In addition to Mr Birling, his cold-hearted, stubborn, naive and prejudiced wife Mrs Birling, is nearly on the same wave length as him. As a wife she is pretty successful: she is loyal to Arthur, despite telling him off now and again. She runs the household and is on her husband’s side towards the end, telling the children to be quiet while Mr Birling decides what to do with himself. Mrs Birling is a great believer in the rules of social behaviour. She tries to enforce these standards, which she thinks maintain the family’s status in society.
Much to her regret, she has to keep telling the others off, pointing out that they are not behaving appropriately. The stage directions tell us she is Mr Birling’s ‘Social superior’. She reprimands her husband for going on too long in his incredible speeches about the state of the world. Throughout the play Mrs Birling doesn’t change at all. She doesn’t learn a single thing from the Inspector. She regrets only one thing, and that’s not having the chance to have ‘asked him a few questions’. In my opinion, I feel that Mrs Birling is a snob, very aware of the differences between social classes.
She is irritated when Mr Birling makes the social gaffe of praising the cook in front of Gerald and later is very dismissive of Eva, saying ‘Girls of that class… ‘ She also tries to deny things that she does not want to believe for example, that a working class girl would refuse money even if it was stolen, claiming ‘she was giving herself ridiculous airs’. Yet, towards the end of the play like her husband, she refuses to believe that she did anything wrong and does not accept responsibility for her part in Eva’s death.
Throughout the play, the setting is taking place in the dining room so the setting is constant. The setting and lighting, are very important. Priestly describes the scene in detail at the opening of Act 1, so that the audience has the immediate impression of a ‘heavily comfortable house’. Priestly says that the lighting should be ‘pink and intimate’ before the Inspector arrives and then in contrast, ‘brighter and harder’ when the Inspector has arrived, it is like a spotlight has turned on in the Birling’s cosy world. The lighting reflects the mood of the play.
There is a subtle hint that not is all as it seems. For example, early on we wonder whether the happy atmosphere is slightly forced. Shelia wonders where Gerald was last summer, Eric is nervous about something and Lord and lady Croft did not attend the engagement dinner. This arouses interest in the audience; we want to find out what is going on. The dramatic effects used in the setting are that the dinning room is more like a court room, as it does not change. Moreover, it is like a fly on a wall and we the audience, are watching over this great piece of dramatic tension, as to focus on them.
The Birlings have chosen to shut themselves in their ivory tower, over looking from their coyness. Also the dinning becomes their prison, it that short space of time and the Inspector is interviewing them one by one. Throughout JB Priestley’s play of ‘An Inspector Calls’ there is a lot of irony and this is another dramatic technique, and the stage directions are important in helping us, the audience, to imagine exactly what is going on; they can help us picture each character’s actions and reactions.
In the course of ‘An Inspector Calls’ the Birling family and Gerald Croft change from a state of great self-satisfaction to a state of extreme self-doubt, Priestley specifically wanted us to feel disdain fault for Birling. The audience knows how wrong Mr Birling is when he makes confident predictions about there not being a war and is excited about sailing of The Titanic, famously; the ship sank on her maiden voyage. This puts the audience at an advantage over the characters deliberately helps us feel Birling is a short-sighted fool.
Another use of dramatic irony is when Arthur gives his speech about the state of the world. As this play was written in 1945 but set in 1912, the post war audiences would know that he was very very wrong. When Arthur is boasting to Gerald that he may be getting a knighthood, he says that all the family will have to do is ‘keeping out of trouble’. This is seconds before the Inspector enters with trouble for the family, this is the dramatic irony. The audience is able to sense that all is not well in the world. The audience knows stuff that the characters do not.