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THEMES

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THEMES

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  1. THEMES • Social responsibility vs. individual greed • We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. So states Inspector Goole in his final speech. His character can be seen as a device to voice Priestley’s views about social responsibility. To what extent do the other characters learn from their encounter with Goole, and how far do members of the audience agree with him?

  2. Older vs. younger generations • Why are Mr and Mrs Birling so much more concerned about the potential for “public scandal” than the consequences of their behaviour? Sheila and Eric Birling represent the future: surely there is still time for them to change and adapt to the new order? Can their relationships with the other characters, more entrenched in their views and social positions, survive?

  3. Status and power vs dispossessed • At first, the main characters are united in their desire for social status. The arrival of Inspector Goole undermines the natural paths of authority within the household, so how does power shift as the action progresses?

  4. The place of women vs men • Represented by Sybil and Sheila Birling, the servant Edna and the invisible but omnipresent Eva/ Daisy, women are seen variously as innocents, social climbers, victims and suspects. How are issues of gender played out and do they enrich or detract from the moral and political messages?

  5. Revise Themes vs character motivation • Social responsibility vs. individual responsibility? • Older vs younger generation • Status and power vs dispossessed • The place of women vs men

  6. PRIESTLEY’S INTENTIONS AND HOW A 1945 AUDIENCE MAY HAVE REACTED • The play is set two years before the outbreak of WW1. Looking back on it now, or from the perspective of 1945, the Edwardian era appears like a secure time: Britain had an empire, an unrivalled Navy and was wealthy. For people like the Birlings, times were good. But, as we have seen, for those like Eva, they were not so good. Although Edwardian society might seem comfortable with hindsight, it was very uncomfortable for the majority who lived in it. • Priestley might not be trying to produce an advertisement for socialism, but he does point out the serious flaws in a society that allows treatment of someone like Eva alongside the privilege of the Birlings.

  7. The theatrical context In the 1940s theatres were competing for audiences with the cinema. The most popular form of theatre were musicals and detective thrillers by writers such as Agatha Christie. For Priestley to get his message across to as many people as possible he chose the latter form of popular theatre to spread his socialist message.

  8. Genre A murder mystery, a ghost story or a parable? The deceptively simple play follows the „three unities‟ (time, space and action) of Greek drama, but can be read in a number of ways.

  9. Dramatic and Stylistic Features An Inspector Calls is a well made play in that it has been carefully constructed to arouse suspense and tension using the following structure: • Exposition (the opening) • Rising Action • Climax/Turning Point • Falling Action • Denouement

  10. Consider the following: • Would the play have been more of less effective if we had actually met Eva Smith and seen the things that had happened to her? • Would you still need an Inspector if you could see Eva and what does he add in her place?

  11. What Methods Means • The characters are not real people, they are used to represent Priestley’s ideas • The characters represent some of the deadly sins, Priestly has a religious message • The characters represent the problems of the class system, and the hypocrisy of the upper class • The Inspector may not be a real person, but supernatural: the play is a whodunit

  12. Alternative Viewpoints • Qualified: alternatively, on the other hand, whereas, in contrast, however • Considered: appears, suggests, implies • Thoughtful: perhaps, might, may, possibly

  13. Alternative Points of View • Eric appears to be the only person to have committed a crime, stealing from his father. However, Priestley may want us to forgive him, because Eric is trying to compensate for his irresponsible behaviour in getting Eva pregnant. • On the other hand, Priestley might also want us to see that Eric is still deeply irresponsible. When his father accuses him, “you stole the money”, Eric replies, “not really”. This implies that Eric will continue to be irresponsible even after the Inspector has gone. At the end, we realise Priestley is suggesting that Eric will never fully face up to his own mistakes.

  14. Alternative Viewpoints: Eric • Alcoholic, Rapist and Thief? “well, I was in that state where a chap easily turns nasty – and I threatened to cause a row” • Unloved, Undervalued, Repentant? “(shouting) And I say the girl’s dead and we all helped to kill her – and that’s what matters.”

  15. Alternative Viewpoints: Sheila • Vain, Jealous, Vengeful, Obsessed by status and wealth? “I knew anyhow you were lying about those months last year when you hardly came near me.” • Repentant, Eager to Learn, Brave, Eager to change the world. “I remember what he said, how he looked and how he made me feel. Fire and blood and anguish.”

