Use of language in An Inspector Calls

The language in An Inspector Calls includes dialogue and stage directions. Priestley has tried to make the dialogue realistic so there is less emphasis on imagery and more focus on plain, at times emotive, expression.

It is important to consider how the dialogue adds to the drama of the play. The dramatic features of the dialogue include:

  • dramatic pauses
  • repetition
  • gasps and interruptions
  • fluency and length

The stage directions also add to the drama of the play. Early in the play, Sheila says to Gerald 'so you be careful'. This line could be delivered in a number of ways, each would change its meaning. Priestley specifies that the line is said 'half playful, half serious'. This stage direction gives a very early hint to observant audience members that all is not well between Sheila and Gerald. Without it, Priestley's dramatic intentions might be lost.

When analysing the language Priestley uses, you could use this structure:

  • What are the ideas Priestley is trying to get across?
  • How has he chosen particular words to reflect this?
  • What effect does this have on the audience?

Evidence and explanation of the language used

Dramatic pausesA significant dramatic pause is used at the end of Act One when the Inspector says to Sheila and Gerald 'Well?'Priestley has done this to create a dramatic cliff-hanger at the end of the act.After the act ended, there would be an intermission. The audience would go into the theatre bar buzzing with questions, desperate for the next act to start.
RepetitionIn real life people repeat themselves - Priestley uses this technique to add a sense of realism and character to his dialogue. Eric says 'He could. He could have kept her on instead of throwing her out.'In this instance the repetition shows that Eric is a little uncertain of himself, he hesitates and then repeats himself.The playwright cannot rely on lengthy descriptions about actions and appearance. This repetition helps get across Eric's character in a subtle way.
Gasps and interruptionsPriestley uses interruptions to add to the drama, a panicked Mr Birling quickly interrupts his daughter '(cutting in) Just a minute, Sheila. Now, Inspector, perhaps you and I had better go and talk this over quietly in a corner-'. This interruption shows that Mr Birling is afraid that his daughter is going to get them into trouble by saying too much.This makes the audience dislike Mr Birling further. He is shown to be a man who will try to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.
Stage directions Priestley helps actors with their delivery of lines. Mr Birling loses patience '(rather impatiently) Yes, yes. Horrid business.'This ensures that the tone of the scene is kept as Priestley intended.The effect in this case is to show the arrogance of Mr Birling, he is trying to hurry the Inspector along. Stage directions can be used for a wide range of different purposes.
Fluency and lengthPriestley varies the length of the lines the characters deliver, Sheila gives the blunt and snappy line 'Because I was in a furious temper' when explaining her behaviour.The pace of the drama can be controlled by varying the fluency and length of the lines. At first, Mr Birling speaks with enormous fluency, delivering long, self-assured speeches. In contrast, Eric initially delivers lines with pauses and breaks in them. Short, snappy dialogue speeds up the action. Longer speeches can deliver themes and ideas.Sheila's line shows how ashamed she is of her actions. It also shows her honesty. She doesn't make excuses, she just presents the facts.