An Inspector Calls Essay
- Pages: 17
- Word count: 4151
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John Boyton Priestly was born on 13th September 1894 in Bradford, Yorkshire. Priestly decided to leave school at sixteen rather then work toward a university scholarship. ‘I wanted to write’ he says in his autobiography. He believed ‘the world outside of classrooms’ would make him a better writer, and he felt that he ‘must spend at least the next few years trying his hand at it’. It was during the period before World War One, that Preistly acquired and developed the skills that would make him an exceptional writer. Priestly says himself that the years 1911-1914 ‘set their stamp on me’.
A possible reason for this is because he worked as a junior clerk at a wool company and was witness to some of the prejudice that the lower workers had to endure. This may have given him his socialist views, which would mould the way he thought and thus influencing him to write such plays as ‘An Inspector Calls’ in 1945. Another source of influence for Priestly was his father, who was also a socialist meaning he believed in social equality.
As Priestly grew up, he found himself spending time with people who read a great deal, cared a lot for at least one of the arts and preferred real talk…. ot argument to social chit-chat. But there weren’t any professional writers in this new group, Priestly, who grew up among his fathers group of socialist friends, now found himself joining in with their political arguments. However, Priestly said ‘ I was politically minded to some extent’ however he was ‘never able to put politics first’. Priestly became a socialist man, meaning he believed in equality and fairness, something that was rare in most years of his life. Through his plays he tried to influence people into his way of thinking.
He knew that the people who were in positions of power, from the Conservative party member to the Middle-Class factory owner, were only concerned with looking after themselves and were quite happy to over-look the poverty, inequality and injustice which tainted the lives of people less fortunate than them. The outbreak of war meant that when Priestly was 20, he joined the Armed Services as an Infantry Man. At 25 (1919), Priestly left the army. During his time in the war he had been in active front-line service in France and had nearly been killed when a German bomb exploded at two or three yards away from him.
He had also been the subject of a gas attack. Priestly says, I was lucky in war and have never ceased to be aware of that’. I believe that coming so close to death and narrowly escaping with his life gave him confidence and the belief that he was meant to be alive, in retrospect we know his writing was to influence the way Britain was at the time. Common themes in Priestly plays were that the audience was shown possible projections of their actions in contrast to their present conditions at the time.
Another recurring theme is responsibility, individual and collective, for those actions and their subsequent reactions. He wanted people to be aware that they need to be responsible for their actions and accountable for them. Priestly wrote ‘An Inspector Calls’ in 1945. A particularly important year for Priestly was in 19777 when Queen Elizabeth II made him a member of the Order of Merit, which was a great honour for him.
In 1984 Priestly dies at the age of 89. During the time in which an inspector calls is set (1912) there was a class system in Britain. Lower class’- foremen, hand-crafters, day labourers, domestic servants. ‘Lower-Middle class’-shopkeepers, small tradesmen. ‘Diversified Middle class’- moderately successful industrialists, merchants, professionals, doctors, lawyers. ‘Upper Middle class’- banking, industry, large-scale commercialists, politicians. ‘Upper Class’- mostly royalty, inherited wealth. Conditions for factory workers were disgraceful. There were no Health and safety rules or regulations. If they became ill, they wouldn’t get pay.
During the industrial revolution, thousands of factories were built. However there were not enough jobs for the numbers of people that wanted work, this meant that factory owners could take advantages of workers by paying them low wages and treating them unfairly because they didn’t have to look to hard to find a replacement should they decide to leave. Wide-scale strikes for better pay and conditions were occurring regularly, the majority of strikes were between 1904 and 1926.
Eva Smith went on strike when her claim for a pay rise was rejected. At one point, 2. million people were unemployed in 1926, which contributed to the ‘General Strike, the largest strike ever conducted by the relatively new trade unions. This forced middle class factory owners to treat working call people better by giving them more pay and Health and Safety standards. However this was a long way away from 1912. The conservative party, who were in power, where only concerned with the rights and needs of the Upper-Class and Middle-Class citizens, whereas the labour party (who were gaining support and strength) were socialists, so they wanted to improve workers rights and try to improve the poverty.
