"An Inspector Calls," by J.B. Priestly: Free Essay for GCSE Courses

Updated on March 13, 2018
Luno2012 profile image

I am a literature enthusiast with a passion for writing critical essays.

Before we begin, here are a few tips to remember when writing your essay.

  1. Write an introduction.

    In the introduction, write a brief explanation of the book. Keep this very brief, and let it serve as an opening paragraph to your essay. Writing this introduction will give you a natural platform on which to introduce the subject of your text.
  2. Use powerful quotes throughout your essay.

    Use powerful quotes throughout your essay to back your ideas up with strong evidence. A few quotes here and there just won't cut it.

GCSE Example Essay: Dramatic Tension in J.B. Priestly's "An Inspector Calls"

An Inspector Calls was written by J.B. Priestley, after the Second World War. It is set in the spring of 1912 in the fictitious town of Brumley, England. This is where the Birlings, a prosperous industrial family, live. The plot focuses on the suicide of Eva Smith, the soon-to-be daughter-in-law of the Birlings. Throughout the play, J.B. Priestly uses Eva Smith's suicide as a plot device to build dramatic tension, dramatic irony, and to share his socialist message. Socialist issues are explored by the two main characters, Mr. Birling and Inspector Goole, who subtly debate their outlooks for the future. Mr. Birling claims there will be prosperity and peace, while Inspector Goole sees more war on the horizon. Over the course of the play, the Birling family is interrogated and it's revealed to have been responsible for the young woman's exploitation, abandonment and social ruin, effectively leading to her death.

Before the Inspector tells us that we are all links in the chain and we should look out for each other, the audience bears witness to exactly what might happen if we choose to ignore this view of society. Each of the Birlings is a link in the chain of events that lead to Eva Smiths suicide. Even Gerald is a link to the suicide—even though he has just recently become engaged to Sheila.

Priestley reveals that all the Birlings and Gerald are connected with Eva Smith’s suicide. Here, he reveals his message when he says, “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.”

This sudden revelation is very effective because it makes the audience aware that they, too, could have brought about similar tragedies without even knowing it. The audience is made aware that there are “Millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left." This means that there is a multitude of people in the world to whom similar circumstances have transpired. These are the people who are often forgotten in modern society. This revelation is given weight and significance by the sudden manner in which the Birlings' involvement with Eva Smith is made clear.

We see how seriously he takes this rather socialist concept when he says, “the time will soon come when, if men do not learn this lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”

Socialism was a very relevant topic because An Inspector Calls was released in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. Much of the original audience would have been able to identify with the “fire and blood and anguish” because of the rather turbulent past six years.

As we can see, Priestley uses Eva Smith as a representative of the forgotten people of society. She is one of the millions of individuals who are ignored and shunned as a result of a series of misfortunes. She received disdain from others and likely lacked capital or the means of support. Generally, she would have been referred to as one of the "down and outs" of society. The World War had caused pain and anguish for the Smiths, who suffered, and are still suffering. The fact that this type of tragedy could happen to anyone gives weight to Priestley’s views about looking out for each other.

The Inspector's doubles as a device used by Priestley to both convey his ideas about society and to build up dramatic tension. We see this tension in the way in which he contrasts with Mr. Birling. Mr. Birling is extremely confident and, some would say, arrogant at the beginning of the play. He dismisses the possibility of a war based on his belief in progress. Ultimately, he is selfish and arrogant. We see this when he says, “Nobody wants war except for some half-civilized folks in the Balkans,” and when he says,“The world’s developing so fast that it’ll make war impossible." This contrasts strongly with the Inspector’s views. He doesn't think so highly of these capitalist developments.

When Mr. Birling had finished giving his "good advice" to Gerald and Eric, saying, “A man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own,” we know the Inspector would not entirely agree. The fact that the Inspector arrives just after Birling gives this advice is a great example of dramatic timing. We see these contrasting characteristics develop more throughout the play.

The Inspector gains weight, charisma, and power, and therefore tension is built, throughout the play. The Inspector belittles and erodes the confidence of Mr. Birling, a man that is supposedly a powerful figure. Mr. Birling becomes insecure while trying to defend his actions. We see that he becomes anxious, and this builds tension, because the audience is made aware of how formidable a character the Inspector is. The Inspector draws the audience's attention, making them wonder what he will do next, what his next line of inquiry will be.

Another way in which Priestly builds dramatic tension is by gradually revealing that all of the characters are found to have played a part in the alleged murder of Eva Smith. Everytime the Inspector shows the photograph to a different character, a little more is revealed about their collective guilt. The photograph is a great device for moving the plot.

Dramatic tension is also built through the use of dramatic irony. The audience instantly knows that Mr. Birling is wrong and is awe-misguided when he talks of the Titanic, saying, “TheTitanic...forty six thousand eight hundred tones—New York in five days…and unsinkable.”

We also know he is fatally inaccurate when talking of war, saying, “Just because the Kaiser makes a speech or two, or a few German officers have too much to drink and begin talking nonsense…you’ll hear some people say that war is inevitable.”

