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Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Presentation of Themes in 'An Inspector Calls'

In this worksheet, students will consider how themes are presented through the writer's use of language, structure and dramatic devices and how they help reflect the context in which Priestley was writing.

'Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Presentation of Themes in '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

detective speaking on a phone

 

For the highest marks in the exam, you need to show an excellent understanding of the relationship between the themes in the play and the context in which it was written.

 

To show that you are writing about ideas in the play in relation to context, you might use sentences such as:

 

'Priestley presents the theme of (x) to explore the corruption of capitalist society.'

'The theme of (x) is presented by Priestley who had the intention of promoting a socialist viewpoint.'

'Priestley's presentation of (x) highlights how patriarchal society was in 1912.'

 

For each theme explored, think:

How is the theme presented effectively to show us something about what was happening at the time Priestley was writing and when he set the play?

What were Priestley's intentions in writing the play and what impact does this have on his audience?

 

Remember that you also need to closely analyse the techniques that Priestley uses to present these themes.

 

Now have a go at the following activity which will help you to evaluate the effectiveness of the themes in the play.   

 

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

Priestley explores the theme of class.

 

Which explanation below links the theme to the context in which Priestley was writing?

 

 

 

Eva is presented as a working-class character who struggles with poverty. At the same time, Mr Birling is presented as an upper-middle-class business owner who makes Eva's life more difficult by not agreeing to increase her wages to help her to survive

Priestley presents a depiction of the class divide in 1912 through his juxtaposition of Eva's working-class struggle with Mr Birling's relative affluence as a business owner

Priestley explores the differences between capitalism and socialism in the play.

 

What does Priestley suggest about the capitalist economy of 1912? Complete the passage below.

Eva is presented as a working-class character who struggles with poverty. At the same time, Mr Birling is presented as an upper-middle-class business owner who makes Eva's life more difficult by not agreeing to increase her wages to help her to survive

Priestley presents a depiction of the class divide in 1912 through his juxtaposition of Eva's working-class struggle with Mr Birling's relative affluence as a business owner

Social responsibility is a key theme in 'An Inspector Calls'.

 

Match the quotations to what Priestley wanted to show about the younger and older generations' view about social responsibility.

Column A

Column B

Priestley shows how the older generation of capita...
"I did nothing I'm ashamed of"
Priestley shows that the younger generation are mo...
"You're beginning to pretend now that nothing's re...
Priestley shows that the younger generation are ab...
"It's what happened to the girl and what we all di...
Priestley is critical of the self importance of ca...
"They just won't try to understand our position or...

Gender is also explored as a key theme in the play.

 

In 1912, society was patriarchal - women were seen as inferior to men.

 

Edwardian lady

 

Match the quotations below to what they show about the patriarchal society Priestley was presenting.

 Women are depicted as frivolousSociety's view of women is depicted as weakGender stereotypes are passed down through the generationsThe younger generation start to show signs of being less submissiveEva is portrayed as a modern womanPriestley shows how women were implict in their own oppression.
"... men ... spend nearly all their time and energy on their business."
"I don't believe I will"
"Look - Mummy - isn't it a beauty?"
"She'd had a lot to say"
"I think Sheila and I had better go into the drawing-room and leave you men"
"... And you slammed the door in her face."

Priestley explores the difference in the younger and older generations as a theme in 'An Inspector Calls'.

 

Match the quotations below to the correct characters to show the difference in their attitudes.

Column A

Column B

Sheila
"Everything's all right now"
Eric
"But I'd a special reason for not wanting any publ...
Mrs Birling
"You're pretending everything's just as it was bef...
Mr Birling
"I was perfectly justified in advising my committe...
Gerald
"And I say the girl's dead and we all helped to ki...

What techniques does Priestley use in the play to undermine capitalist values?

 

Titanic

 

Complete the analytical passage below.

Column A

Column B

Sheila
"Everything's all right now"
Eric
"But I'd a special reason for not wanting any publ...
Mrs Birling
"You're pretending everything's just as it was bef...
Mr Birling
"I was perfectly justified in advising my committe...
Gerald
"And I say the girl's dead and we all helped to ki...