The introduction of the welfare state in 1945 was a milestone in the treatment of lower class people. They got unemployment benefits, minimum wage, free health service and generally a better standard of living. But, this was of little use to the likes of Eva Smith in 1912. The play opens in the dining room of a moderately large suburban house. It has solid wood furniture reflective of the style of the time. It is comfortable and of high quality but not relaxing, homelike and snug. This is symbolic of The Birling family.
They have a high-status in their community as middle-classes, but underneath that, their relationships are not all warm and loving. Some of the family members are completely in the dark about other’s actions, which shows they don’t all have a close relationship as a family. All of the characters are in evening dress. Arthur, Eric and Gerald are in tails with white ties. Arthur is said to be a self-assured and bulky man in his 50’s. Sybil Birling, his wife, is an unaffectionate, bleak and cold woman of about 50 years of age.
Sheila Birling, the daughter of Sybil and Arthur Birling is an optimistic, content and elegant young woman in her early twenties. Gerald Croft is a handsome, charming well brought up man in his thirties. He is said to be a ‘man-about-town’, which means that he is a womaniser basically. Eric is in his early-twenties, not quite as comfortable as one would be when they are with their family. He is half introvert and half self-assured. The audience’s first impressions of the Birling family would be a normal, happy and content one.
However, as the audience would expect this is untrue. The Birling family create a veneer, which portrays a normal middle-class family. Nevertheless, once the Inspector comes he uncovers this and shows the audience the unpleasantness that lies beneath. In the play, During Mr. Birling’s ‘wise’ speeches, he mentions and disregards three events which we, in retrospect, know to be pivotal and the start of something much more radical.
Firstly he says ‘you can ignore all this silly pessimistic talk…. last month, just because the miners came out on strike…. on’t worry, we’ve passed the worst of it’. In this instance he is referring to strikes for workers rights. He is very wrong in his assumptions because as we know many bigger and highly influential ones were to follow. Secondly he says ‘Just because Kaiser [Wilhelm] makes a speech or two…. some people say war is inevitable…. To that I say fiddlesticks’. In this monologue Mr. Birling is referring to the trouble brewing in Eastern Europe. He overlooks this, as nonsense, which we now know to be wrong as the biggest most deadly war the world had ever seen, was to follow.
Lastly, Mr. Birling said ‘Titanic…. unsinkable…. absolutely unsinkable’. He is also wrong in this statement, as the ship sank after colliding with an iceberg. In the predictions made by Mr. Birling we can determine that Mr. Birling doesn’t know what he’s talking about, as he is wrong on all three occasions. Priestly has purposely done this because he wants the audience to feel a desired way about this particular character. He appears to be a pompous, misguided ass in that he is talking from a wrongly informed point of view.
A 1940’s audience would view him as a fool as they have seen the result of all the occurrences he mentioned and know that Mr. Birling’s forecasts are wrong. Mr. Birling seems to be concerned only with his possible knighthood and is desperate to keep his family out of scandal, this is evident when he says ‘don’t get into a police court or start a scandal’. At the beginning of the play, Gerald Croft’s engagement to Sheila Birling is being celebrated. However, as Gerald is the son of the owner of ‘Crofts LTD’, it could be suggested that their engagement is more of a business contract, which will profit both companies.
The lighting is pink and intimate, to create a mellow and relaxed atmosphere. The doorbell interrupting Mr. Birling is a dramatic device, in that it cuts short his speech and marks the arrival of Inspector Goole, who tries to show The Birling family (and thus, the audience) that this is a wrong outlook the way our attitudes should be in life, by delivering his own viewpoint which contradicts Mr. Birling’s philosophy that every man should look out for himself and his family and ‘…. that a man has to make his own way-has to look out for himself…. .
