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Test your knowledge of language in this high school English Literature on J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls.
An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley is a text of its time. Its language is that of the 1910s and 1940s. Many characters speak in a way that sounds deeply old-fashioned now. Not only would you not hear anyone speak quite as Mr and Mrs Birling do, but you will also find that politics, too, is now expressed in a language very different from that of this play. Yet this does not mean that the same or similar issues are not discussed today.
Beyond the sometimes old-fashioned dialog, however, language choices give us constant clues in the text.
We know quite a bit about Mr Birling when he speaks in glowing terms about his optimistic outlook on the future, drawing upon contemporary descriptions of the Titanic. Mr and Mrs Birling’s use of language infantilises their daughter and son and demonstrates both their patronizing attitudes and also their unwillingness to change. The older generation’s resistance to change is one of the most important themes of the play. This is one example of the way that language accomplishes many tasks at once.
Although visual elements, such as illustration, layout and details like choice of font, affect your understanding and interpretation of a text, the primary medium through which meaning is conveyed is that of language. Without words, there would be no text.
Authors choose the language that they use carefully. Each word has its literal meaning, of course, but usually also has a weight of symbolic meanings and other associations. Language can convey literary effects through the use of imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification. Dialogue, setting and characterisation all rely on language.
Paying close attention to language choices in a text adds depth to your understanding. Much of the meaning of a text does not exist at the surface-level of the literal. Dig deeper and see what treasures you can find!
Answer the questions below about An Inspector Calls to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect our interpretation of a text.