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An Inspector Calls - Context
Mr Birling thinks the Titanic is unsinkable... little does he know!

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.

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.
How does class and gender affect Mrs Birling and Sheila?
Because of their class and gender, they are guaranteed a comfortable, happy life
Their best option as upper-class women is to marry well
They have all the advantages of men of their class
They are not affected by class and gender
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
2.
An Inspector Calls was first performed...
during the Great War (WWI)
before the First World War
before the Second World War
after the Second World War
The play is set in 1912, but was first performed after the end of WWII
3.
What is the context for Mr Birling's complaint about "cranks" who write about community and collectivity?
The rise of socialism
The Russian Revolutions
Labour unrest and the rise of trade unions
All of the above
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
4.
Mr Birling describes the Titanic as "unsinkable". This is an example of...
surrealism
metaphor
dramatic irony
poor research
The audience knows what Mr Birling does not know about the fate of the Titanic
5.
Which of the following statements is true?
Class was not an important concern during the time the play is set
People were focussed on rebuilding Britain after WWII and had no time to be concerned with social change
Class distinctions were reinforced by the end of the Second World War
The rigid class distinctions of the play's setting were being strongly challenged during and immediately following WWII
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
6.
J. B. Priestley was a supporter of which political philosophy?
Conservatism
Socialism
Fascism
J. B. Priestley was apolitical
Priestley was a strong supporter for the creation of a welfare state in Britain
7.
How does war affect our understanding of the play?
The characters of the play are unaware of impending war, while the audience is conscious of having recently survived war
The audience is unaware of impending war, while the characters are conscious of having recently survived war
The characters are aware that war is coming. This awareness affects their behaviour, encouraging them to think about responsibility
None of the characters in the play are aware of impending war, meaning that war has no effect on 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
8.
Which of the characters would have most benefitted from a welfare state, if it had existed during the time the play was set?
Mr Birling
Gerald
Sheila
Eva Smith
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
9.
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?
Women began to be able to hold jobs. They had never worked before the Second World War
Women gained the right to vote
Women began to be able to run businesses of their own. They had never been able to own businesses before the Second World War
All of the above
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
10.
What was the result of the first General Election following WWII?
A Labour landslide
A Conservative landslide
A narrow Labour victory
A narrow Conservative victory
The Labour Party won a landslide victory in 1945
Author:  Sheri Smith

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