  16. Alternative Viewpoints: Gerald • Capitalist, Manipulative, Selfish, Sexist, Hypocrite “It happened that a friend of mine...had let me have the key to a nice set of rooms he had – and had asked me to...use them if I wanted to.” • Young, Loving, Generous, Reformed “She didn’t blame me at all. I wish to God she had now. Perhaps I’d feel better about it.”

  17. Priestley’s Purpose • A Socialist and/or Communist, committed to overthrowing the rich. • A Christian, a man of the people, committed to treating fellow man with respect, regardless of wealth. • A Dramatist, catching the mood of the people, the zeitgeist, reflecting the real world, and the interest in whodunit fiction.

  18. Priestley’s Purpose • A Socialist and/or Communist, committed to overthrowing the rich. “Gerald...we’re respectable citizens and not criminals. Inspector Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you might think. Often, if it was left to me, I wouldn’t know where to draw the line.”

  19. Priestley’s Purpose • A Christian, a man of the people, committed to treating fellow man with respect, regardless of wealth. “We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other...if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”

  20. Priestley’s Purpose • A Dramatist, catching the mood of the people, the zeitgeist, reflecting the real world, and the interest in whodunit fiction. • The photograph(s) • Quizzing one character at a time • Knowing what is going to happen “INSPECTOR holds up a hand. We hear the front door...Eric enters.” • “Eric You know, don’t you?” • Goole – the supernatural ghost of Christmas Future

  21. Characters are not real people • The Examiner wants you to consider Priestley’s purpose in creating the character. • “Sheila was a construct used by Priestley to put forward his messages”.

  22. The Play is for Performance • Better candidates were able to see the text as a drama and commented on stage directions, lighting and other dramatic devices, making reference to the effect on the audience (rather than the reader) to show that they had a real sense of the text as a performance.

  23. Important Stage Directions: The Beginning • “are seated at the table...with ARTHUR BIRLING at one end, his wife at the other” • Status of women • Control in the family • Division in marriage • We are not “all one body”

  24. Important Stage Directions: The Beginning • “The lighting should be pink and intimate until the INSPECTOR arrives, and then it should be brighter and harder.” • Rose tinted spectacles – delusional • Pink, feminine, a female play • Hard, bright, a modern female message

  25. Important Stage Directions: The Ending • “As they stare guiltily and dumbfounded, the curtain falls” • They = all, even the young • Admit their guilt, not to each other, but to the audience • Curtain falls, like a guillotine, echoes the French Revolution

  26. Dramatic Irony • “there’s a lot of wild talk about possible labour trouble in the near future...We employers at last are coming together to see that ...the interests of Capital...are properly protected.” • The General Strike of 1926 • The Great Depression • War as aggressive capitalism, exchanging lives for wealth

  27. Dramatic Irony • “some people say that war’s inevitable. And to that I say – fiddlesticks!...There’s too much at stake these days. Everything to lose and nothing to gain by war.” • 1914-1918 The Great War • 1939-1945 The Second World War • Who got rich?

  28. Dramatic Irony • “the Titanic...unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable” • Tragedy • Delusion • Ignoring humanity, preferring “progress” through Capital

  29. Dramatic Irony • “a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own – and – We hear the sharp ring of a front door bell.” • Causes them to be inspected • Causes the death of Eva • Change of lighting to reflect sharpness of the lesson the Inspector teaches

  30. Examiner’s Advice: • Typically, level 5/6 responses are analytical and exploratory. • This means that candidates ‘write a lot about a little’: they tease out meanings and effects from a small section of the text, considering the impact of individual words and sounds, often thinking about possible alternative interpretations.

  31. There are two deaths in this play. The second death carries with it Priestley’s political point, that the lessons of the WW1, represented by the death of Eva, were not learned, so that the Birlings now face, in the final word of the play, “questions”. Priestley’s question, in 1945, is how the ruling classes allowed WW2 to occur, so that “millions and millions of John Smiths and Eva Smiths” lost their lives again. Eric and Sheila therefore represent the younger generation who grew up in the inter-war years and failed to live up to their responsibility. Priestley’s play reflected the mood of the country who ousted Churchill’s Conservative government that had taken them to war, replacing them with the socialist Labour government. It is not Sheila and Eric, but their children who finally learn the Inspector’s lesson.

