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How does Priestly show tension is at the heart of the Birling family? Essay

Tension is an element that has been intricately woven at the heart of the Birling family. The Birling’s are a family of two generations; the older assertive and callous generation and the younger ambitious generation with not yet fully sculpted minds. The lack of understanding and empathy for the younger generation (Eric and Shelia) feeds the tension at heart:- ‘Because you’re not the kind of father a chap could go to when he’s in trouble-that’s why.’ This quotation reflects on Eric’s sense of distance between himself and his farther whilst implying that Mr Birling is rather out of touch with his children. This incoherent relationship therefore amplifies the tension that neither father nor son are prepared to confront.

Inspector Goole plays a large role in surfacing the tension in the families differentiating views and beliefs on responsibility for the death of Eva/Daisy. As Shelia and Eric develop a sense of maturity and acceptance for their actions they begin to further undermine their parent’s authority and ideas:- ‘Mother I couldn’t possibly go. Nothing could be worse for me. We’ve settled all that. I’m staying here until I know why that girl killed herself.’ There is a prominent contrast in the way Shelia addresses those of the older generation at the begging of the play to the Shelia the audience become accustomed to towards the end which again conveys the tension due to Shelia’s lack of obedience.

Sheila also adopts the Inspectors blunt language: ‘I’m staying here until I know why that girl killed herself.’ Regardless of the idea that women of the time were thought to need protection from all things disturbing or unpleasant Shelia does not hesitate to bring attention to the solid fact that she is well aware that Eva/Daisy ‘killed herself’. Priestley’s use of stage directions is another technique used to accentuate the tension that inhabits the heart of the Birling family.

The audience at the beginning of the play encounter subdued lighting which therefore creates a relaxed atmosphere shrouding the true feelings of the family which are hinted to suggest something is not quite right. The intensity of the light grows at the arrival of the inspector to indicate a turn of events. A combination of an array of techniques at Priestley’s disposal allow him to capture and reveal the taboo tension between the individual characters that is hidden behind euphemisms and gender roles.


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