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An Inspector Calls Suggested Essays

by J. B. Priestley

Suggested Essay Questions

  1. Trace the different levels of tension throughout the play. How does Priestley create tension?

    To answer this question, you might want to consider some factors associated with tension: twists, pace, momentum, and so on. It is important to consider what the audience knows and does not know at any given point, as well as the clues that Priestley drops. Note that some tension can be found within a character and that some can be found between characters. You can consider tension similarly to the way you consider conflict, but do not just name the conflicts; this question asks you to examine the different levels or magnitudes of tension and how Priestley produces tension for the characters and for the audience.

  2. The Inspector is nothing more than a perfectly human hoaxer, and Priestley makes it clear. Do you agree?

    This question asks you to focus on the role of the Inspector. You might begin by explaining how you might justify the premise in the question, noting the evidence that suggests he is a human hoaxer, then opening your answer out to take in some other points of view. Consider that Priestley might have left the Inspector's identity ambiguous on purpose.

  3. How are Birling and the Inspector coming from "opposite ideological points of view"?

    This question asks you to focus on two characters and how their political and social views differ. Use a lot of quotations from the play to develop an understanding of the different standpoints of each character. Consider what each one seems to believe about the role of an individual in society, and use the theme of responsibility as a major guide. It might also be helpful to consider a few similarities.

  4. Delineate the "chain of events" that allegedly led to Eva Smith's death.

    This question simply asks you to explain the chain of events that led to Eva Smith's death, from the point of view of the Inspector. A good answer to this question might go further and look at the idea of the "chain of events" itself, who believes in it, and its relevance as a metaphor.

  5. Write a character analysis of Gerald Croft.

    Outline his characteristics based on what he says and what he does, both during the play and before it begins. Try to assess both the good and the bad things about him before drawing a conclusion.

  6. Why is time an important theme in Priestley's play?

    Focus not only on time as a concept (consider what Priestley thought and wrote about time) but also on the pecularities of time as it applies to this play in particular. Think about how the Inspector in particular has to do with this theme, and consider how the past actions of individual characters build the scenario of Eva's death, the interrogations and judgments of the present, and the Inspector's warning about the future.

  7. J.L. Styan has written that the play's final twist gives a "spurious emphasis irrelevant to the substance of the play." Might he be wrong?

    This question asks you to engage with a critical opinion regarding the final twist of the play. First, outline your view of the final moments of the play, focusing on the strange news and the themes involved. Do these themes intensify or distract from the play thus far and the play as a whole? Does the news put a kind of bracket around the rest of the play that gives the whole episode with the Inspector a new meaning? If so, does this put us in the place of Mr. Birling, such that the theme of responsibility no longer has as much weight if it was all a hoax or a weird supernatural event--or does the prospect of it having been a supernatural event invest the idea of responsibility with even greater import?

  8. Make the case for Edna being the play's most important character.

    This question asks you to look at the role of Edna and consider how she, perhaps more than anyone else, might be central to the play and its themes. If Edna represents the living objects of all of the characters' present social responsibilities, she may be even more important than the deceased Eva. If in some sense the rich have a social responsibility toward the poor, then perhaps Edna embodies the central message of the play regarding the need to look out for one another. A good essay also will examine the counter-evidence: perhaps at best she is a symbol of the play's message and in that sense only a minor character. And isn't social responsibility really about each person's responsibility to all others, rather than the one-sided class-based responsibility, drawing on old notions of a social elite, that would narrowly see the class issue as central to the play?

  9. Compare An Inspector Calls to another play by Priestley that you have read.

    This play asks you to look at An Inspector Calls against another play by Priestley. Time and the Conways or I Have Been Here Before might be good choices. Consider the similarities and differences in the plays' plots, characters and, of course, dominant or important themes and apparent messages. Also consider the historical context of the plays.

  10. To what extent is Birling essentially a comic character, lacking a serious or ominous side?

    This question puts forward quite a provocative view of Birling. Most readers will disagree with the idea that there is no serious dimension to Birling's actions and words or that there is nothing ominous presented about his allegedly selfish views and politics. Yet, keen readers will notice the moments at which an audience might find Priestley's presentation of him and his views comic, especially for the sake of making his views seem ludicrous. Weigh both sides of the issue before drawing a conclusion for your essay.

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