  32. The Birlingsand 4 of the Seven Deadly Sins • Pride is excessive belief in one's own abilities. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity. Sybil • Envy is the desire for others' characteristics, status, abilities, or situation. Sheila • Lust is craving for the pleasures of the body. Eric • Greed is the desire for wealth. It is also called Avarice. Arthur

  33. 100% guaranteed success • Know content – inside – out • Know your method for structuring a response. • Practice timings

  34. Fill you examiner with AWE • Analyse (because, therefore, moreover) • Writer’s intention (suggests, implies) • Explore alternative viewpoints (however, alternatively, on the other hand)

  35. Decode language of exam question • Methods = HOW writer uses language and literary techniques to….. • = represent to reader • = construct for reader • = discourse with reader • = dialogue with reader

  36. Examiners advice Social vs. individual responsibility • „We don‟t live alone. We are members of one body.‟ So states Inspector Goole in his final speech. His character can be seen as a device to voice Priestley‟s views about social responsibility. To what extent do the other characters learn from their encounter with Goole, and how far do members of the audience agree with him? Older vs. younger generations • Why are Mr and Mrs Birling so much more concerned about the potential for “public scandal” than the consequences of their behaviour? Sheila and Eric Birling represent the future: surely there is still time for them to change and adapt to the new order? Can their relationships with the other characters, more entrenched in their views and social positions, survive? Staging • Detailed stage directions are provided, but Priestley himself makes clear that “an ordinary realistic set” may not do the play justice. What staging decisions can enhance the drama and tension, and how can recent productions inform our understanding of the lasting significance of this play? Status and power • At first, the main characters are united in their desire for social status. The arrival of Inspector Goole undermines the natural paths of authority within the household, so how does power shift as the action progresses? The place of women • Represented by Sybil and Sheila Birling, the servant Edna and the invisible but omnipresent Eva/ Daisy, women are seen variously as innocents, social climbers, victims and suspects. How are issues of gender played out and do they enrich or detract from the moral and political messages?

  37. Important things to consider Answers should: • be relevant – you don‟t need to write everything you know about the text, only the things that relate to the question • be sufficiently detailed- it is better to give a lot of detail about a small part of the text than trying to cover lots of different points • be well structured with a clear introduction which addresses the question and a clear conclusion that returns to the question • use effective vocabulary including literary terms where relevant • use well-chosen evidence/quotations to support points. Good candidate work will respond personally to the text, and will typically: • explain the effects of writers‟ uses of language, structure and form, e.g. „The Inspector is powerful, which is shown by the way he uses language to give commands but usually in a controlled, calm way‟. • use well-chosen quotations succinctly to support their points. • make appropriate comments on ideas/themes/settings, e.g. „Mr and Mrs Birling show how snobbish and uncaring society could be at that time‟.

  38. To gain a top mark, candidates should show an enthusiastic, critical and evaluative response. The best candidates concentrate on comment, not content, and the playwright’s methods and achievements. • Excellent responses are analytical and exploratory. This means that candidates “write a lot about a little” considering the impact of individual words and sounds and often thinking about possible alternative interpretations. For example: • Gerald is presented as a character who wants to align himself with Mr Birling – perhaps he is just on his best behaviour, or perhaps he is trying to show his similarities to Mr Birling, the successful business-man and head of the family? There is one moment when what Gerald says provides a hint of past conflict between him and Sheila: “And I‟ve told you - I was awfully busy at the works”. The use of “and” at the beginning of this statement suggests that this is not the first time he has had this disagreement with Sheila. Gerald is being presented as a character who is trying to fit in with the Birlings, but may have secrets that will come out. This establishes a sense of drama to be unfolded for the audience.

  39. 1. Idea/ Themes these characters represent Priestley’s intended effect on audience and political purpose. ISLAC Quotes for points 2,3,4,5 5. Conclusion of the play. They all stare guiltily. Curtain comes down like a guillotine. Priestley’s intended effect upon audience? 2. Stage directions/ dramatic irony, TIME it is set, Priestley’s intended effect on audience. Question on characterand how it relates to… 3. Language (words and actions) imperatives, declarations, exclamations, questions used by characters and how they represent Priestley’s intended effect on audience. 4. Attitude of Goole towards the character and how it represents Priestley’s intended effect on audience.

