Written by J. B. Priestley in 1945, An Inspector Calls is a play that follows the story of the Birling Family and their dealings with a woman, Eva Smith. The Birlings are a wealthy family and are happily celebrating an engagement when their evening is rudely interrupted by a police Inspector investigating the death of a working class girl. Throughout the course of the evening, the Inspector deftly uncovers their dirty little secrets and each of their involvements in the girl’s death. The play is set in an industrial town in the Midlands called Brumley.
During 1912 in the Edwardian era, when the play was set, life was hard for the poor and even harder for women. There was very little help available for people and only the very desperate were given aid and even then they were sometimes not given enough. The local workhouse was available for the sick, old or handicapped but this was an unpleasant place. Women in 1912 were treated as inferior and they could not often do what men could; they were not allowed to vote, they were unlikely to go to university and get decent job and they were expected to give up their jobs once they were married.
They did not have the same rights as men. The play starts with a long set of stage directions from which we learn a lot about the Birling family. They are wealthy as they employ a maid. It is also suggests that they are strongly ruled by their social duties and roles because it is said that Mrs Birling is ‘socially superior’ to Mr Birling suggesting that society plays a big role in the family’s life.
This is further suggested by the fact that the men wear ‘tails and white ties’ to a family dinner signifying that the family are very proper and must be formal at all times – even in an informal setting. Even though it is quite formal, they are quite happy and cheerful as they have been celebrating a special occasion. The atmosphere is shown by the lighting which should be ‘pink and intimate’ hinting at a happy care-free family feel. However, when the Inspector comes in, the lighting should be harsher as the entrance of the Inspector destroys the family atmosphere and creates a harsh atmosphere.