What is the effect of the ambiguous ending on presenting the theme of morality and social responsibility?

 

detective on a phone

 

 

 

 

 

Priestley ends the play with another phone call about the arrival of an Inspector. Priestley shows how the family initially did not accept their responsibility and now have another chance to change their attitude. Priestley shows his audience that they need to decide whether they want to return to Edwardian values of 1912 or move towards a more socially equal society in 1945/6

Priestley announces the arrival of an Inspector at the end of the play to show that the Birlings will be punished after all for their part in Eva's downfall

What techniques does Priestley use to promote the socialist viewpoint in the play?

Column A

Column B

Priestley's use of nouns in the stage directions t...
"he creates at once an impression of massiveness, ...
The use of light symbolism on the Inspector's arri...
"the Inspector interposes himself between them and...
The use of positioning on the stage and the use of...
"Give us some more light"
The Inspector's use of sarcasm and manipulation of...
"A nice little promising life there, I thought, an...

It is now time to have a go at a mini-essay question.

 

In the exam, you might be asked to write about how a writer presents a particular theme in the play.

 

You will need to use quotations to support each of your points and should link your points about a theme to the key contextual factors surrounding the play.

 

For the highest marks, you will also need to show an analysis of the writer's techniques in presenting this theme.

 

Task: How are ideas about gender explored in 'An Inspector Calls'?

 

Write three paragraphs.

It is now time to have a go at a mini-essay question.

 

In the exam, you might be asked to write about how a writer presents a particular theme in the play.

 

You will need to use quotations to support each of your points and should link your points about a theme to the key contextual factors surrounding the play.

 

For the highest marks, you will also need to show an analysis of the writer's techniques in presenting this theme.

 

The following question is worded to encourage you to demonstrate evaluation - try to write 3 paragraphs and then a concluding paragraph where you write an evaluative summary to answer the 'To what extent...?' part. Here you should give your personal response!

 

 

 

To what extent does Priestley show that the Birlings are blind to their social responsibility?

  • Question 1

Priestley explores the theme of class.

 

Which explanation below links the theme to the context in which Priestley was writing?

 

 

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Priestley presents a depiction of the class divide in 1912 through his juxtaposition of Eva's working-class struggle with Mr Birling's relative affluence as a business owner
EDDIE SAYS
Can you see how the second explanation looks at Priestley's characters/themes in relation to the real life context he was intending to depict? The first example just looks at aspects of the play. Priestley was looking back at 1912 in the play, depicting the social inequality that existed and the clearly defined class system. The characters/themes are his tools to do this - Eva representing the working class society of the time and the Birlings representing the wealthy business owners. Of course, by depicting society back in 1912 to his 1945/6 audiences which were lucky to have a little more equality, he warns of what society could become again if people didn't accept their social responsibility.
  • Question 2

Priestley explores the differences between capitalism and socialism in the play.

 

What does Priestley suggest about the capitalist economy of 1912? Complete the passage below.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill all of the spaces? It's useful to think of the characters as tools that Priestley uses to present his ideas. Mr Birling and indeed the other Birlings are used to show the corruption of the capitalist society in 1912. Think about how they all use their influence as middle class citizens in an immoral way. For example, Sheila uses her influence to get Eva sacked when she thinks she's laughing at her and Mrs Birling uses her influence to refuse Eva any help from her charity. The Birlings are shown to use their power to worsen the lives of those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Priestley wanted to promote the idea of people supporting each other in one big community and taking their social responsibility seriously. Remember that Priestley's play was first performed in 1945/6 when social equality was beginning to better after the war. By setting the play in 1912, Priestley depicted how society used to be and warns his audience of what it could become again if they were not careful.
  • Question 3

Social responsibility is a key theme in 'An Inspector Calls'.