When Inspector Goole enters, the lighting turns from a mellow and calm pink to an uneasy and tense white, symbolic of an interrogation, which puts The Birlings under pressure. The Inspector is at the house to show us how a ‘lawful’ middle-class family treats people who are inferior in class (but not necessarily in morals and standards) to them. Mr. Birling first met Eva Smith sometime in October 1910 when she was a factory worker at his business. Eva smith, we are told, is a ‘good worker…. the foremen told me he was ready to promote her’.
After their holidays Eva and several more of her colleagues asked for 25 Shillings pay because 22 Shillings and 6 pence wasn’t enough for them to survive on. Mr. Birling turned them down flatly because he couldn’t pay them any more money because it was ‘his duty to keep labour costs down’. It could be argued that, the real reason he didn’t want to pay them any more was because he didn’t care how they survived and wanted the money for himself so he could plough it back into his business or spend it on luxuries for himself. After he turned down their appeal he had Eva and her fellow campaigners sacked from their positions at his factory.
He also ‘Blacklisted’ them, which meant that their names were placed on a list of troublemakers, who factory owners shouldn’t (and thanks to this listed wouldn’t) employ. Mr. Birling is not solely to blame for Eva’s death. But, his actions were a link in a chain of events, which led the girl to commit suicide, which renders him partially responsible. Despite this Mr. Birling seems not to care. In fact the only thing he cares about is his knighthood, which, means he has to avoid a scandal thus why he refuses to accept any blame. He describes his workers as ‘cheap labour’.
As far as he is concerned he might as well be animal’s that work for him. This is evident when he says ‘ I cannot accept any responsibility’. Sheila Birling met Eva Smith sometime between December 1910 and January 1911 in a department store named ‘Milwards’. This is because influenza had spread among the original staff members, meaning there were open spaces for new employees. Prior to their meeting, Sheila was annoyed because she wanted to try on a dress in ‘Milwards’, but her mother, Sybil Burling, had told her it wouldn’t suite her and that she shouldn’t try it on. Despite her mother’s advice, she went to try on the item of clothing.
From this we can interpret that she is an immature spoiled brat because she did what she wanted to do rather then listen to reliable advice. After trying on the item of clothing, she realises that her mother was right and that the dress didn’t suit her. She then spotted Eva and another shop assistant giggling. Then she tells Eva to try on the dress and when Sheila sees how pretty it is on her: ‘she was very pretty’. Sheila then becomes jealous and subsequently gives ‘Milwards’ a spiteful ultimatum, either they sack Eva Smith or expect to have the Birling account with them cancelled.
Sheila used her position as a middle-class citizen to get Eva sacked because the shop owners would have valued her and her family as customers. At the beginning of the play she was in a happy mood because she was celebrating her engagement, but know we see a different side to her. She was definitely not being fair; this is made obvious when The Inspector says ‘You might be said, to have been jealous of her’. From this we know that the motive for Sheila’s actions was revenge. Throughout the incident she acts heinously in her judgement, irresponsibly with her power and inconsiderate of other people.
We know this because Sheila ‘I was in a furious temper’ meaning she wasn’t mature enough to let her envy go. At the news of Eva Smith’s death she appears to behave more adult, responsible and remorseful. It is clear she regrets her actions when she says ‘if I could help her now, I would’. So far Sheila has seen the error of her ways, but not her father. It would seem the difference in age has affected the way they think. Mr. Birling refuses to accept responsibility, However, Sheila knows she was cruel and seems to accept sole responsibility, but her actions were a link in the chain of events that led to Eva’s mental decline.
