Bedrock Talks from Bedrock Learning

Literacy Works Mini-sode: Exploring An Inspector Calls with Haili Hughes

March 28, 2024 Haili Hughes
Literacy Works Mini-sode: Exploring An Inspector Calls with Haili Hughes
Bedrock Talks from Bedrock Learning
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Bedrock Talks from Bedrock Learning
Literacy Works Mini-sode: Exploring An Inspector Calls with Haili Hughes
Mar 28, 2024
Haili Hughes

It's a Mini-sode! Always under 30 minutes, these shorter episodes are a perfect lunchtime listen.

In the first of our Mapper deep dive episodes, Haili Hughes takes us through her top 10 keywords/concepts that are essential for your learners to understand when studying An Inspector Calls. 

From 'dramatic irony' to 'squiffy', and from 'bourgeoisie' to 'structure', Haili's choice of words gives us a fascinating dip into the universe that this play inhabits and how we can help our learners to immerse themselves in it and fully understand what it's all about.

For Haili's full list of words you can read the blog that she has very kindly written for us to accompany this episode: 

For more from Haili: 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

It's a Mini-sode! Always under 30 minutes, these shorter episodes are a perfect lunchtime listen.

In the first of our Mapper deep dive episodes, Haili Hughes takes us through her top 10 keywords/concepts that are essential for your learners to understand when studying An Inspector Calls. 

From 'dramatic irony' to 'squiffy', and from 'bourgeoisie' to 'structure', Haili's choice of words gives us a fascinating dip into the universe that this play inhabits and how we can help our learners to immerse themselves in it and fully understand what it's all about.

For Haili's full list of words you can read the blog that she has very kindly written for us to accompany this episode: 

For more from Haili: 

Andy:

Hi everyone, thank you for tuning in to the first actually, of these mini soads that we're doing with various not to embarrass highly, but various edu celebs around the country. The first in this series is going to be focused on mapper words that we want our edu celebs to choose and to kind of give you a leg up, give you a starting starting point to use mapper in your own schools and your lessons. And we have the incredible highly Hughes on today, who's chosen 10, 11 words for inspector calls, particularly lucky to get highly honest because she's got two forthcoming books. Particularly of interest, I would say, is the ready to teach inspector calls book. That series is with Stuart Pryk and Amy Stanley.

Andy:

Fourth have been absolutely incredible and so I can only imagine what, how good a one from highly Hughes about inspector calls is going to be. So thank you for joining us and picking your words highly. That's fantastic to have you on again real. It's lovely to have this relationship with you with bed drop because we feel very fortunate. So yeah, I we don't really have a pre defined role kind of order here, but what we'd like to do is start working through these, working through these words. If we don't get to the more highly, is very kindly going to write us a blog as well. So any words that have been chosen that you'd like to unpack a little bit more will be covered in the blog. But let's imagine highly that someone is picking this up for the first time, has never taught inspector calls before, or has you know, maybe read it through once, vaguely familiar with it. If you could encapsulate the story and encapsulate what it's truly about for a teacher, what would you say?

Haili:

Oh, that's a big question. For me, any literature that we study and this includes an inspector calls is basically a comment on the human condition. And I think it's really important for new teachers teaching any text, but especially this one as well, to kind of understand our real intent and think about, like what the big overarching messages are in the play. And you know, really this play is a play about social responsibility. It's a play about this brave new world that previously envisaged as coming after the Second World War, and that's the crux of it. And if you plan everything else around, that big idea or message presents a really kind of conceptualized and cohesive message to students.

Andy:

Everything is a challenge to the status quo, isn't it in this play? And I think a really nice place to start is those opening stage directions that it's just laced with clues. And I think it's a really nice place to start because it is that, as I say, everything's a challenge to what he thought came before and, of course, contextually, he was a bit of a celebrity, wasn't it at the time. He became quite a well known voice on the, on the radio, and before we start, I would like to ask you this, and I'm asking you on the hop actually, if you think about a Christmas Carol, for example, and the preface to that and the idea of it being make haunt your houses pleasantly, I always think it's an interesting contrast with this message compared to Prisley's message. How would you compare the two in terms of the message of both of those texts?

