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As Act Two begins, Gerald is made to admit his crimes and confront the consequences of his actions. This in time leads to great amounts of hard feeling and tension felt between Gerald and Sheila. We hear of Gerald’s affair with Daisy Renton. This shows us many ideas of women and society. Whilst Eva is treated like dirt and dismissed because of her actions, Gerald is more or less just patted on the back and told ‘well done.’ He is now viewed as with higher status and respect, yet the female’s reputation is dashed. Sheila is expected to put up with her husband’s actions, to be a good girl, yet Gerald is congratulated. There is no question of him being punished. Instead Sheila is expected to pick up their ruined relationship, and marry him.
Mrs Birling’s entrance during act two is also comical. It causes heightened tension as in contrast to the situation in the room, Mrs Birling is bold and defiant- ironic when compared to what is happening in the dining room. Sheila is perceptive and can see that Mrs Birling is yet another suspect on Inspector Goole’s list. When Mrs Birling begins, ‘…we don’t think we can help you much.’ Sheila is adamant that her mother must stop then, as she is ‘afraid you’ll say or do something that you’ll be sorry for afterwards.’ Her panic and emotional outburst gives rise to tension and allows us to see her social responsibility in contrast to other members of the family who remain insistent that they have done nothing wrong.
In Act Two many secrets are revealed for the first time. To start with, we find out about Gerald’s affair and lies to Sheila. As if that is not bad enough, we also find out about the part Mrs Birling plays in Daisy/Eva’s suicide. The scene becomes extremely tense when we find out about Eric’s drinking problem, because whilst Gerald and Sheila already knew of it, Mrs Birling did not. She is adamant that it did not happen, and denies it three times, ignoring her daughter, but then believing Gerald, her daughter’s fiancï¿½. Sheila’s line, ‘he hasn’t started on you yet’ is rather telling. This strikes a feeling of doom in the audience.
As the Inspector interrogates Mrs Birling the scene is very uptight and tense. Whilst Mrs Birling has clearly played a part in Eva’s death, she is consistently saying that it has nothing to do with her. It was her decision that resulted in Eva being left without money or a home, yet she will not admit to having a part to play in the suicide. Mrs Birling is quick to point the blame at the father of the unborn child. Mrs Birling retains her airs and rude gestures.
‘He’s entirely responsible… he ought to be dealt with very severely…’ If we have not already realised, it is about now that we as the audience realise that Eric is the father of the unborn child and his own mother is writing his punishment. The scene is incredibly tense. When Mrs Birling realises that Eric is the father she is again in denial, ‘But surely… I mean… it’s ridiculous… I don’t believe it, I won’t believe it…’ Act two ends as Eric enters the room to silent stares and hysterical faces. At this moment in the play the tension has not reached this level before.
Act three begins where act two left off, ‘You know, don’t you?’ Inspector Goole proceeds to ask many quick questions: who, what, where, when, why? This barrage of questions gives Eric little time to think. The situation is already tense and this doesn’t help his case. Eric shows remorse to his actions, although, out of the family, they must be the most serious. We find out he was drunk, has little recollection of events, and even stooped low enough to steal money from his father’s office. He honestly feels regret for his actions, but Mr Birling does not and is eager to cover up Eric’s mistakes. This is somewhat comical considering what’s just happened, yet all he cares about is what other people think.
The Inspector sums up the chain of events, in turn placing blame on each person present. He concludes that ‘If men will not learn their lesson, then they will be taught it in blood fire and anguish.’ He exits quickly, leaves the family confused, angry and irritated. Gerald re-enters shortly after the Inspector’s exit, bringing a whole new perspective on the current events. ‘That man wasn’t a police officer.’ As soon as this news is delivered, tension rises again as the family consider they may have been tricked. Gerald begins to explain his theory tension falls. The family begins to question his existence; who he really was, and if he wasn’t real, was the death real?
They consider that the picture may well have been a fake, although then the hoax would have been very well planned. It is then that Gerald decides to call the Infirmary. This reveals that in fact their theory is correct, and no girl has died that day. Whilst this is great news and tension has greatly dropped, both Sheila and Eric aren’t ready to forget what has just happened. They both represent the views felt by Priestley, that you have to change because of what has happened, you can’t just forget and go on pretending. Someone, somewhere, has been badly treated by each of them. Maybe this is why the phone rings again.
Mr Birling answers the phone and is clearly shocked by what he hears at the other end. ‘A girl has just died- on her way to the Infirmary- after swallowing disinfectant. And the police inspector is on his way here- to ask some- questions-‘ This is a rather fitting ending and tension shoots straight up. The audience is left with many things to think about- this is exactly what Priestley had hoped to achieve. This play is all about social responsibility and by ending this way the audience has so many unanswered questions.
‘An Inspector Calls’ will be on their mind for a long while as they consider countless things such as who the inspector really was. Could he be the personification of morality and justice? Perhaps if everyone had accepted their shortcomings and progressed with lessons learnt the ending would be different. Throughout ‘An Inspector Calls’ Priestley has manipulated the audience using tension. He has made them think, caused them to question. People must learn lessons from their mistakes just as Sheila and Eric did before it’s too late. Priestley is teaching us to be socially responsible.