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Overview of Context for 'An Inspector Calls'

In this worksheet, students will revise the key contextual factors surrounding Priestley's 'An Inspector Calls'.

'Overview of Context for 'An Inspector Calls'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   English Literature

GCSE Boards:   Eduqas, OCR, Pearson Edexcel, AQA

Curriculum topic:   Post-1914 Prose / Drama, Modern Prose or Drama, Post-1914 Play or Novel, Modern Texts: Drama

Curriculum subtopic:   An Inspector Calls

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

women working in a factory          Titanic        Edwardian lady     

 

How do the images above relate to the context of 'An Inspector Calls'?
 

 

In the exam, you will need to relate all of your points about characters or themes in the play to something about the context in which Priestley was writing.

 

In this activity we will explore the key contextual factors around 'An Inspector Calls' and will think about:

 

- aspects of genre

- what was happening in the world at the time Priestley was writing and when the play was set

- Priestley's intentions

- how the play was received

 

You should always refer to your own text when working through these examples.  These quotations are for reference only.

To begin with, let's revise a little bit about the playwright J.B. Priestley.

 

Priestley's play 'An Inspector Calls' was first performed in 1945 and is therefore considered a post-war drama.

 

What year did he set the play?

Why do you think Priestley chose to set his play in 1912?

To create a historical play about a period in time

To show how far society had come but to warn of what it could go back to

To depict his own life experiences

It's important to think about what life was like in 1912, sometimes considered to be at the end of the Edwardian period?

 

What did Priestley not like about this period? 

Social equality

Gender inequality

Social inequality

Gender equality

How did the wars change Britain?

 

Derelict houses from bombing and firefighters

Social equality

Gender inequality

Social inequality

Gender equality

Through 'An Inspector Calls' Priestley delivers a social and political message.

Column A

Column B

Socialism
Controls the production of wealth and distributes ...
Capitalism
The right of the individual to have a say in how t...
Democracy
The imposition of government without the people ha...
Facism
Promotes the idea of community and shared responsi...
Communism
Promotes the acquisition of personal wealth

Understanding a little bit about the women's suffrage movement is also important when studying 'An Inspector Calls'.

 

Emmeline Pankhurst holding a sign saying 'Votes for Women'.

Women's suffrage meant the right to vote

Women received equal suffrage to men in 1928

Women could vote in 1912, just like men

Suffragettes fought for the right to vote and many were arrested and imprisoned for breaking the law

Along with the right to vote, women won equal pay to men

'An Inspector Calls' fits into several genres.

Column A

Column B

Realism
An intricate plot that builds to a climax that oft...
A well made play
Priestley uses the popularity of the 'whodunnit' g...
Morality Play
Priestley employs a similar convention to the play...
Crime drama
Priestley presents characters as real people whose...
Experimental
The role of the Inspector moves beyond the rationa...

The Titanic is referred to in the play and Arthur describes this as 'unsinkable'.

 

Titanic

 

Remember that although the play was set in 1912 just before the Titanic sank, the play was first performed in 1945, long after this event, so the audience can see how ridiculous this statement is!

 

What technique does Priestley use here that is important to delivering his message?

Complete the passage below to explore how 'An Inspector Calls' was received by its audiences.

 

Theatre

  • Question 1

To begin with, let's revise a little bit about the playwright J.B. Priestley.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? Think about how these life experiences are reflected in 'An Inspector Calls'. It's particularly important to think about how Priestley lived before, during and after the war and what he saw in society at these different times. Priestley also had a clear interest in politics and even formed his own political party. Think about how these political views play out in 'An Inspector Calls'.
  • Question 2

Priestley's play 'An Inspector Calls' was first performed in 1945 and is therefore considered a post-war drama.

 

What year did he set the play?

CORRECT ANSWER
1912
EDDIE SAYS
This is important to understanding the play fully! Priestley wrote the play at the end of World War Two but set 'An Inspector Calls' in 1912. This was before even World War One had taken place. A lot had changed in society between 1912 and 1945 - think about why Priestley might have wanted to set his play in the past!
  • Question 3

Why do you think Priestley chose to set his play in 1912?

CORRECT ANSWER
To show how far society had come but to warn of what it could go back to
EDDIE SAYS
Did you choose the second one? A lot changed throughout the wars and the world was a very different place after World War II finished. Priestley wanted to show what society used to be like in 1912, to draw on its negative aspects. Although he saw how much society had changed by 1945, he wanted to offer a depiction of what society could easily return to if people weren't careful. Priestley wanted to encourage the change that had started to happen and push people to continue to move forward and not return to the values of Edwardian society.
  • Question 4

It's important to think about what life was like in 1912, sometimes considered to be at the end of the Edwardian period?

 

What did Priestley not like about this period? 