Haili:

I think Prisley's message is more of a sledgehammer. That's what I think. Yeah, in all honesty, I think Dickens was clever. I've just written a book on a Christmas Carol, so I'm so glad you asked me about this one. But I think Dickens was quite clever. He knew that ghost stories were a really popular narrative to tell on Christmas Eve so he used that medium. But Dickens message has some kind of shocking sledgehammer moments like ignorant and once, for example, is awful, and obviously Scrooge Dine and them selling off his possessions is quite terrible as well and the death of Tiny Tim. But it's laced with this kind of nostalgic family Christmas message to almost kind of make it a little bit more palatable. I don't think we get that with Prisley and that's why we get that ending at the end of Inspector Calls, where actually it's going to happen again, because it's repeating They've not learned their lesson and that fire and anguish and blood. It's much more of a sledgehammer, I would say.

Andy:

I agree, and I read recently somewhere that Prisley himself said people often underestimate the importance of the second call. Yes, that's my true kind of intent. I always think that's an interesting comment. Yes, so with your words. Then let's start with your words. Having said that and I think it is important to frame the discussion with that, let's have your words then. Hailey, what are you recommending? That people pick and sequence.

Haili:

Well, I've gone through a wide range of different ones. One of the things that I have written about which I think links actually really well with what we've just been talking about, so I'll skip the first two and go back to those. Perhaps, and start with this, is entrances and exits.

Andy:

Um.

Haili:

I think, um, when students are writing um about an inspector calls and Macbeth, actually they sometimes forget um that they're writing about a different form. Um, it's drama, um, and and I think entrances and exits are a really easy but very productive thing to to write about um with with an inspector calls, and it also, um, you know, signals to the examiner that students are considering the form.

Andy:

Um, could you maybe give one example of that in the play?

Haili:

Yeah, absolutely so. Um, I think, uh, really, the timing of of the entrances and exits actually is crucial, because Prisley uses that to increase dramatic tension, um, particularly through the use of dramatic irony, which is another word of chosen which we'll we'll go on to, hopefully, later. So an example of that might be the inspector arriving immediately after Berlin has told Gerald about his impending knighthood and about how a man has to look after himself and his own. Uh, the fact that Sheila runs off the stage when she realizes she's the reason that Eva was sacked, because that creates an intense atmosphere. Uh, the fact that that then leaves Sheila and Gerald later on alone to discuss Daisy Renton, uh, which draws information out for the audience. And and Eric's reappearance, that brilliant reappearance at the end of act two, just at the moment when the audience and the characters on stage realize that Eric's the father of Eva's baby. And and also, obviously, that inspector's dramatic exit with his final message that's left hanging in the air as an emphasis to to both characters and audience. And actually that one is my favorite one, because what the play says when the inspector leaves is that he walks straight out, leaving them staring, subjewed and wondering. And I love this because this tells us what, what's going to happen to the characters after this play. It gives us an inkling, um.

Haili:

Sheila's still quietly crying. So obviously she's changed. This has been a transformative experience for her. Mrs Burling's collapsed into a chair because the world that she knows of the kind of upper middle class and and indeed above that, the aristocracy, has come crumbling around her and that's the old um world of the Victorian era, with its stuffiness as well, and it's hierarchical society. So she's fallen into a chair because the world has collapsed around her. Eric's brooding desperately because, like Sheila, you know, it's changed him, um, unbelievably as well. But this is the best bit. Burling the only active one here's the front door slam, moves hesitatingly towards the door. So he's about to change, stops, looks gloomily at the other three and what stops him, you know, is that world that he knows, the comfort that he can go back to, and then pours himself a drink which he hastily swallows. So he doesn't change, but he was so close.

Haili:

And I think they they, they are like, they're the crux of it. And then you know it's immense and drives home that sledgehammer that Prisley's trying to tell us actually, which is don't bother with the older generation, because they're not going to change. Burling was so close. Actually, it's the younger generation that are going to be the future that we need to build upon.

Andy:

Incredible. I love that. I've never thought of that before, about the work. I've all and and, hand on heart, I've always seen that little bit where he goes to the door and then pours himself a drink. I'm not just saying this, I've genuinely always read that. I'm not really quite been able to put my finger on it, but that's so right, I like that.

