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An Inspector Calls - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz will test you on the context in JB Priestley's play An Inspector Calls.

The context of a text means the environment in which it was written. In a way, context is similar to setting, but applies to the real, rather than fictional, world. Context includes political events, both contemporary to the author and those of the recent past, social issues, geographical location and can even include the author’s personal beliefs.

How to write about context

Understanding the context of a fictional work is important because of the effects which this has on the meaning of text. The relationship is not straightforward, however.

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History is in itself complicated and does not affect the text directly, working instead through the mind and prejudices of the author.

When writing about context, pay the closest attention to the text itself. What does it say about history, about politics, or about social issues? This is what is important. Finding out about context for yourself will help you better understand the text, or the points which the text makes. It’s important to remember that even the most political of texts are not actually manifestos and have more to tell us about the world and about ourselves.

Remember, too, to distinguish between the setting of the text and its context. Texts are very frequently set in eras and geographical locations which differ from their own context. Thinking about the relationship between setting and context will help you to understand the text more deeply.

Research the context of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, and remember what you have learned in lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.

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  1. With regard to women, what was one of the biggest changes between the time the play is set and the time it was first performed?
    Because class and gender are intertwined, it is important to distinguish between the experiences of wealthy women such as Mrs Birling and Sheila and poor working class women such as Eva Smith, who had to have paid work to survive
  2. Mr Birling describes the Titanic as "unsinkable". This is an example of...
    The audience knows what Mr Birling does not know about the fate of the Titanic
  3. Which of the following statements is true?
    The play reminds its post-WWII audience of the terrible consequences of a social system in which individual members of the working class are considered disposable
  4. What was the result of the first General Election following WWII?
    The Labour Party won a landslide victory in 1945
  5. Which of the characters would have most benefitted from a welfare state, if it had existed during the time the play was set?
    Eva Smith's troubles were caused by the behaviour of individuals, including each member of the Birling family. Their consciences do not provide her with any protection, however. Better labour laws would have protected Eva from unfair dismissal and a welfare state could have prevented her from being exploited for sex by the two upper-class men
  6. J. B. Priestley was a supporter of which political philosophy?
    Priestley was a strong supporter for the creation of a welfare state in Britain
  7. An Inspector Calls was first performed...
    The play is set in 1912, but was first performed after the end of WWII
  8. How does class and gender affect Mrs Birling and Sheila?
    Mrs Birling does not appear to be a happy woman and Sheila is clearly aware of her dependence on Gerald's affection. Suspicious of Gerald's absences during the previous summer, all Sheila can do is to tease rather than confront him
  9. How does war affect our understanding of the play?
    Mr Birling's optimism is misplaced, since the country will soon be embroiled in war. Priestley, however, was optimistic for the future after the defeat of fascism in WWII
  10. What is the context for Mr Birling's complaint about "cranks" who write about community and collectivity?
    The 1910s were a time of deep unrest in Great Britain and across Europe. Much of this unrest was a response to inequitable social and working conditions. The play is set in the years following the Russian Revolution of 1905 and preceding that of 1917

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