Gerald Croft first met Eva Smith (alias Daisy Renton) in March 1911 in the Stalls bar at the palace music hall in Brumley. Sheila would have been working there as a prostitute. Prior to this, Charlie Brunswick leaves the keys to his flat with Gerald because he was going to Canada and needs somebody to look after it. The real reason why he has given Gerald the keys is so that he can take a mistress there. This is evident when Gerald tells us that Charlie Brunswick said that he could ‘use them if he wanted to’. This tells us that middle-class men of this time would have had affairs regularly and made no secret of it to their friends.
In my view there is no question as to why Gerald was at the Stalls Bar. He says ‘it’s a favourite haunt of women of the town’. This proves my view that Gerald was there to find a prostitute. He saw Daisy Renton being harassed by Alderman Meggarty (a notorious womaniser) and says that when she glanced at him ‘it was nothing less then a cry for help’. Afterward he took her to the County Hotel for the night and they ordered drinks and conversed. They arranged to meet two night later, soon Gerald found out that she was being evicted and that she was poor, so he let her stay at Morgan Terrace (Charlie Brunswick’s flats).
She soon became his mistress and he made her totally dependant on him by giving her an allowance rather then just giving her a job at his father’s factory. He did this on purpose because he liked being ‘the wonderful fairy prince’. He ended the affair in the first week of September, either because he was engaged to Sheila or because the novelty of having a mistress had worn off. Either way he would never have been able to have hade a true and proper relationship with a girl of her class. With the money she had saved she went to the seaside for about two months.
In my opinion, what Gerald did to her was the worst. He showed her happiness and paradise and then snatched it away from her when it suited him. It is unclear what Gerald is feeling when he is told of her death because he doesn’t react sharply, he doesn’t say much and he goes outside of the room. Sybil Birling first meets Eva Smith two weeks before Sheila and Gerald’s engagement in 1912. Mrs. Birling was a prominent member of the ‘Brumley Women’s Charity’. Charities like this existed because there were no benefits or welfare support.
Eva went there to appeal for money, because she was pregnant and didn’t want to take money from the father of the child. Mrs. Birling refused Eva Smith’s claim because she used the Birling name (not far from the truth), which was Eric’s surname. Also, Eva had told them that she was married and that her husband had left her, which they eventually found to be a lie. Mrs. Birling didn’t like her because of this and said ‘she was giving herself ridiculous heirs, she was claiming elaborate fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd for a girl in her position’. So she influenced the charity board not to give her any money.
Mrs. Birling’s attitude to Eva Smith and working-class people is very ignorant, rude and disregardful. She believes that they lack morals. This is evident when she says ‘as if a girl of that sort would ever refuse money’. Shortly after this statement she is told that Eva Smith wouldn’t take the money because it was stolen. This portrays the character Mrs. Birling as an ass and it shows us how Eva Smith is morally superior to her. Mrs. Birling says that she blames ‘the young man who was the father of the child’ and that ‘he is compelled to confess in public his responsibility.
We then find out that her son, Eric Birling, is the father of the child. This is evident when the father of the unborn child is described as ‘some drunken young idler, who didn’t belong to her class’, which is a fitting description of Eric. Mrs. Birling is incredibly blind too events in her family, especially with Eric. When she is explaining why she refused Eva Smith money from her charity she says she blames ‘the father of the child she was going to have…. he shouldn’t escape…. he should be made an example of…. he ought to be dealt with very severely’.
Obviously she say’s this because she is unaware that it is a member of her own family, despite the obvious hints dropped by the inspector and the warnings from Sheila. Mrs. Birling regrets the decision, not to help she has in effect killed her own grandson. Eric first met Eva Smith in November 1911 in the Palace bar. He tells us that a woman had told Eva Smith to go there. But we know she was there as a prostitute. When they met, Eva is said to have been thin and ‘a bit tipsy’ because she hadn’t eaten for a while and would have gotten drunk easily. After meeting her and having a few drinks he took her home.
