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Context about An Inspector Calls? (1912?

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Wahida Ahmed

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It is an example of immediate post-war drama, it was written after World War Two. Post-war dramas take up some of the economic, political, and social issues prompting that conflict, including socialism versus capitalism, democracy versus fascism, and communal versus individual rights and privileges. It is also a historical drama, as it is set in the run-up to the World War One. This produces instances of dramatic irony throughout the play. Characters refer to the possibility of World War One, and of later calamities that would seem, to the post-World War Two audience, pivotal and lamentable landmarks in world history. The small-scale but devastating violence described in the play points to the slaughter of many thousands that will occur only a few years after its narrated action. Second, the play considers realistic characters in a realistic upper-middle-class situation, and characters speak in “prose” rather than in “verse.” That is, the characters’ language is closer to dialogue in a novel than to the speeches of Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Othello, for example. The presence of the “Inspector” marks within An Inspector Calls the possibility of actions beyond rational reasoning. Priestley’s work can be viewed as a hinge between more realistic plays of the early twentieth century and the darker, less plot-driven, and more experimental dramas. The performance history of the play sheds some light on its possible meanings, both at the time of its composition and in later interpretations. Although An Inspector Calls is set some thirty-five years before its first performance, its consideration of industrial power and human worth was still very much an issue at the time of its debut. Priestley weighs what blame belongs to whom, and how ill-considered actions on the individual scale can have fatal, if unintentional, consequences. Anyone watching the play in the 1940s might see the heedlessness of Arthur, the aloofness of Sybil, the outward guilt of Sheila, or the drunkenness of Eric both as personal flaws and as potentially allegorical statements about national responsibility in continental Europe, the UK, and the United States.

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