Haili:

He goes towards it. It's so close.

Andy:

It's like oh my.

Haili:

God, you know, I do anything, I give anything. Well, walk through that door half a Burling and he doesn't.

Andy:

Yeah, okay Next.

Haili:

Brilliant. So, linking to that, I think it's good to go on to the dramatic irony now. I mentioned it before Again, another really easy method to write about. And Prisley used his dramatic irony to make Mr Burling look unreliable and foolish because he's wrong about the Titanic, about war, about labor. And this makes the audience distrust Mr Burling because if Mr Burling's wrong about history, his capitalist views might also be wrong and it makes him look stupid. And through this, this character of Mr Burling, prisley's belittling the view of capitalists and there's loads of examples that we could talk about there and I think this use of dramatic irony, you know it, matched Prisley's aim also to show how backwards the Edwardian era was and how old fashioned and after both of these wars, there could be this new, more golden era of social responsibility and people working towards a common goal that we'd seen a glimpse of in the Blitz spirit during the Second World War.

Andy:

Yeah, and I think the interesting thing when it comes to dramatic irony is that it's almost it's priestly subtle way of getting the audience alongside him. Yes, because it's not. You know, I always say to my classes I'm not trying to encourage them any particular political leaning, but it's not. This is priestly's version of justice. It's not necessarily, you know, sent on fax from heaven. It's not the Bible, you know. It's not this sort of thing that everyone has to follow. It's a very deliberate artistic piece of work that's trying to get the audience aligned with his way of thinking, and dramatic irony plays a key role in that, I think.

Haili:

Yeah.

Andy:

Okay, what's our next one then?

Haili:

Linking to that, about this kind of, I guess, constructs that the priestly uses to drive home. This is the word caricature. And if we look up the word caricature, it's a picture, a description or an imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect. And I love doing this to kids and basically saying Google the word capitalist and go to Google images and they get up a picture and they go oh my God, it's Mr Berling. Because the play is not naturalistic. It actually ends up defying any semblance of reality. Really, especially with the sort of weird Osbensky and Dunn-Sheim loop, we can't believe in the characters because they don't exist.

Haili:

The dramatic constructs and I think that's really important and priestly it manipulates the audience and employs these characters as caricatures with melodramatic qualities and in melodrama as a genre, the weak and the innocent often fall prey to the evil villain, who tends to be rich and powerful. So Berling is that caricature of the grasping capitalists. Eva's the caricature of the poor, the downtrodden victim who at the end, you know, ends up retaining a dignity and nobility of spirit she's too good to be true, almost. And Mr and Mrs Berling remain that archetypal villain to the end because they fail to learn the moral lesson of the play. So yeah, but what priestly does do, I think, is set up the younger generation, erie Conchila, as the reformed characters, to contrast with the old generation that I mentioned before.

Andy:

And actually I think that's a really good point, because the younger generation, even though they're not perfect, they're not so ridiculous, are they?

Haili:

No, no, exactly yeah they've got the capacity to learn essentially and to carry priestly's message forward. So I think that's important for students, to teach them to see any characters in literature, especially in this play, as caricatures, as constructs.

Andy:

Absolutely. Construct is a really key term. I think Everything is deliberate, everything is crafted.

Haili:

Yes.

Andy:

So Erie next one.

Haili:

Yeah. So again, talking about drama as a genre, a lot of the ones that I've picked are to do with drama as a form sorry, not genre, because I think this is something that people's miss out from marking literature. I see very few actually commenting on the form. So the next ones are going to put two together in an allty way fourth wall and lighting.

Haili:

And I think, going back to the inspector's speech at the end, that speech that he makes as he's about to leave, it allows for the message on social class and responsibility to be hammered home. And by sort of dropping that fourth wall and directing it almost to the audience, you know it kind of suggests that the inspector's in fact a reflection of the writer himself. And then dropping that fourth wall and addressing the audience specifically adds to the dramatic tension and the idea that perhaps actually the inspector's from a higher power is not of their world. He can move into their world of reality, but he's not confined by the text and he speaks to the whole nation in the same way actually the priestly did in his war broadcasts. And just mentioning the light as well, I think that's a really important stage direction and, again, a method in drama, where he uses the lighting to show the changing atmosphere at the inspector's arrival. So we go from that pink and intimate rose tinted glasses of the Berlin family who rather for police with themselves.

