An Inspector Calls by an English dramatist J.B Priestley
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‘An Inspector Calls’ is a play written in 1945 by an English dramatist J.B Priestley after World War II, which he was greatly influenced by. He was attempting to encourage his audience to change and become a better person in society. In An Inspector Calls, the central theme is responsibility. Priestly explores this and how people from different social classes, gender, and age possess different attitudes towards the role of responsibility. The play focuses on the need for the awareness of social and personal responsibility where every individual in society is responsible for not only their own actions but also their actions that affect others.
Through diction, characterization, and lines delivered by character ‘Inspector Gooles,’ Priestley effectively expressed the view on responsibility in a highly effective manner. Each of the characters has a past, each linking to Eva Smith death, which is a secret to be revealed later on in the play. This presents social responsibility— every person has a responsibility to help each other and that their actions can affect others.
At the start of the play, Sheila Birling is described as “a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with her life and rather excited.” She also appears to be a very compassionate person as when she heard the conditions of her father’s treatment towards Eva Smith, she immediately said “but these girls aren’t cheap labour-they’re people.” This portrays that she concerned about the poor and cares about them, she does not look down upon them unlike her family members. This also reveals that her attitude towards life is very positive. On the other hand, Sheila Birling is also a stubborn person, raised with an upper-class mindset of utilizing power and superiority to hide her own insecurities. “I told them that if they did not get rid of her I will never go to that place again” This depicts that Shelia used her father’s upper class status to get rid of Eva in the wrong way. However, after she learned that her selfish actions is a part of Eva’s death, she helps Inspector Goole to inspect other family members. She regretted getting Eva fired. ‘If I could help her now I would.’ At the end of the play she still feels ashamed and guilty. Sheila Birling appears to be the only person to learn to be responsible for others later on in the play and is the person most affected and moved by the interrogation. The quote “I behaved badly too. I know I did. I’m ashamed of it” shows that she is feeling guilty and is no longer pushing away her role of responsibility, unlike her mother. She represents the new generations who are willing to and can change to become a better person in society.
Priestly builds up tension and suspense in the start the of the play. Gerald croft is a suspicious character at the beginning of the play when Shelia questioned him “except for all last summer, when you never came near me.” This clearly shows how she has always been suspicious of him. Later it was revealed that he had cheated on her. This portrays that he had been dishonest and disloyal towards Sheila right from the start. We later learn that he does not care about what Shelia thinks and that he treats women lightly as shown by the quote “he says I’m getting hysterical.” However, he is somewhat socially responsible as he helped Eva Smith when he first saw her in trouble, albeit his later motives. This is shown in the quote, ‘Then gave me a glance that was nothing less than a cry for help.’ This shows that he cares. He also helped Eva by supporting her with both finance and hospitality. “So I insisted Daisy moving into those rooms to help her going.” The phrase ‘to help her going’ conveys how considerate and generous he is. Although after he was satisfied and got what he wanted from her, he broke things off with her and acted as if nothing had happened between them. He lets the audience down when he thought the inspector was a hoax and immediately forgets how poorly he treated Sheila and Eva. He represents the selfishness of the upper class and the way women were treated differently from men. In my opinion I think that even though Gerald Croft is guilty and responsible, he is not as and should be feeling guilty and responsible but not as much as the others should be feeling.
Mrs Birling sits on charity organisations and has public influence, Her personality is a confident and prideful women. She is described as a “a rather cold woman,” and her husband’s “social superior.” She lacks the empathy-how people live thinking that different classes behave in a certain way. This is shown in the quote “a girl of that class.” The word ‘that class’ conveys how she looks down upon lower classes treating them as if subhuman. It also shows that she is judgmental and thinks that she is more socially and morally superior than others. She makes the audience see how the class division was in the 1912s and how awful life was for the lower classes. Mrs Birling does not feel any sympathy towards Eva nor does she accept any responsibility. This is shown in the quote. ‘As if a girl of that sort would refuse money,’ and ‘but I think she had only herself to blame.’ The word ‘sort’ shows that she is being prejudice, and biased what Eva said was true or not. This shows how stubborn and cold she is. Her personality is also very naive and protective. Mrs Birling is ‘naive’ as she thinks that there is not an issue with her family and ignores what she doesn’t want to see .She also is prepared to blame the father of the child as she does not know that the father is her own son, Eric. ‘Go and look for the father of the child. It’s his responsibility.’ This illustrates that not only she is not admitting her role of responsibility but she is also trying to get rid of the blame on her. She also cares only about her reputation and pride “Oh, Eric, how could you?’ Instead of comforting her son, she is humiliated and angered by Eric’s actions. This conveys that all she cares about is her reputation, as his actions is something that could damage it. Later, Mrs Birling starts becoming more protective of Eric when she realises the truth. ‘No – Eric – please – I didn’t know – I didn’t understand-‘ She starts to show sign of repentance when she realised Eric was the father and her actions resulted Eva’s death. In the end ,she is still proud that she did not feel any guilt and accepted no responsibility.
Priestly used the character as his voice- he represents Priestly’s moral views and thought on class distinctions and responsibility. Priestly is a socialist and believes that it is fairer and more equal for both the rich and poor. He played on the word Goole and Ghoul to suggest that Goole is ominous or even paranormal. Inspector Gooles is described as a ‘need not be a big man but creates at once a n impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. The three words ‘massiveness, solidity and purposefulness’ suggests that he is
The Inspector arrived at a critical moment when Mr Birling said, ‘… a man has to make his own way—has to look after himself—.’ Mr Birling summarizes the moral and economic worldview to Gerald and Eric as if he was foreshadowing. Mr Birling represents an individualist, capitalist point of view where one tries to maximise their own social happiness without caring the benefits of others. His role is to make each one of the characters in the play realise that they are responsible and plays a part of Eva’s death. ‘Each of you helped to kill her.’ This phrase makes the characters feel guilty and wrong of their foolish actions towards Eva. The word ‘helped to kill her’ suggests that they were responsible each of them is responsible and none of them is innocent.