What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?
In the previous lesson, students explored the differences emerging between the characters and their perspectives, considering what prompted these differences and how they were a source of conflict. Such discussions not only fostered students’ understanding of the characters, they also helped them to think about how and why people possess different perspectives, and what this can mean for society.
In this lesson, students will continue to develop their understanding of character, focusing on the character of Gerald, whilst exploring the differences between how men and women were expected to behave in Edwardian England. They will begin to explore the range and complexity of human behaviour by assessing Gerald’s treatment of both Eva Smith and Sheila: in some ways, Gerald’s treatment of the women in the play is reprehensible, but in other ways, he has behaved considerately, particularly when one considers the gender dynamics of Edwardian society. Discussing this conflict, whilst thinking about the gender dynamics of the period, gives students the opportunity to reflect on modern society: the ways in which gender expectations have changed and the ways in which they have not.
The activities in this lesson refer to pages 33–40 of the Heinemann edition of An Inspector Calls.
Alignment with the GCSE Specification
- Analysis (Lit-AO2, Lang-AO2)
- Clear and Coherent Writing (Lit-AO4, Lang-AO5/AO6)
- Critical Reading (Lit-AO1/AO3, Lang-AO1/AO4)
- Evidence-Based Reasoning (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
- Reading Comprehension (Lit-AO1, Lang-AO1)
- Spoken Language Skills (Lang-AO8, Lang-AO9)
Students use evidence-based reasoning to make predictions about what will occur in the scene using the words provided in a word scramble. On reading the play, students employ their critical reading and comprehension skills to discuss and assess Gerald’s behaviour, applying their knowledge of the sociohistorical context of Edwardian England and the expectations for different genders. Students then evaluate Gerald’s behaviour, critically engaging with the text by discussing and debating what his choices tell us about his character. This gives students an opportunity to share their views publicly and to listen to the views of others, thus strengthening their spoken language skills. Students then engage with the text on an analytical level: they use quotations from the play to create a stick figure, symbolic representation of Gerald; they rearrange and dissect an analytical paragraph; and they make claims concerning Priestley’s presentation of Gerald, selecting evidence to support their claims. The use of discussion and writing throughout gives students the opportunity to verbalise their thoughts and practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs.
Learn more about this unit’s Alignment with GCSE Specification.
In Edwardian England, the expectations for both genders differed greatly. Whilst women of a certain class were expected to be chaste before marriage and to not engage in any sexual relationships out of wedlock, this was not the case for men. It was accepted that men might take mistresses or have many relationships with women before marriage, but if women engaged in such behaviour they would have become social outcasts.
This freedom to be sexually active meant that many men sought out prostitutes. Whilst it would not have been appropriate to discuss this behaviour openly, it was a known and accepted truth, which explains why the Palace Variety Theatre, ‘a favourite haunt of women of the town’ (p. 34), was a place visited by the men of Brumley.
Rearrange and Dissect an Analytical Paragraph
- Explain to students that they will be rearranging the sentences of an analytical paragraph that makes a claim about Gerald’s behaviour. The sentences have been cut into strips and mixed up, so students need to consider how the writer might be developing their argument and using transitional words and phrases to highlight the connection between the claims, evidence, and analysis.
- Give students the Gerald Model Paragraph Sentence Sort handout to complete in small groups, which is a cut-up version of the following analytical paragraph about Gerald:
In An Inspector Calls, Priestley presents Gerald as naive and immature. When Sheila asks him about his relationship with Daisy Renton/Eva Smith, Gerald responds by saying, ‘for God’s sake – don’t say anything to the Inspector’. This quotation suggests that Gerald is naive because he does not realise, unlike Sheila, that the Inspector already knows, and that he gave himself away when the Inspector announced Eva went by another name. It also suggests he is immature because he is not willing to take responsibility for his actions; instead, he wants to keep his relationship a secret. This is reinforced by the use of the phrase ‘for God’s sake’, which is an exclamation that people often make when they are annoyed, as it shows that he is lashing out at Sheila rather than taking responsibility for his actions. Priestley’s presentation of Gerald like this links to the context of the time because it is clear that Gerald was not expecting to ever have to be honest about his affair with Daisy – whilst affairs were not approved by society, it was accepted that men had them, which is why Gerald never felt the need to tell Sheila why he never went near her ‘last spring and summer’.
- After they have completed this task, ask them to identify the different elements that combine to make the analytical paragraph:
- Placement of evidence in the context of the play
- Link to context
- After students have attempted the task, project the PowerPoint slide of the paragraph with its identified parts on the board and lead a discussion to clear up any confusion and give students the chance to share their thoughts or any queries they might have.
Developing Analysis Grid
For homework, ask students to complete the Developing Analysis Grid handout for Gerald, making one claim about Priestley’s presentation of Gerald and selecting one piece of evidence to support this claim.