Haili:

That's it brighter and harder, or looks like they're being interrogated.

Andy:

Yeah, of course, and what's interesting here as well is that you're talking about the inspector moving between worlds, the idea of socialism being almost conflated with justice, because socialism is the only way of getting justice. Almost that's the way that it's spun. It's interesting that all of priestly's views and messages are almost transcendent of the play and therefore can't be challenged, and I'm not subject to the same rules of logic that the capitalism is in this, in this play and all the other stuff, and it's all, as you say. It's all this construct, it's all, and it's through these methods of entrances and exits and lighting. It's all subtle communication, isn't it? It's a fascinating play to get your teeth into, I think.

Haili:

It is absolutely and interestingly, you know, priestly campaigned for for Labour to get into power after the Second World War and he was really disappointed with what they did and he felt really disillusioned with it. So you know, if you read some of his later biographical writings, he's actually really disappointed with how we didn't as a society take that opportunity to have that new era, that golden new era of people working towards a common good and social responsibility, because it never happened.

Andy:

Yeah, it's as you say. It's much the and you can really feel the force of his views in this play in a way that isn't a gentle tap on the shoulder like Christmas Carol was. Yes, it really is much more powerful and much less comfortable to watch. Actually, I remember watching it. I didn't read it for the first time, I watched it for the first time and amateur production in Newcastle years ago and I remember my, my wife, that I looked at each other. We thought hang on a minute and it really did completely dumbfound us and I thought there's so much going on here. But it was. It wasn't a particularly comfortable watch. No, okay, so next one, then we're through these, aren't we?

Haili:

We are. Yeah, so I've picked Squiffy and the reason why is because there's loads of slang in an inspector calls, loads of colloquial language. You know, squiffy, both very. Can Sheila say that? The parents would never say it? You have to obviously explain to students that it means a bit drunk and basically that kind of word Squiffy is put there to illustrate how different the generations are. They use different words, they've got different attitudes and by the end of the play those differences are very clear Over slang. That could be part of this.

Haili:

If you look at it as kind of a method, this colloquial language is steady, the buffs. So that phrase actually goes all the way back to the 1870s and it's a reference to the East Kent regiment whose nickname was the buffs, after the facings on the uniforms. They're quite an old regiment with a proud history and you know Eric has been school with some quite posh lads, you know, in his varsity lifestyle, and it's the sort of phrase that people like Eric might use without even thinking about it and it's military in nature. So it's got that association with kind of the effects that the two world wars have had on colloquialisms and language. Really, by Jove is another one that Eric uses.

Haili:

Jove is another word for Jupiter, and it hints that Eric has had what used to be called a classical education, and you know Berlin hints at that as well. But Berlin actually says by Djingo, which is a contrast of Eric's phrase, and it used to be really popular from the late 1800s. It was from a song. So Eric uses an expression which portrays his membership of the upper classes, while his father uses one from very popular and not at all posh song about how great Britain is. And there's no wonder, is it, that Eric and his father don't understand each other. They come from different worlds, despite being father and son, and they even use quite different language there as well.

Andy:

That's when you said Squiffy, I thought I wonder where she's going with that. But actually there's a whole load of you know, subtle choices, yes, Subtlety's around the language that tells you something else about the characters, which is sort of there. But unless you've had explained to you, like you just have, it's not there and I think it's a really interesting subtle difference between between those characters. I love that.

Haili:

Yeah, for sure. I mean there's loads of stuff like that. But I think what I've just said kind of about, you know, Berlin, using by Jingo, which is quite you know, it kind of portrays his membership of a different world to his son, eric, you know he hasn't had the advantages of the vast lifestyle probably links quite well to the two next words that I'm going to pick. So should I just plow on with these?

Andy:

two.

Haili:

So I think the next two kind of link together really. So the first one is bourgeoisie. There's a massive misconception and I see this in exam papers that the Berlins are upper class. They're not. They're middle class, wanting to be bourgeoisie or aristocracy, but they never will be because they're new voriche. And I think it's really really important to explicitly teach students something beyond that idea of working class, middle class, because there are really really fine distinctions in that. A brilliant book for looking at this is the Edwardians by JB Presley, and on my Twitter I have done three infographics about this book which I'm happy to include on the blog that.

