An Inspector Calls: Answering questions on themes
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An Inspector Calls: Answering questions on themes
What are themes? • Themes are the big ideas behind the text such as social class, time, gender roles, responsibility etc. • The questions usually focus on the how Priestley presents a particular theme but because the themes are inter-related, this will inevitably mean you need to bring in other ideas as well.
Examples • “How does Priestley show the differences between the social classes in An Inspector Calls?” • Arthur Birling says, ‘If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?’ How does Priestley present ideas about responsibility in An Inspector Calls?
Answering on themes Being asked to explain how a theme is presented means you have to examine three things: 1. The way in which Priestley relates to the theme in the stage directions. How the scene is described, where the characters are located, how they make their entrances and exits all may relate to the theme. In addition, the adjectives used to describe their manner and appearance, the adverbs used to describe their actions and moods and relations with each other may also suggest the theme. 2. What the characters say and do and especially how this relates to the way in which they build our understanding of the theme of the play. 3. How the characters’ relationships develop and how these relate to the theme.
Key skills Remember the exam questions are about asking you to show three key skills. That: 1. You can write about the play in a thoughtful way. You can pick out quotations and use them to express and explain a series of relevant points. PETERCA paragraphs 2. Your points show that you can identify and explain features of the play’s form, structure and language and how Priestley uses these present themes. Don’t forget to talk about these using the specialist terms: dramatic irony, imagery, metaphors, similes, etc. 3. You can write in a clear, well-structured way. 5% of the marks in the exams are on SPAG – spelling, punctuation and grammar – so make sure you brush up on these.
The theme of generations https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0zzE61faPg
• The best way to approach themes questions is to brainstorm. Create a spider diagram of all the points you can think of that relate to the gap between the young and the old in the play. • If you get stuck, ask yourself questions • WHO is old, who is young? How are they described? What might they represent? • WHAT do they say to each other? Do they understand each other? WHEN the play starts, what are their relationships like? WHEN the play ends have their relationships changed? HOW and WHY have they changed?
The OLD • Arthur Birling and Sybil Birling – are the same and share traditional views, find examples from the text to suggest their views. They know best, children should be seen and not heard. Don’t like their authority challenged. Find evidence for all those. What is their attitude to Eva? To the Inspector? What is their view after the Inspector has left? When the Inspector is found to be a fake? Do they learn anything? • They represent the ruling class. Hence they are oldfashioned and wrong – this fits with Priestley’s desire to show the whole class system as needing reform.
The YOUNG Sheila, Gerald, Eric and Eva are different. More open-minded. • Eva is ambitious – find evidence of how she wanted to improve herself. She was determined and brave – find evidence for that. She also wanted social change – find evidence. • Sheila is superficial but changes. Eric is spoiled but also changes. They both challenge their parents- find evidence of how their language differs from their parents and how it changes through the play. They both learn to be responsible for their actions and how their decisions affect others. Eric and Sheila both finish the play wishing to distance themselves from their parents and are no longer controlled by them. This relates to Priestley’s ideas that there is a chance for the future to be better if we learn from our past mistakes.
Gerald • He is the one member of the younger generation who sides with the old. WHY? • Is it because he is an aristocrat? How was his attitude to Eva slightly different from Arthur Birling’s? He seems to have a guilty conscience but in the end he doesn’t seem to learn anything. Why is he marrying Sheila? Gerald perhaps suggests that the brighter future is not inevitable. • The theme of the generations links to the theme of class. Priestley is making a criticism of the upper classes by saying that they are set in their ways and therefore are not likely to change. It is up to people to choose change and make it happen.
CONTEXT • Play is staged in 1946 but was written in 1945 – right at the time of the elections in Britain that brought the Labour Party to power with a mandate to change. • The Labour government of 1945 was determined to change the class structure of Britain to give poorer working people a greater say in the way the country was run and better opportunities for health and social mobility. • The generations in the play may therefore represent the new world that was coming into being when the play was written. Remember the idea of the play being representative of the whole period between 1912 and 1945. • The family is like a microcosm of society as a whole? How the experience of the Inspector’s visit is an analogy of the interlude of the Wars? Like the family which has been shaken up by the Inspector, Society, has been shaken up by the Wars. Neither will ever be the same.
How do you get your grade from a C to a B? (Infer and interpret information from the text)
Point, Evidence, Technique Explanation, Reader, Context How do we use the PETERC chain to get C/B/A grades? 1. Putting the quote in context of the action (How does it fit in the novel/play?)
The Three Steps Involved in Explaining
2. Naming and discussing specific language features / stage techniques (word choice, simile, metaphor, symbol, lighting, character position, costume)
3. Referring to the social and historical context and how the reader would be affected
How do you get from a C to a B? (Infer and interpret information from the text)
Point, Evidence, Technique, Explanation, Reader, Context For example: A low ‘C’ grade looks like this: How does Priestley use the conflict between old and new generations to convey his message? Priestley shows a wide gap in thinking. This is shown on pg 50. Mrs B: “I simply don’t understand your attitude.” this shows the misunderstanding and different ways of thinking between the old and new generation and how stubborn the old generation are in comparison to the new.
It focuses on the task but uses only a PEE chain.
How do you get from a C to B? (Infer and interpret information from the text)
Point, Evidence, Technique, Explanation, Reader, Context To get it to a B/A use the three steps in explaining Priestley uses the wide gap in thinking between old and new generations to create conflict and to convey his message that as a society we should take responsibility for one another. This is shown when Sheila, just before the inspector questions Eric, causes her mother to get angry and say, “Sheila, I simply don’t understand your attitude.” At this point in the play, Sheila has admitted to the role she has played in the death of Eva Smith and has taken responsibility for her actions. Her mother’s short sentence and the use of the word “simply” show that Mrs Birling is truly confused about Sheila’s changed attitude. There is such a wide gap in the thinking of the two generations that it is inconceivable to Mrs Birling that Sheila should feel guilt and remorse for her part in the death. As a wealthy upper-class woman in 1912 who has no social conscience, Mrs Birling is stubbornly unable to change and this highlights Priestley’s message to the audience of the need for change and the horror of what will happen if society doesn’t.