Moment in An Inspector Calls
Every great play reveals something beneath the surface of the plot.
Priestley's An Inspector Calls, the message that is beneath the
surface of the parlor drama
is that we must break down the surface barriers if we are to get to the
real person inside.
Breaking down our walls and taking off our masks is the only way to have
honest relationships with other people. The end of Act II in An Inspector
Calls (46-47) is a
pivotal moment in the play because it shows how shocking it is to break
down walls that
are firmly cemented.
The set is a traditional parlor-tasteful but stiff. There are fancy couches,
countless end tables with flower arrangements, a full china cabinet, and
walls. It is ordinary and uninteresting. However, as the play progresses
and the inspector
breaks down a character's walls, the each character will break or knock
That object will stay as it is and will not be picked up for the remainder
of the play. This
shows how the inspector shatters the perfect world of the Birling family.
Also, their new
parlor and all of it's mess makes it more real because most people do
not have perfectly
clean parlors. This shows how the Birling family has become more real
as well because
their flaws are out in the open. The audience can identify with these
flaws because all of
us have wronged another person at one time. As this scene opens there
are two things out
of place as the inspector has cracked both Shelia and Mr. Birling. There
is a broken
coffee cup on the floor, and the chocolates on a tray on an end table
are strewn about.
The lighting is soft at the opening of the play and becomes brighter
following act. This is because as the play progresses more light is shed
upon the family,
and the audience is able to really see the characters, inside and out.
The inspector acts as a conscience to the members of the Birling family.
neither human nor god-like. He is an all-knowing social conscience there
to put the
priorities of society in check. He is played by a no-name actor, for few
details about him
should be memorable. He is dressed in a plain black coat and pants. He
is an average
male height and built, and his voice is of normal deepness. There is nothing
about him as he is everyman's conscience doing what he can to change society.
is revealed as a fake, the audience should be left racking their brains
for memories of him
and should not be able to picture him clearly. He interacts enough with
characters to seem like a real man, but he often lurks in the background
and stands behind
the speaker, much like a conscience sitting on one's shoulder.
Glenn Close plays the role of Mrs. Birling. She is a great actress for
because she often portrays ignorant, icy cold characters similar to Mrs.
plays the role with a straight face, very serious and indignant. She wears
white and red,
the colors of the Republican Party, to symbolize that she holds conservative
society. She likes the status quo and does not want it to change. Every
hair on her head
is in place, and her face is made up because at this point in the place
her mask is still on.
The inspector has not yet torn down the walls that surround her.
Shelia is played by Kiera Knightly. Knightly is young and learning her
Hollywood, just as Shelia is young and learning her way in the world.
She is dressed in
blues, the color of the Democratic Party, to symbolize her progressive
repents for her sins and wants society to become more responsible for
each other. Shelia
has already been cracked by the inspector at this point in the play, and
this is shown by
her disheveled hair. She continually runs her hands through her neat up-do,
pieces to fallout.
Mr. Birling is played by a white male actor in his fifties. He is large
built, making it physically impossible to move him, just as it is impossible
to change his
views on responsibility in society. He wears a business suit with a red
tie, showing that
he is a conservative, industrial man. His walls have been torn down by
the inspector by
the time the scene starts, shown by his disheveled hair.
Eric is played by Edward Norton. He looks sweet, but there is a sinister
underneath the pretty face. He is only in the scene for a few seconds,
but his entrance is
the defining moment of the scene.
The scene opens Mrs. Birling sitting on a center couch with the inspector
her. They are discussing Mrs. Birling's reasoning for her refusal to help
pregnant woman. The inspector prods calmly, "Who is to blame then?"
rationally while looking ahead, "First, the girl herself." As
she continues her voice raises,
and she becomes more and more agitated. The inspector's voice stays calm
as he says,
"And if her story is true - that he was stealing money--?" "There
is no point in assuming
that..." Mrs. Birling snaps quickly, her eyebrows pushed together.
They continue this
way, Mrs. Birling becoming more excited while the inspector stands in
until Shelia throws up her hands and exclaims, "Mother-stop-stop!"
Mr. Birling, who is sitting on a chair on the right, running his hands
hair, says, "Be quiet, Sheila," with defeat in his voice. The
inspector has already done to
him what the inspector is doing to Mrs. Birling now, and Mr. Birling knows
cannot win. Mrs. Birling prissily snaps at Shelia, "You're behaving
like a hysterical
child tonight!" still oblivious to what is going on. The inspector
knowingly says, "Don't
worry, Mrs. Birling. I shall do my duty." He looks at his watch and
then to the door, a
hint to the audience that he knows how this scene is going to play out.
It is silent for a
moment as all of the characters turn to the door. This gives the characters
audience a moment to imagine what the inspector knows.
Sheila breaks the silence with a pitiful shriek as she rises and walks
to the door.
"Now, Mother-don't you see?" The sound of a door slamming is
heard, followed by
slow footsteps. All of the characters walk toward the door in the back
center of the stage,
nervously look at each other, and begin to pull at their hair. Out of
breath, Mrs. Birling
says to herself, "But surely... I mean... It's ridiculous..."
While the other characters are
pacing like mad the inspector stands motionless in the center, arms crossed,
ringleader to this madness. He says coolly, "If he is guilty, then
we know what to do,
don't we? Mrs. Birling has just told us." All of the characters start
speaking at once, still
frantic and shaking their heads. Mr. Birling: "My God! But-look here-"
says with defiance in her voice, "I don't believe it. I won't believe
it..." Sheila with tears
down her face moans, "Mother-I begged you and begged you to stop-"
Then the inspector holds one hand up to silence them. Everyone is frozen
positions as footsteps are heard. The door creaks as Eric walks through
the parlor door
on the back center of the stage. His face is ghastly pale and his eyes
are glazed over. His
foot hits a small table with a vase of flowers, knocking them to the floor
the vase. This is a symbol for the breaking of Eric's wholesome son facade.
inspector has cracked everyone in the house now, and the beautiful parlor
is strewn with
broken goods. Eric grabs his hair and looks around nervously at his family
staring at him
and frozen in motion. The inspector is still facing audience and gives
a small smile as the
curtain begins to fall.
This scene is pivotal in the play because it breaks down the surface
barriers of the
final character. Eric constructed his walls well, and his family believed
that he really was
the person he presented on the surface. It was shocking for them to see
inside his walls
into the person he really is. The inspector smiles at the end of the act
though he knows that it is hard to discover the truth, it is better that
an honest image is
projected. Priestly is suggesting by removing the walls from parlor dramas
to show what
is really happening in society that we should remove the walls to our
true selves so we
can move forward with more honest and responsible relationships. If we
can be more
honest on an individual level, our society can move forward into an era
for our actions and their outcomes.
Priestley, J.B. An Inspector Calls. New York: Dramatists Play Service,
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