“An Inspector Calls” by J.B. Priestley
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J.B. Priestley sets the play in a lavish and happy environment. Without Priestley even telling the audience that the play is set pre war it is obvious because of all the available luxuries and fineries such as ‘champagne glasses’ and ‘dessert plates’. The war caused great shortages in goods and food, which led to rationing. No one in 1945 (when the play was written) would have been able to create a luxuriant celebratory dinner. This cunning use of setting deliberately reminds the audience of some of the luxuries lost because of the war.
The play, “An Inspector Calls”, uses moralistic irony to reflect on achievements made today. He reveals the weaknesses and wickedness not only in society, but in the individual characters; which I explain later. An ‘Inspector Calls’ could almost be referred to as a ‘moral play’; a play with a moral lesson, although this phrase is usually used in reference to medieval plays.
The performance, ‘An Inspector Calls’ is about how a lack of equality in society can cause a girl’s death; how a euphoric girl drove herself to suicide. J.B. Priestley is describing a girl’s death throughout the play, but is really trying to prevent it from happening in real life. He is using guilt and sorrow by remorse to regurgitate the moral objectives and humanity of the people in 1945, after the mass slaughtering of millions of people during the war. This was the focal point for the play. The aspect of equality was the optimism which kept the British people fighting on. The British people felt if equality and rights were initiated then previous unemployment and poverty, in the 1930’s would be abolished today. The reminder of equality made the people realise why they were fighting in the war. They fought for equality against autocracy. This is what the Labour Party was promising. This play was used to try and impregnate a socialist opinion, thereby making you a Labour supporter almost subliminally.
Mrs Birling turned Eva Smith down. She would not allow Eva to take refuge in the ‘Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation,’ because she emulated Mrs Birling’s name and in turn insulted her. Mrs Birling’s pride showed no regret in turning her away from the charity.
Mrs Birling’s lack of remorse is stated in Act 2, where the Inspector confronts Mrs Birling. He uses intellect and fact to encourage Mrs Birling into telling the truth. Mrs. Birling’s reluctance to admit she even knew the girl, suggests she is ashamed or frightened. After this confrontation the older lady still feels she has done nothing wrong, ‘But I think she had only herself to blame’ she replied after discovering she was partially to blame for Eva Smith’s death.
Mrs Birling’s stubbornness, lack of moral values and ‘cold heartedness’ all unify to wickedness. It would be a generalisation to suggest that most people in 1912 shared Ms Birling’s view point, although many may have agreed. The many being in the same social class as Mrs Birling.
Mrs Birling was a typical middle class woman. With lack of equality, men gave women local roles in society such as charity work. Eva Smith had virtually no rights, which was probably why men (Eric and Gerald) could so easily seduce and manipulate women. Women often had no rights and no choice.
The lack of equality is clearly a source to wickedness. Eva, a lower class girl, was sacked from her job because she wanted more pay. Nowadays there are laws that require a valid reason for dismissing (firing) someone from their job.
Around 1912, middle class women had very few rights. Marital rape, domination by males and lack of equality gave women an ‘inferior social position’. In our current time period, if a man had attempted rape, she could prosecute the man. Also upper class women would not be running refuge charities. They would be run by local members of the community of any class. Even if the refugee shared a fake name, the charity workers would not turn the needy away.
The lack of democracy concentrated in the play, amplifies the lack of justice in society, which caused a girl’s death.
Wickedness, what does it mean? Wickedness is classed as: sinfulness, spite, vileness, wrong doing. This is surely what is featured in ‘An Inspector Calls.’
The 1912 society was a wicked one with evidence of wrong doing, sinfulness, spite, vileness (wickedness), a society in which there was no equality, democracy, or benefits. Without these important factors, a society cannot function, and wickedness is decreed in society. Weakness and wickedness is distributed throughout the play on an individual basis, mostly due to the hypocrisy and aristocracy of society.
Mr Birling is delineated as a respectable and successful business man, with a wealthy family. Although by looking beyond the text we can determine that Mr Birling was in fact a selfish, greedy despot. This is not entirely Mr Birling’s fault; it is more to do with the format of society.
Mr Birling was paying Eva ‘twenty-two an six’ (a subsistent amount of money). Eva requested ‘twenty-five shillings’. Mr Birling refused to pay and after Eva Smith stood up for what she believed in, she was sacked.
The fact that Mr Birling acted, and fired Eva shows he was harsh in his actions. Also the fact that no one found anything wrong with Mr Birling’s action, which is an example of ‘wrong doing’ defines wickedness/weakness in society.
Sheila Birling’s sub sequential actions also encouraged Eva Smith to commit suicide. Sheila was the one who got Eva Smith fired from Milwards shop. When Sheila was trying on the dress, Eva laughed. Sheila assumed Eva was laughing at her, and as Sheila knew the dress would look much better on Eva, envy drove her to rage.
Sheila ordered Eva Smith to be sacked. If she wasn’t, Sheila threatened to withdraw the account that the Birling family had with Milwards. We can assume this account is extremely large, because of the Birling’s superior social position and wealth.
Sheila’s proceedings were immature and debauched. ‘When I was looking at myself in the mirror I caught sight of her smiling at the assistant, and I was furious with her.
Previously spoken: ‘I went to the manager at Milwards, and I told him that if they didn’t get rid of that girl, I’d never go near that place again and I’d persuade mother to close our account with them.’
The manipulation and misuse of her aristocratic eminence is conceived in this particular piece of text. Wickedness and weakness in character (envy) is unearthed. Also the fact that the lower class were so easily controlled by the upper class suggests a lack of equality.