 

Match the quotations to what Priestley wanted to show about the younger and older generations' view about social responsibility.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Priestley shows how the older gen...
"I did nothing I'm ashamed of"
Priestley shows that the younger ...
"You're beginning to pretend now ...
Priestley shows that the younger ...
"It's what happened to the girl a...
Priestley is critical of the self...
"They just won't try to understan...
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? Priestley juxtaposes the viewpoints of the younger and older generation. He shows how the older generation of Birlings are so caught up in their own self importance that they've become blind to the effect of their actions on others. They show no sign of accepting their moral responsibility. The younger generation who are still learning their way in the world have clearly made mistakes, but Priestley shows that they're able to change. They accept their social responsibility and become ashamed of their parents' viewpoint. Priestley shows how the younger generation will be the ones who can pave the way forward for a more socially equal society.
  • Question 4

Gender is also explored as a key theme in the play.

 

In 1912, society was patriarchal - women were seen as inferior to men.

 

Edwardian lady

 

Match the quotations below to what they show about the patriarchal society Priestley was presenting.

CORRECT ANSWER
 Women are depicted as frivolousSociety's view of women is depicted as weakGender stereotypes are passed down through the generationsThe younger generation start to show signs of being less submissiveEva is portrayed as a modern womanPriestley shows how women were implict in their own oppression.
"... men ... spend nearly all their time and energy on their business."
"I don't believe I will"
"Look - Mummy - isn't it a beauty?"
"She'd had a lot to say"
"I think Sheila and I had better go into the drawing-room and leave you men"
"... And you slammed the door in her face."
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? Remember that during the Edwardian period when the play was set, women's roles were defined as wives and mothers. They weren't seen to build their own careers. Women were viewed as weak and only capable of talking about superficial things such as clothes and weren't involved in more serious and important conversation. Of course, women still couldn't vote at this point either. Whilst Priestley very much presents the gender stereotypes of this patriarchal 1912 society, he also shows how women were beginning to be less submissive and fight for more equality. After all, Eva fights for higher wages and Sheila, herself, shows hints of something more than a weak and delicate woman when she questions and criticises her parents. Indeed Priestley presents her as one of the most perceptive characters in the play. More equality existed between men and women after the war when the play was performed so by depicting a return to these Edwardian values, Priestley warns what society could become again if people didn't continue fighting for more equality.
  • Question 5

Priestley explores the difference in the younger and older generations as a theme in 'An Inspector Calls'.

 

Match the quotations below to the correct characters to show the difference in their attitudes.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Sheila
"You're pretending everything's j...
Eric
"And I say the girl's dead and we...
Mrs Birling
"I was perfectly justified in adv...
Mr Birling
"But I'd a special reason for not...
Gerald
"Everything's all right now"
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? Notice how the younger generation show remorse for their actions, whilst Mr and Mrs Birling are keen to put the blame elsewhere and show relief when Gerald tells them the Inspector isn't real. Mr Birling is mostly interested in his reputation and Mrs Birling is more concerned with Eric's drinking rather than what's happened to a young girl. Note however, that Gerald's attitude, although part of the younger generation here, is very similar to Mr Birlings. He's quick to find a way to shake off the blame! However, through Sheila and Eric, Priestley shows how the younger generation who were more open-minded would be the ones to pave the way forward to a more equal and liberal society.
  • Question 6

What techniques does Priestley use in the play to undermine capitalist values?

 

Titanic

 

Complete the analytical passage below.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill all of the blanks? Remember for the highest marks in the exam, you not only need to link your ideas to the context of the play, but you need to analyse the writer's craft. For the top marks in the exam, you must try to analyse both language and structure/dramatic devices. Try to use as much technical vocabulary as you can when you do this to impress the examiner. In the passage above, we have explored dramatic irony and structural devices - try to write about these techniques in the exam!
  • Question 7

What is the effect of the ambiguous ending on presenting the theme of morality and social responsibility?

 

detective on a phone

 

 

 

 

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Priestley ends the play with another phone call about the arrival of an Inspector. Priestley shows how the family initially did not accept their responsibility and now have another chance to change their attitude. Priestley shows his audience that they need to decide whether they want to return to Edwardian values of 1912 or move towards a more socially equal society in 1945/6
EDDIE SAYS
Whilst the second option may be true, the first explanation explains the effect of the ending more thoroughly. Priestley's use of an ambiguous open ending to the play gives the audience the power to decide what the future will hold. Do they want to return to the social and gender inequality of the capitalist Edwardian society or continue to pave the way forward to a more equal, liberal and socialist society in 1945/6?
  • Question 8

What techniques does Priestley use to promote the socialist viewpoint in the play?