Haili:

I write for teachers to have a look at, because I think those subtleties are massively important. And Burling is desperate to be part of the new voriche. He can't sorry of the aristocracy. He can't ever be, because he's new money and so you know the aristocracy is something that you're born into. That's why he's desperate to stress to Eric about I've got the same port as your dad currying favor, I'm going to get a knighthood. It's a shame that Lord and Lady Croft couldn't come here.

Haili:

There's all these things really that link into my next word, which is the word facade, and I think facade is a really important word for this play. I think in three ways. We've got the facade of respectability that the upper classes invented, that Presley presents for us, suggesting that the upper classes become convinced they're perfect, and that leads to that delusion of grandeur that contributes to the class divide that we see most from Mrs Berlin, I would say, with girls of that sort, etc. There's also that idea of the facade of public lives that actually juxtapose the Berlin's private personas, and this is where I think there's the link between Jekyll and Hyde, if people do that as their 19th century novel, because we see the public and private lives of the facade of the Victorian era there as well. We see it in this play with the Palace Theatre etc.

Haili:

And for me the dining table is a symbol of that facade as well. So we've got the sturdy dining table that's new that hasn't got the table cloth on. They've got all the accoutrements the champagne glasses etc. But hasn't got the table cloth on. And I did some research on this recently and they used to take the table cloth off before serving dessert and they've just had dessert. So that would be quite normal, but that was a very Victorian, old-fashioned thing to do. And again it's this facade of the Berlings trying to be aristocracy and trying to be old money, but they don't even know the rules and the conventions have been old money anymore. They're clinging onto the old-fashioned Victorian stuff.

Andy:

Where does Mrs Berling sit with that? Because my understanding was that she was. She is upper class, but she's married down and maybe has compromised if, for want of a better word, has and is living with some frustrations there or living with some insecurities there.

Haili:

Agreed, yeah, and she's constantly embarrassed of Arthur, isn't she? She tells him off for complimenting the cork, which one would never do. There's lots of times when it's like, really, arthur. So you're absolutely right. She married down, who knows why. I think she's a thoroughly unpleasant character. So I suspect that she married Arthur because they were no-versuiters. But who knows, and obviously it was, she could have been an older spinster by the time she married Arthur. We don't know. She's quite a cold character. So I think she did marry down. She was probably more old money than Arthur, but Arthur's made his money in factories and industry, hasn't he? So he would always be seen as slightly vulgar and you know, potentious and provincial, which are both words to describe him, and she has got that kind of breeding that you absolutely cannot replicate when you're born into it.

Andy:

I think as well. If you look at Just quickly before we move on, if you look at the combination between him and his wife, yes, there's a real toxicity as the combination, with that mutual reinforcing of almost both of their insecurities are reinforced and they make each other worse. Yes, then you also look at, I think, the combination of Arthur and Gerald also do that as well. I think they make it. I think the combinations are almost more than some of their parts, because Gerald, you know, strokes his ego, strokes Arthur's ego, but he loves Arthur stroking his ego in return and it's almost like the Edwardian era moving into so-called more enlightened spheres has you wouldn't have thought that it happens as much, but it's actually just made things even more murky with these relationships like with Arthur and his wife, which wouldn't have happened probably before, with Gerald and Arthur, which probably wouldn't have happened prior. But actually now it's making it even more murky and there's even more hiding in planes like than there ever was as opposed to his priest his frustration.

Haili:

There is and there's a level of fear isn't there with the upper middle classes and the aristocracy that are finally being exposed for a lot of the things that they've had ultimate power over and that can be quite discombobulating in a way as well. And we see that fear in Arthur. That's why he is so bombastic and has that huge period of dramatic monologue in the play, because he's holding on to that power.

Andy:

Absolutely, I think he is, and he's desperate to hold court his knees, desperate to kind of impose himself, and I think that's a really important and important observation about him. Yeah, I like that. So what's our next word then? We must be near the end, are we?

