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How does priestly create tension in the play

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  • Pages: 6
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  • Category: Play

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In my essay, I will discuss how tension is created in the play, and its effects on the audience and the characters throughout the play. John Boynton Priestly wrote “An Inspector Calls” in the space of one week near the end of world war two. He wrote this play because he was interested in politics, and felt the need for a change as to the way poor people were treated by the higher-class citizens. He expressed his passion in this play to get a message across to the public that there needed to be a change in the social attitude of higher-class people.

An Inspector Calls’ was set in 1912 when there was a huge divide between the three classes; working class, middle class and upper class. JB Priestly did not only write ‘an inspector calls’ as a piece on entertainment but to criticise the middle and upper classes and to show them their life from a different perspective. Priestly would have wanted to create tension to leave the audience at unease and feeling apprehensive at what is going to happen next thus engaging the audience keeping them interested.

He created great tension through the character of Sheila when priestly writes, ‘yes – except for all last summer when you never came near me’ Priestly cleverly used a hyphen as a dramatic device here as it is used as a dramatic pause, Priestly uses the pause to keep the audience in suspense which draws the audience into the tension of the play right at the beginning. Sheila is half-heartedly agreeing and is keeping the audience in a state of anxiety wondering why she might not agree. The sentence creates tension between the characters of Sheila and Gerald; Gerald quickly tries to get Sheila on side and explains what happened.

Sheila is almost reminding Gerald that she hasn’t forgotten. The hyphen has a great affect on the audience as well as on the characters as it makes us wonder why Sheila would disagree and what really happened. Priestly is making us wait by using a hyphen as a dramatic pause which moves the mood of the play to a nervous one, which is a contrast to he happy theme and atmosphere of the party. Tension is also created though he character of Eric, as in the play Eric is shown as a rude, impertinent and immature little boy.

This is made clear from the beginning of the play, as he is seen as a drunk, when for no reason what so ever he ‘guffaws’ and says ‘ I felt I just had to laugh’ this sentence makes it clear to the audience that Eric is an alcoholic and he can’t control himself. After realising who Eva Smith is he discreetly leaves the house but later returns to tell his part of the story, only to find out his mum has set him up to fall, and has put all the blame on him without her realising. He feels responsible for her death even when the inspector leaves but doesn’t think it was his fault alone.

Each new revelation, prompted by the Inspector’s use of the photograph or information from the diary, adds to the overall picture of the two years in the girl’s life. Each part fits together and helps to complete the jigsaw of events and involvements. Priestly’s success in creating tension depended on the use of dramatic irony, which he creates. When Sheila has worked out that Eric might well be the father of Eva Smith’s child, there is irony in that Mrs Birling has not realised it ‘and he ought to be dealt with very severely’ and is demanding that an example should be made of the boy, who is none other than her own son.

Priestly throws in a twist at the end. As we have the problem of whom the Inspector really was, a trickster determined to make fools of them or some sort of avenging spirit come to make them see the evil of their ways. Priestly also creates tension using many different methods for example he uses the time at which the play is set to create tension as it was set in 1912 just before the first world war (1914-1918) but was written and preformed in 1946 so the audience of the time would have lived and gone though the war and would have known the outcome of it.

Birling says ‘wars inevitable … fiddlesticks! ‘ and as I said before, the audience knows the war had happened and knows that Birling’s prediction is false. Also Birling makes more predictions, which the audience knows to be false ‘titanic… unsinkable’ ‘Russia… behindhand naturally’ so priestly has set-up Birling to seem foolish. So to the audience from the beginning of the play gets to know what sort of person Mr Birling is.

He comes across as quite arrogant when he is talking about war ‘Germans don’t want war’ and also how the titanic is ‘unsinkable. Later on in the play as the inspector arrives Mr Birling character becomes more alert. He becomes somewhat impatient when he is being asked questions about Eva smith. He goes very defensive about having anything to do with Eva Smith’s death and doesn’t feel remotely responsible. He is insensitive and uncaring about the fact that she committed suicide, and this is shown throughout the play.

Also in act 1 where Birling is being questioned he becomes nervous and tries to change the subject to Eric’s lack of responsibility ‘(rather angrily)… t’s about time you leatnt to face a few responsibilities’ this also creates tension as Birling is shifting the blame onto Eric in an attempt to save himself. Gerald also creates tension between him and Sheila, as when the inspector reveals that Eva Smith changed her name to Daisy Renton, Gerald says, ‘(startled) what? ‘ Gerald has given himself away he has publicized that he knew Daisy Renton, soon after the inspector says she had changed her name he leaves with Eric, leaving Sheila and Gerald alone during this time.

Sheila questions Gerald and this creates great tension between the two of them and with the audience, as we now know where Gerald was last summer when he ‘never came near’ Sheila. As soon as the inspector leaves Sheila’s first word is ‘well? ‘ and when the inspector returns he comes into the room and starts with one intimidating question ‘well? ‘ This also creates tension as it portrays that he knows about Gerald and Daisy and knows that Sheila and Gerald have just been talking about it, now he wants Gerald to confess like the others have.

I believe the greatest tension created in this play, from a 1946 audience point of view, is in the inspectors final speech, it has an outlandish influential and forecasting aspect, ‘but remember this one eva… still with us’ this is not the language of an inspector which we later on find out why. The departing lines of the inspector, summarises the reflective views of Priestly his statement ‘if men will not learn this lesson then they will be taught in fire blood and anguish’ must have had a great power on the audience.

For the characters on stage in 1912 the war is still looming. But priestly is telling his audience who had suffered in the war; we haven’t learnt anything from it. The middle class still feel no social responsibility for the lower class. When the inspector leaves, Mr Birling and Mrs Birling all go back to normal pretending nothing has happened; this creates tension between the adults and the children. Birling says, ‘we’ve been had. That’s all. ‘ Acting like nothing has happened but Eric and Sheila still feels the impact of the inspector once he has gone.

Sheila still feels guilty about her part in it all. ‘It frightens me the way you talk’ and almost takes on the role of the inspector and feels ashamed that her family has felt that they have gotten away with it. In conclusion I believe that Priestly has affectively created tension throughout the play on various scales. At one end he created tension through the Sheila when he wrote, ‘yes – except for all last summer when you never came near me’ Priestly cleverly used a hyphen as a dramatic device here as it is used as a dramatic pause.

On the other hand during the inspector’s final speech there is an immense tension period, by creating this tension Priestly makes the audience think what has been learnt from the war, the audience would have been through the war and would have left a lasting impact on them. Throughout the play Priestly asks an underlying question ‘will we ever learn our actions cause consequence for everyone? ‘ which again has a massive impact on the audience making them think, and still to this day this question cannot be answered as these same mistakes are made all the time.

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