHS), better public housing and free public education. J. B. Priestley was a commited socialist that’s why he wrote the play, to communicate his views to other people. He achieves this in three main ways. By the characters he uses, the structure of the play and the stagecraft.
The first character I am going to talk about is Mr Birling. Mr Birling is a pompous man who is only concerned with wealth and status: “You see, I was Lord Mayer here two years ago when Royalty visited” – Mr Birling. Mr Birling is only interested in himself and his family and he advises that other men should do the same as he does. Aslong as his family and himself are happy then that’s all that matters it does not matter if their actions affect other people: “That a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own” – Mr Birling.
This quote is Mr Birling’s philosophy of life. When he finds out about Eva Smith he shows no sympathy towards her and does not seem to care: “Yes, yes. Horrid business. But I don’t understand why you should come here, inspector. ” – Mr Birling. Even after he finds out that the suicide of Eva Smith did have something to do with him. He sacked her from his factory for wanting a little bit more money a week, he still does not seem to care and says that he had good reason to sack her and that it couldn’t have been the reason she killed herself:
“Obviously it has nothing whatever to do with the wretched girls suicide” – Mr Birling. When the inspector turns out to be a fake Mr Birling wants to go back to his old ways and forget it ever happened. He does not learn anything from what the inspector said. “We’ve been had, that’s all. ” – Mr Birling. “You’re ready to go on in the same old way” – Shiela. J. B. Priestley does not want the audience to like or sympathise with Mr Birling and achieves this by making Mr Birling look foolish: “The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war. ” – Mr Birling.
This would make Mr Birling look foolish because the audience in 1946 would know that the Germans did want war. The next character that I am going to talk about is Mrs Birling. Mrs Birling is a very cold, unfeeling woman who is distant from her children and does not know them at all. For example, she does not know that her son is a heavy drinker: “You don’t get drunk. ” – Mrs Birling to Eric. When Mrs Birling finds out that she is also involved in Eva Smith’s suicide she accepts no responsibilty for it: “But I accept no blame for it at all. ” – Mrs Birling.
Mrs Birling is on the committee for a charity that helps women who are in need. When Eva Smith goes to the committee for help, Mrs Birling persuades the committee not to give her help because she did not believe her story. “All a lot of nonsense. I didn’t believe a word of it. ” – Mrs Birling. Mrs Birling thought that Eva Smith’s feelings did not count because she was a poor person and she should marry the man who got her pregnant no matter what she felt: “She was claiming elaborate fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd in a girl in her position.
” – Mrs Birling Mrs Birling, like her husband does not change when she finds out the inspector was a fake: “In the morning they’ll be as amused as we are. ” – Mrs Birling. Here, she is talking about Eric and Shiela because they do not agree with their parents and do not find the death of Eva Smith amusing. Shiela, unlike her parents does change, even when she finds out that the inspector is a fake: “Everything we said had happened really did happened. ” – Shiela. At the beginning of the play Shiela is young, attractive and has just become engaged.
She is also a spoilt young woman. She gets Eva Smith sacked from her second job, after her fathers mill, at Milwards. Shiela had Eva sacked bacuse she was jealous of her. Eva looked better in a dress than Shiela so Shiela had her sacked out of jealousy. “You might be said to have been jealous of her. ” – Inspector “Yes I suppose I was. ” – Shiela. When Shiela realises the consequences of her actions, that it was Eva’s last proper job, she begins to change. She realises that the class or status of a person does not matter.