Haili:

We are. Well, I've got two more words left, or I think, in fact, yes, two, and I think one of them I will say for the blog which is looking at a morality play, because I think that's really important. But I want to just finish by talking about structure. Really, I find that when students are asked to comment on the methods of the writer, they either miss out structure, because it's really high level to talk about, or if they do talk about structure, they end up talking about like stuff that they just can't squeeze an effect out of. So you know you always get comments on like Sajoura or enjambments and it's just like, because it creates the effect of pausing in the middle of a line. And you know there isn't that kind of exploration because they haven't been equipped in how to talk about it. So with drama, I think talking about structure can be quite easy if we sort of break it down. So I think you know the fact that structure-wise it pre-sly draws on lots of different types of play. So he draws on the drawing room drama, on who done it's we sometimes call it on on naturalism, but also on the well-made play as well, and I'm gonna talk a little bit about each of those for 30 seconds or so before we wrap up. So how is an inspector calls naturalistic? Well, naturalism usually is a form of theatre when your audience sees real characters in a natural setting and you forget sometimes that you watch in a Playing, that you being told a story, because it's like you're spying on people's everyday lives. So sometimes we describe naturalism as the fourth wall drama, because it's like you're looking into a room where the fourth wall has been Removed and you're observing what's what's happening and and remained popular into the 20th century.

Haili:

This, but was very popular in the Victorian era and Brecht believed that kind of performance became so in growth. Audience became so engrossed in the events on stage that they stopped thinking. And he Said that they hung the brains up with the hats and coats in the cloakroom, which is obviously a bit of a problem when, like priestly, you're trying to have a home, a message. So some people think an inspector calls this naturalistic. Some people say can't be because of what, what Brecht said. And the other thing is the who done it? Or the drawing room drama. They were often performed in the room of a Victorian middle-class home.

Haili:

They these were an ideal genre Because it interested the audience because they were trying to work out which of the characters was guilty, the crime all Along, and a lot of priestly's audience would have been very familiar with the conventions of those forms. And then the final type is is that well-made play which is based on the three classic Unities. So what we see is people in the play progressing from ignorance to knowledge, following that classic three act structure. So he uses the unit is of time, place and action that were first thought of by Aristotle, but he doesn't stick to them throughout and he often subverts the rules and seems to quite enjoy doing so. And so I'll talk a lot more about this, this on the blog, and talk about the cyclical structure as well, and kind of morality plays and Microcosms, but I think I've probably talked for too long now. I'm very passionate about this play.

Andy:

No, I mean, I, yeah, I think that's incredible and I love the fact that, a little bit again, I find myself touching on Dickens. Dickens again, I think Dickens pulled on lots of threads because he knew who he was playing to. You know the whole, the, the ghost story, the, the comedy, the, the gothic, all that's, all those threads. But I think priestly did the same thing. Again, it's, and it's perhaps More subtle because, yes, it's, it's more recent, it's more, it's more modern. So you don't steal all of these brilliant subtleties. And, as you said, there's the brexit as the world name.

Andy:

Well, they play, there's a naturalist and I think, through, I think, if we give our learners those lens through which to kind of really understand and make sense of the play themselves, that's what this should all be about. Yes, because I, I my sense, when you were talking about Brecht, for example, was that you almost, he almost, wants his audience to hang their brains up and suspend their disbelief. Yes, so that he can almost tap into their subconscious. Subconscious because, irrespective of logic, there's a core unfairness here and what he does is he pushes on that unfairness and he pushes and pushes and he conflates socialism with justice so that there's no other way to see it. So I can sort of see why you would see it was like that. I don't know. I think it's. There's lots, there's lots to. There's lots to unpick, there, isn't there.

Haili:

Yes, absolutely yeah.

Andy:

So thank you so much for joining us in our first mini-sode On inspector causes. I say these are supposed to be freeze the point through, the point of use. You know, cpd for teachers, who are, who want to have a different angle on the play, but who might want to be to, who might be teaching it for the first time, and I think this. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't gain a lot from what you've just said there. So thank you so much for joining us. It's been brilliant.

Haili:

No worries, thank you.

Analyzing an Inspector Calls
Analyzing Dramatic Constructs
Analyzing Structure in Drama