CORRECT ANSWER
Gender inequality
Social inequality
EDDIE SAYS
Did you spot the two that are correct? Priestley shows that society in 1912 was full of inequality. There was a clear distinction between the rich and poor and there was little available to help those struggling in poverty. Those at the bottom of this social hierarchy were paid extremely low wages and lived in terrible conditions. They even struggled to feed themselves. Working women were at the very bottom of this social hierarchy. Women had very few rights - they weren't allowed to vote or build their own careers. They had to look to marriage to offer them wealth and status. Priestley didn't like the inequality he saw in society before the war.
  • Question 5

How did the wars change Britain?

 

Derelict houses from bombing and firefighters

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill all of the blank spaces? The war changed a lot about Britain - it broke down everything that Britain once was and people looked for Britain to be rebuilt in a different way. Priestley's play promotes this period as an opportunity for Britain to move forward and to become more equal but warns that it could quite easily return to its old ways if people didn't seize the opportunity.
  • Question 6

Through 'An Inspector Calls' Priestley delivers a social and political message.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Socialism
Promotes the idea of community an...
Capitalism
Promotes the acquisition of perso...
Democracy
The right of the individual to ha...
Facism
The imposition of government with...
Communism
Controls the production of wealth...
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? Knowing a little bit about some of these political viewpoints will help you to understand more about Priestley's social and political message. Priestley is often considered to be a socialist - he believed that those with wealth have a responsibility to help those who don't. He promoted the idea of community - everyone having a responsibility for each other. Of course, to deliver this message, he depicts the Capitalist society in 1912 to show what could happen if individuals focus on building their own wealth, without considering the effect of their actions on others around them.
  • Question 7

Understanding a little bit about the women's suffrage movement is also important when studying 'An Inspector Calls'.

 

Emmeline Pankhurst holding a sign saying 'Votes for Women'.

CORRECT ANSWER
Women's suffrage meant the right to vote
Women received equal suffrage to men in 1928
Suffragettes fought for the right to vote and many were arrested and imprisoned for breaking the law
EDDIE SAYS
Did you spot the three that are correct? Before women's suffrage was achieved in 1928, women were not allowed to vote. Indeed women had very little rights - they were expected to be wives and mothers who cooked and cleaned the home. During the war, Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett who were two leaders of the Suffragettes and encouraged women to play their part in the war efforts by taking on traditionally male jobs. World War II saw the gender gap close slightly. However, women didn't necessarily receive equal pay to men. Indeed, equality of pay between the genders is unjust today.
  • Question 8

'An Inspector Calls' fits into several genres.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Realism
Priestley presents characters as ...
A well made play
An intricate plot that builds to ...
Morality Play
Priestley employs a similar conve...
Crime drama
Priestley uses the popularity of ...
Experimental
The role of the Inspector moves b...
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? Priestley works within all of the forms and genres above to some extent. Try to consider the effect of the stylistic devices he uses that are part of these different genres. For example, while we see the characters as realistic, the Inspector is presented in a more mysterious way and the way in which Gerald reveals the Inspector and the events he has described as fake, moves beyond the realm of realism into more experimental theatre. Why does Priestley choose to do this?
  • Question 9

The Titanic is referred to in the play and Arthur describes this as 'unsinkable'.

 

Titanic

 

Remember that although the play was set in 1912 just before the Titanic sank, the play was first performed in 1945, long after this event, so the audience can see how ridiculous this statement is!

 

What technique does Priestley use here that is important to delivering his message?

CORRECT ANSWER
Dramatic irony
EDDIE SAYS
Did you get this? Dramatic irony is evoked when the audience know something that the characters don't! They would've known that the Titanic sank which completely undermines Arthur Birling's viewpoint here and highlights his arrogance. Indeed, the Titanic was a symbol of the distinct class systems of the time, with completely separate living quarters for the lower and upper classes - just think about the differences between the experiences of Jack and Rose in the film! Priestley uses the Titanic as a representation of the capitalist society that Arthur Birling represents and then uses the Inspector to destroy these views, much like what happens to the Titanic!
  • Question 10

Complete the passage below to explore how 'An Inspector Calls' was received by its audiences.

 

Theatre

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill all of the spaces? Remember that when you're exploring the context of the play, it's also important to think about how it was received by its audiences then and now. In 1946, for example, the socialist message of the play echoed the politics of the time -there would've been supporters of this but also people who were against this political viewpoint. Priestley depicts the corruption of capitalism to encourage more of his audience to see the benefits of a socialist society. Remember that his audiences in 1945/6 would also be very familiar with, and perhaps have even lived through, some of the historical events he refers to - the Wars and the sinking of the Titanic for example. This makes these events even more relevant to his overall message to these audiences. Great focus!
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