The next character portraying weakness and wickedness is Gerald, although he was not the main acumen in the demise of Eva Smith. Gerald showed weakness in character after allowing himself to copulate with Eva Smith, and he proclaimed her his mistress.
We can decipher from the text that Eva Smith was infact a prostitute, as Gerald stated the phrase: ‘It’s a favourite haunt/of women of the town-‘ We could interpret the phrase ‘women of the town’ as prostitutes. As Gerald was referring to the people in the Palace Bar as prostitutes and as we know he met Eva in the Palace Bar we can determine that Eva Smith was a prostitute.
Although Gerald’s approach to Eva may have been more unobtrusive than the other characters in the play, Gerald does show a great deal of weakness in his character. His intensions were true, as she did help Eva at first, by giving her a place to stay. Although, Gerald, a loving fiancé was engaged to Sheila Birling. Gerald shows lack of control when he meets problems of a sexual nature.
Gerald’s lack of self control suggests an anarchic attitude towards women and Eva (Daisy Renton), a weakness.
An extract from Act 2, where a conversation between the Inspector and Gerald, displays his previous meetings with Eva:
Inspector – ‘But she became your mistress?’
Gerald – ‘Yes. I suppose it was inevitable. She was young/ and pretty and warm hearted.’
This confirms that Eva Smith’s relationship with Gerald, did progress to an intimate level.
A second member from the Birling family is Eric. Eric had quite a substantial influence in Eva Smith’s death. Eric also had a relationship (intimate) with Eva. Eric met Eva at the Palace Bar (the same place where Gerald first met Eva).
Eric, not only had sexual contact with Eva, but he also impregnated her. Eric forced himself into the house of Eva Smith and possibly raped her.
We can confirm this by the phrases:
Inspector – ‘You went with her to her lodgings that night?’
Eric – ‘Yes, I insisted – it seems. I’m not very clear about it, / but afterwards she told me she didn’t want me to go in/but that – well, I was in the state when a chap easily/ turns nasty – and I threatened to make a row.’
Eric was inflicting fear onto Eva, to ensure a positive outcome for himself. Eric abuses his authority and threatens to ‘make a row’. We are unsure of the exact context that Eric is referring to, although it could be suggested that Eric was threatening to tell the police that Eva was a prostitute. Eric could have simply been referring to making a row literally or even make a row, in the form of violence, maybe he was subtly threatening to hit Eva. This suggests he used his role as a high class male to his advantage. This shows weakness in Eric and society, as society was run in such a way where these immoral acts were common.
After Eva found she was pregnant, she could not continue working at the Palace Bar. Eric supported Eva Smith for as long as he could. He neglected (lied) to tell his family that he had impregnated a prostitute, because of guilt and shame. Eric resorted to stealing. He stole £50 from his father, a wicked and deceitful act. This shows how shame and a lack of discipline could induce wickedness and weakness in moral upbringings, in the higher class people.
The fact that both Eric and Gerald copulated with a lower class girl suggests lack of control. As pre-marital sex was not allowed in 1912, the middle class woman had to stay a virgin until the wedding night. This was a catalyst or possibly a cause for middle class males to turn to lower class girls and prostitutes in order to have sex.
When Eva Smith was tired of having to take money from the man that had ‘raped’ her, (in a sense), Eva Smith relocated herself. She moved to the ‘Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation’ where she hoped to find a place to stay during her pregnancy.
Mrs Birling worked at the charity and interviewed Eva Smith.
Mrs Birling refused to give Eva Smith refuge because she used her name (Mrs Birling) in pretence as she was afraid to reveal her true identity. She wished to stay anonymous. She refused to give charity and as a result Eva Smith killed herself. Mrs Birling’s lack of remorse due to pride made her influence a decision of rejection in the form of accommodation. We can identify that pride and anger were a source of wickedness and moral weakness, found in Mrs Birling.
The lack of remorse and emotional influences in the upper class suggests prejudice, meaning they are a poor judge of character when dealing with the lower class, and a class with increased moral values would be best suited for the job in the charity.
Inspector Goole was used as an instrument to depict the wrongs in the characters and in society. He was the expression of justice and was the spokes person for J.B. Priestley. ‘we are members of one body’ he exclaims on his final paragraph. He displays feelings of unity and equality, feelings against segregation.
The play ‘An Inspector Calls’ play was used to reflect on weakness and wickedness in society and on an individual basis. J.B. Priestley expressed his views whether it was irony, metaphorical interpretation or persuasion. J.B. Priestley was a socialist and expressed his views in imaginative and inventive ways.
In conclusion I think Priestley exposes his true feelings in society by using the different characters superficially, in order to metaphorically distribute his feelings about equality and society. He underlines weaknesses and wickedness in other societies in order to strengthen our own society.
J.B. Priestley uses ‘An Inspector Calls’ to support the new coming Labour Party. The Labour Party promised political socialism and equality, J.B. Priestley was a socialist and was evidently supporting their campaign. He was using this play in order to prevent weakness and wickedness. J.B. Priestley accentuated the autocracy as a demarcation between the upper class and the lower class, women and men.
J.B. Priestley uses the play, as a tool to inflict personal and socialistic views on society; J.B. Priestley purposely exposes weakness and wickedness in a number of different ways by revealing lies and deceit in society and in the characters in order to make his point.
Priestley believed that equality is the path to wisdom in society, a wisdom that the people were beginning to understand. This play was used to encourage this wisdom and evidently develop wisdom in the people of Britain and in society.
‘if men will not learn/that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and/blood and anguish.’ This final phrase was a warning to the characters about the First World War. A War where countries of autocracy, fought countries of socialism. The war itself was a fight for freedom, a fight for equality, against dictatorship. A fight that was soon to be repeated, between the poor and the rich, the women and the men, in order to find equality in British society.