  40. 1. Idea/ Themes Priestley’s intended effect on audience and political purpose. ISLAC for AIC Quotes for points 2,3,4,5 5. Conclusion of the play. They all stare guiltily. Curtain comes down like a guillotine. Priestley’s intended effect upon audience? 2. Stage directions/ dramatic irony TIME in which it is set Priestley’s intended effect on audience. Question on themeand how it relates to… 3. Language and actions imperatives, declarations, exclamations, questions used by characters and how they represent Priestley’s intended effect on audience. 4. Attitude of Priestley towards social and historical context as shown through Goole.

  41. Apply your method to these questions.

  42. How does Priestley show that tension is at the heart of the Birling family?

  43. AO1 • the lack of understanding between the generations – Mr Birling does not understand his children • sibling squabbles • lack of compassion and differing views/beliefs brought out by the Inspector • the characters are outspoken and do not consider each other • the impact of the Inspector takes the shroud off the niceties within the family • AO2 • the play form allows tension to be created through the staging and scene directions – the use of subdued lighting at the beginning to create a relaxed atmosphere could in fact be shrouding the true feelings at the table especially as the language hints at tension • the use of cliff hangers especially used to show Sheila and Gerald‟s relationship and problems (it will be assumed by students that as they are engaged he is considered part of the family) • the dialogue between the characters is a clear indication of tension, e.g. Birling and Eric. • the children still being treated as „little children‟, seen through the language

  44. Priestley criticises the selfishness of people like the Birlings. What methods does he use to present this selfishness?

  45. AO1 • the lack of understanding from Birling of the working class • Sheila having no regard for other people as seen in the incident at Milwards • Eric stealing money to „sort out his problem‟ • Sybil – having a position in society and not using it correctly • social satire of the wealthy class and their lack of appreciation for others AO2 • dramatic irony – to humiliate those similar to Birling – shows their self-obsession and that their assuredness is misplaced • the fact the play is set in 1912 and written in 1945/6 – satirises his society and those in it like Birling who have not learnt from past mistakes • creating a chain of events to show that one action can have many consequences • through the dialogue of the characters – Priestley is able to highlight their faults • through the Inspector‟s tone and style of questioning – mouthpiece for Priestley?

  46. How do you respond to Gerald in ‘An Inspector Calls’? How does Priestley make you respond as you do by the ways he writes?

  47. AO1 • Aristocrat – ideas about class system – essentially engaged to someone ‘beneath’ him • Not as willing as Sheila to admit his guilt – at first pretends he never knew Daisy Renton – link with Mr Birling? • Seems to have some genuine feelings for Daisy Renton • In Act 3, Gerald tries to come up with as much evidence as possible to prove the Inspector is a fake – wants to protect himself rather than change himself • Which generation does he ‘fit’ most readily with? • AO2 • Regular references to Gerald’s ‘disappearance’ the previous summer makes the audience wonder about him • References to any stage directions which reveal Gerald’s attitudes / feelings • How Priestley creates a sense of self-satisfaction in Gerald when he thinks ‘Everything’s all right now’ • Presentation as an ‘easy, well-bred young man-about town’

  48. An Inspector Calls has been called “a play of contrasts”. Write about how Priestley presents some of the contrasts in the play.

  49. AO1 • contrast between Sheila and Eva/Daisy e.g. privileged/unprivileged, rich/poor • contrast between attitudes of youth and age e.g. self-satisfaction of the Birlings, openness to change of the younger generation • contrast between the Inspector and the family e.g. the Inspector‟s feelings of responsibility and the absence of these feelings in the Birlings • contrast between the Inspector‟s self-assurance and the disappearance of the self-assurance of the others during the course of the play. AO2 • cheerful mood of the play at the beginning, which then gets darker as the play progresses • stage directions/lighting • contrast in language used by Inspector and Birling in their speeches • use of irony to show and emphasise contrast-impossibility of war and the impossibility that the Titanic could sink • stage directions for characters‟ dialogue from „smiling‟, „gaily‟ etc to „hysterically‟, „hesitantly‟.