While the audience knows that Mr. Birling is wrong, Mr. Birling is too arrogant to see the flaws in his logic. This builds tension, making the audience more involved because they are in possession of knowledge that the characters are not.

Priestley’s decision to set his play in 1912, when it was written in 1944, is an interesting one. He does this for a number of reasons.

In Act 1, he talks about how war is impossible, saying, “The world’s developing so fast it’ll make war impossible.” Before the arrival of the Inspector, Mr. Birling also states, “In twenty or thirty years time…in 1940…you may be giving a party like this…by that time you’ll be living in a world that’ll have forgotten all these Capital versus Labour agitations and all these silly little war scares." Birling truly thinks, "There’ll be peace and prosperity and rapid progress everywhere.”

The audience knows this to be untrue. In 1940, the Second World War was raging and, after the war, there was not “progress everywhere.” “Capital versus Labour agitations” were rife, especially in Eastern Europe, where Labour (Communism) was taking hold. For years to come, countries would be entrenched in the Cold War (the long-lasting standoff between Capitalism and Communism).

This quote, amongst other extraordinary pearls of ignorance from Mr. Birling, once again pulls the audience into the play, because they know more than the characters know. This gives the Inspector more credibility because the audience is aware of how accurate his statements are about the future.

The setting of the play is also a device used to communicate Priestly's message of social equality. We can see this when, at the end of the play, the Inspector says:

“We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other…And the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”

The timing is crucial. Setting the play in 1912, Priestly uses the setting to convey a sense of dramatic irony. Only two years later, The Great War, or World War One, occurred. And only 2 decades later, in 1939, a Second World War occurred. The “Fire and blood and anguish” almost certainly refer to these wars, in which millions of lives were lost because, arguably, nations were acting like Mr. Birling—greedy and ignorant to the “Eva and John Smiths” of the world.

JB Priestley communicates his ideas and beliefs of social equality and collective responsibility through Inspector Goole. Goole teaches the audience just what can happen if one chooses to ignore others and deny responsibility for one’s own actions.

Showing the photograph of Eva Smith to only one character at a time is an extremely effective way of progressing the play, ensuring smooth continuity, because it is subtle. It is probable that the audience does not, and did not, notice the possibility that the characters were being shown different photographs.

So, in this way, JB Priestley makes the characters believe, makes them know, that they are each implicated in the suicide of a young girl. Mr. Birling saying, “[I] would give thousands, yes thousands” for Eva Smith to be alive again, cements Priestley’s ideas of socialism by making clear the spinelessness of the upper class, and making clear the social divide that exists. No one admits their part in the suicide, but looks to money as an answer instead of personal change.

The very fact that the characters can brush off their responsibility in the murder, and ignore the fact that each of them had treated "Eva Smith" badly, is meant to shock the audience.

The "pawn" characters and Inspector Goole operate extremely well with each other. Each make statements containing dramatic irony. Each says something that the audience knows will be false. Finally, when it is revealed at the end of the play that another inspector is coming to see the Birlings, the audience is left wondering who Inspector Goole was. He seems almost like a prophetic figure. By leaving the audience with this question, Priestly ends the play by implanting internal tension within us. Certainty was a luxury of the time. Everyone else was left with the chaos of the World Wars and their stark aftermath.

The set for "An Inspector Calls"
The set for "An Inspector Calls" | Source

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • profile image


        2 weeks ago

        derquvntuiofrbwcc vuywegfvb

      • profile image

        Ham Burger 

        4 months ago

        Ham Burger

      • profile image


        15 months ago

        very helpful and helped me in my exam

      • profile image


        21 months ago

        really helpful could you do an essay for the differences between Shelia and Mrs Birling

      • profile image

        My nans dead 

        22 months ago

        Really helpful

      • profile image

        Chicken Nugget 

        4 years ago

        I like nuggets

      • profile image


        5 years ago

        Thanks loving it so informative and will be excellent revision in time for my exams helped me a lot!!xx

      • profile image

        Inspector Goole 

        6 years ago

        well what a well written description of this story i would just like to say that i was actually Eva Smiths son who travelled and is still travelling in time. Thanks xxx

      • whatkatieread profile image


        7 years ago from Europe

        As a teacher of English Literature I fear there are some questions regarding plagiarism here! To all you students out there beware: it is blindingly obvious to the examiners when a student is writing from memory not from understanding. A good start @Johnkufy would be to learn how to spell the characters names correctly!

      • profile image


        7 years ago

        Can you please write me an essay regarding the theme of responsibility for inspector call. need to do it about the inspector, mr bierling and sheila please. Send it to my email. master_lord@hotmail.co.uk

        Thanks :D

      • profile image


        7 years ago

        *Helpful ......

      • profile image


        7 years ago

        great will use this in my exam. apart from a couple of spelling mistakes, otherwise really helpful thanx

      • Resolver2009 profile image


        8 years ago from Bournemouth, UK / Oslo, Norway

        Brilliant! Should be of good help for many'a student out there in the world of coursework.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        didn't expect to find this thanks!


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)