Planning your answer

Before beginning an answer, it is important that you plan it carefully. You must ensure that all the points you make are relevant to the question and that you are addressing the assessment objectives.

Below is a structure you could use for your answer:

  1. Introduction - show you know where the extract is from.
  2. Who is Mr Birling?
  3. Point 1 - How is he presented in this extract?
  4. Point 2 - What ideas does he represent?
  5. Point 3 - How is he presented in the rest of the play? Does he change?
  6. Conclusion - sum up your main ideas.

Sample answers

Consider how Mr Birling is presented in the extract and the ideas he represents.

Sample answer 1

In this extract Mr Birling is shown as being ignorant; he makes a joke out of young peoples' behaviour, suggesting "you don't know what some of these boys get up to nowadays" but he does not know that his own son has been drinking heavily and mistreating Eva Smith. Mr Birling also shows that he is very arrogant, stating that "a man has to make his own way - has to look after himself" showing that Mr Birling believes that everyone should look after themselves. J B Priestley did not believe this. He thought we should look after one another. Finally, Mr Birling shows that he can be quite sexist. After talking to Eric and Gerald, he says that they will "join the ladies. That'll stop me giving you good advice". Mr Birling sees men and women as being two separate species: the advice he gives is only good for the men that he is with. This shows that he does not see men and women as equal.

Feedback - good but could be improved

  • This answers the question but there could definitely be further exploration.
  • There are good quotations chosen but they explain their impact rather than explore them. They could consider the impact on the audience further.
  • Some of the writer's ideas are mentioned but there is not enough detail. Ideas on age, social responsibility or context of the play are not mentioned.

Sample answer 2

Priestley presents Mr Birling in a negative light in this extract. Priestley does this by showing Mr Birling's ignorance when he says that they "don't know what some of these boys get up to nowadays." He is joking here about the behaviour of young men, but he has no idea that his own son has a drink problem, has stolen money from him and has had an affair that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps Priestley is making a point about gender and age, that older male role models do not take the excesses of younger men as seriously as they should. This lack of understanding between the generations is reflected again when Mr Birling states that "so many of you don't seem to understand now". Mr Birling again shows his ignorance, referring to young men as 'you', putting them all together in one group and not seeing them as individuals. Mr Birling’s ideas about social responsibility are summed up when he tells Eric and Gerald that is “a man has to make his own way – has to look after himself”. Here Priestley presents in a very obvious way Mr Birling’s selfish outlook and lack of concern for others, highlighting one of his key ideas in the play, that of social responsibility. Mr Birling doesn’t agree with the idea that we should look after one another “like bees in a hive”; Priestley strongly disagreed with this idea and used the play to try to convince the audience of the time that they should care for the needy, not just ignore them. It is interesting to note that whilst Mr Birling is in the middle of his speech, suggesting that a man should "look after himself and his own-and-", he is interrupted by the 'sharp ring' of the doorbell. This signals the arrival of the Inspector. The ring of the doorbell at this moment could be a suggestion by Priestley that it signals the arrival of a character who has the power to interrupt Mr Birling and to challenge his arrogant assumptions.

Feedback - much better!

  • This answer shows a good understanding of the question. The response is clear, thoughtful and evaluative.
  • The quotes are explored in detail, considering the impact of specific words. The impact on the audience could be looked at more.
  • The answer shows a clear understanding of the ideas that J B Priestley wanted to get across with this play and the points are explored fully. There could be a bit more detail around context - what were the issues at the time of writing?

Use the skills you have learnt and revised whilst reading this chapter and write your own response to An Inspector Calls. Time yourself and try to hit all the assessment objectives.