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Priestley's use of nouns in the s...
"he creates at once an impression...
The use of light symbolism on the...
"Give us some more light"
The use of positioning on the sta...
"the Inspector interposes himself...
The Inspector's use of sarcasm an...
"A nice little promising life the...
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? Think about all of the ways in which the Inspector is presented as a strong and trustworthy character - you might analyse the choice of language in the stage directions but also consider how Priestley presents the Inspector's dialogue. All in all, the Inspector controls the investigation and manages to get each member of the family to confess their secrets, this presents him as a powerful character. As a result, the audience learns to look to him for the moral message of the play which is one of socialism and social responsibility. This message is given extra weight because of the way in which Priestley presents the Inspector on stage.
  • Question 9

It is now time to have a go at a mini-essay question.

 

In the exam, you might be asked to write about how a writer presents a particular theme in the play.

 

You will need to use quotations to support each of your points and should link your points about a theme to the key contextual factors surrounding the play.

 

For the highest marks, you will also need to show an analysis of the writer's techniques in presenting this theme.

 

Task: How are ideas about gender explored in 'An Inspector Calls'?

 

Write three paragraphs.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Your paragraph might look something like this: Priestley presents patriarchal Edwardian society through the character of Sheila. Priestley shows how women were viewed as frivolous and silly through Sheila's focus on material things during Act 1. When Gerald gives her the engagement ring she is shown to be very excited with the exclamation 'it's wonderful!'. When she says 'Now I really feel engaged.' we see that Sheila's view of marriage is superficial. In addition to this, Priestley shows us how women were viewed as weak and delicate and not allowed to be privy to serious conversation. For example, when Mrs Birling says she had 'better go into the drawing-room and leave you men -'. Here, Priestley creates an image of physical separation between men and women which symbolises the gender divide in Edwardian society. Although in 1945/6 when the play was first performed, the gender divide had lessened, with women having earnt the right to vote and due to the war were more valued in the workplace, Priestley returns to the Edwardian patriarchal values in his play to warn his audience about what society could easily return to.
  • Question 10

It is now time to have a go at a mini-essay question.

 

In the exam, you might be asked to write about how a writer presents a particular theme in the play.

 

You will need to use quotations to support each of your points and should link your points about a theme to the key contextual factors surrounding the play.

 

For the highest marks, you will also need to show an analysis of the writer's techniques in presenting this theme.

 

The following question is worded to encourage you to demonstrate evaluation - try to write 3 paragraphs and then a concluding paragraph where you write an evaluative summary to answer the 'To what extent...?' part. Here you should give your personal response!

 

 

 

To what extent does Priestley show that the Birlings are blind to their social responsibility?

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Your paragraph might look something like this: Whilst Priestley depicts the selfishness of the older generation who fail to accept their social responsibility, he also presents the younger generation in 1945/6 as more open-minded. Priestley also presents his audience as part of a society that could pave the way for greater social equality. After Gerald discovers that the Inspector is fake, Eric and Sheila are both shown to have learnt a lot about how their actions impact others. Eric criticises his parents who he says are "beginning to pretend now that nothing's really happened at all". Indeed, the repetition of the verb 'pretend' by Eric and Sheila highlights how ashamed they are of the way their parents are trying to cover up their part of the blame. Priestley's use of stage directions such as the verb 'shouting' to describe Eric's response to his parent's selfishness when he says 'And I say the girl's dead' helps to highlight how genuine and passionate Eric and Sheila are in their feelings about what has happened. Priestley shows that they have learnt about their social responsibility as members of an influential family. Whilst the play was first performed in 1945/6 when socialism was becoming more prominent, Priestley depicted the capitalist society of 1912 to warn his audience about what society could return to and to show how the younger generation could make a real difference in growing a more equal and liberal society. Great focus, this was a longer activity and you completed it!
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