Each of the five candles will signify a member of the family and Gerald Croft. The central candle will represent Mrs. Birling, who I perceive to hold the most responsibility for the girl’s suicide. The table itself is instructed to “have no cloth”, therefore directly exposing the cold, hard wood. This shows how devoid of compassion Mr. and Mrs. Birling are in their actions. Glasses, crockery and cutlery should be expensive and food and drink abundant. The presence of these things, along with the “decanter of port, cigar box and cigarettes” are yet another symbol of the social status of the characters.
The fact that food and drink are so plentiful illustrates a hunger for more wealth, capital and higher social status. The overall purpose of the set and props is to show the status and attitudes of the characters, whilst also creating a suitable tone for the play, and facilitating a successful conveyance of its meaning. The costume of the characters should be typical of the period, elegant and made from such luxurious materials as silk, satin and lace. Mr. Birling, Gerald Croft and Eric Birling should wear “tails and white ties”. Mr.
Birling and Gerald should also have gold wristwatches and cufflinks, to represent their wealth and standing. These also reflect the self importance and pompous nature of the men, and provide an exaggerated expression of their personality for the audience. The lack of such opulent items in Eric’s dress will suggest how he has a different attitude to the other men, and feels less of a compulsion to show off his status at all times. It also makes him stand out less, as at the point of the Inspector’s entrance, his character seems to fade into the background. Mrs.
Birling and Shelia should wear expensive evening dresses, and jewellery. Mrs. Birling’s dress should be dark and rich in colour, and she will wear gold, gem-encrusted necklaces. The colour of her dress represents how seriously she takes herself, and how she thinks she is superior to others and above reprimand. Shelia should have a paler, neutral coloured dress, and wear simple jewellery. The fact that her clothes are more demure symbolises how she, like Eric, has a different character to the other Birlings and Gerald. They both belong to the younger generation, and are more willing to listen to the Inspector.
The Inspector himself should wear “a plain darkish suit of the period”, a bowler hat, and should have muddy shoes which he should make no effort to wipe or remove as he enters the house. The austere nature of his clothes embodies his no-nonsense attitude, and how he awakens the characters to the harsh reality of events. It also represents how he has a lower social status than the Birlings, and therefore has nothing to shield him from the consequences of his actions. His dirty shoes symbolise how he has had to deal with unpleasant things, which the Birlings have been blissfully unaware of before this point.
By treading dirt into their house, it shows how the Inspector does not treat the Birlings differently because of their social status, and in order to get his point across is even rude. He has a more serious and deeper existence, and does not need to reinforce his position in society with the clothes he wears. The costumes of the characters provide a visual representation of their attitudes and social status, helping the audience to identify their role in the play. Another device that can be used to enhance the atmosphere of the play is music and sound effects.
In the period that the play is set, music was not as accessible as it is today, and was therefore another symbol of status and wealth. Before the Inspector arrives, there should be classical music in the background, to create a formal and supercilious atmosphere. When the Inspector arrives and rings the doorbell, it should be loud and piercing, to capture the attention of the audience. It also illustrates how disruptive the sudden appearance of the Inspector is. Music and sound effects have a crucial part in the play as they can be utilised to transform moods, reflect feelings and subconsciously set views in the audience’s mind.
When the doorbell rings to announce the arrival of Inspector Goole, Mr. Birling is cut short in the middle of a passionate speech, which embodies his views on life, and political beliefs. This intrusion has an important symbolism within the play. The stage directions state “we hear the sharp ring of a front doorbell… Birling stops to listen”. The other characters’ attention is also drawn to the mysterious figure that has unexpectedly appeared to interrupt their celebrations. An actor playing Mr. Birling should deliver his speech in a self important and arrogant manner, and should appear indignant when disrupted.
The dismissive way in which he talks about people with opposing views, “We can’t let these Bernard Shaws and H. G. Wellses do all the talking”, shows how bigoted and narrow minded he is. The character of Mr. Birling is used to represent capitalism and it’s somewhat selfish ideals. The Inspector champions the values of responsibility and accountability, and he represents socialism. The abrupt way in which Mr. Birling’s old fashioned and outdated views are cut short challenges his role as head of the household, and the way in which he lives his life.
The Inspector presents an alternative ideology to the younger generation of the family. This confrontation represents the theme of capitalism vs. socialism in the play, and makes the audience consider the merits of each, and maybe even question how they live their own lives. When the Inspector has introduced himself, and is asked the purpose of his visit, he uses vivid language to describe the death of Eva Smith, which has a significant effect on the other characters. He says, “a young woman died… swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant… burnt her inside out, of course… great agony”.
In using such a graphic description, the Inspector is able to show the Birlings what serious consequences their actions have had. The inappropriate language he uses establishes the fact that his investigation will not be a comfortable process. The word “burnt” is very emotive, and gives a sense of how savage and brutal the girl’s death was. When saying these words, an actor should speak in an offhand manner, which is emphasised by phrases such as “of course”. This stark contrast between the subject matter and the way it is delivered will make the description even more effective, and add to the strange and mysterious nature of the character.
The audience is introduced to the Inspector in a dramatic way, and this prepares them for the crucial role he will have throughout the play. The entrance of Inspector Goole is a pivotal moment in the play, and should be as dramatic and mysterious as possible. The audience perception of his character can be influenced by the way in which the other characters in the play react to him. Devices such as costume, set, props, lighting and sound can also be used to establish the atmosphere and tone of the play.
The character of the Inspector is used to make people look at themselves critically, and challenge their opinion of others. He has a profound affect on the lives of the Birlings and Gerald Croft, and will make any audience consider whether they really appreciate the full consequences of their actions.