Eric forced his way into Eva’s place of residence and ‘threatened to make a row’ if she didn’t let him in. And we can assume he raped her because he says ‘that’s when it happened’. We know Eric can get so drunk, he cannot remember and that he is capable of such indecent violations as rape when he’s in this frame of mind. This is evident when he says ‘I didn’t even remember’. He felt that she couldn’t call the police because no one would care, who would believe a working- class woman over a middle-class man? As their ‘relationship’ developed she became pregnant.
Eric asked to marry her but she wouldn’t because he ‘didn’t love her’ and that she discovered that the money he was giving her was stolen. This tells us that although she was less than working class, she was still morally superior to Eric. Eric knows he has done wrong and is remorseful when he is told that she has died. This is evident when he says ‘the fact remains I did what I did…. it’s still rotten’. Again, we see that the younger generation (Eric and Sheila) respond differently to Eva Smith’s Death than the older generation (Mr and Mrs Birling).
The younger generation accept responsibility but the older generation refuse to accept any of the blame. This maybe because they younger ones are not yet set in their ways of thinking and mentality. Inspector Goole is a 2-Dimentional character. We don’t see any other sides to his personality or life because he is a dramatic device used to project and perpetuate J. B Priestly’s socialist views. He is there to promote and endorse fairness and equality; he is the voice of reason and fairness. The Inspector’s final philosophy is ‘we don’t live alone. We are members of one body.
We are responsible for each other And I tell you that the time ill soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish’. This is an obvious offspring of the experiences J. B Priestly had when he served in World War I. He mentions fire, blood and anguish, which sound like something from the book of Revelations in the Holy Bible. Priestly wanted to change Britain by using his plays to reach out towards his audiences. The end of Act One and Gerald has made it obvious that he was involved with Daisy Renton by the way he reacts to her named being said.
When the Inspector leaves, he tries to confide in Sheila and wants her to keep it from the Inspector, but Sheila notices the enigmatic ness of The Inspector and replies ‘you fool…. he already knows’. Then The Inspector opens the door saying ‘well’. To this the audience would be on the edge of their seats with suspense as they try to figure out what happens next. The end of Act Two and Mrs. Birling has bluntly told The Inspector that the father of Eva Smith’s baby should be held responsible and that he ‘ought to be dealt with very severely’.
She also says that The Inspector should be ‘compelled to do his duty’. So when Inspector Goole sits and looks at his watch, she asks ‘what are you waiting for? ‘ Inspector Goole then replies coolly ‘to do my duty’. Then she realises its her son, Eric, but she realises all too late because Eric has just walked in looking pale. The audience have realised much earlier than Mrs. Birling that Eric is the father and are relishing in her ignorance. They will be in a state of excitement as they try to anticipate what will happen next.
The Birling’s admit their actions were uncaring and inhumane. However, the family are divided. Mrs. Birling and Gerald do not take responsibility for their actions although the fact remains they still did what they did to a person along with Mr. Birling who is just happy there is no public scandal and he will get his knighthood. Whereas Eric and Sheila (the younger members of the family) feel disgusted with themselves and are sorry and remorseful. Despite learning that Inspector Goole is not really a policeman and that no one has actually died, they still feel bad about their actions.
They realise that Inspector Goole was their ‘moral policemen’ and are learning from this experience. But then there is a phone call and we learn that a girl has in fact died and a real inspector is on his way. The audience are left pondering how the family will act the second time round, knowing what they have done already. Also they would be in a state of surprise, because they will be wondering who the fake Inspector was and if he had any connection to Eva Smith. By evaluating the theme of the play, I have learned that how I treat other people can have affects on their emotional stability.
That what I do, combined with what other people do can affect them. My actions can spark reactions that will be more serious then I wanted or could have anticipated. I have learnt that we as a local community or a universal society will have to help each other in order to develop. Hate, jealousy, war and conflict will plague the world if we do not learn to drop our prejudices whether they are related to race, religion, social class, appearance or personality. If we keep on digging away at each other then we can never develop together.