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An Inspector Calls Persuasive

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The play ‘An Inspector calls’ was written by J. B Priestley in 1945 and is set on an evening in spring, in 1912. This is significant because it would give the audience an underlying sense of unease by the ironic references to the impossibility of war, which of course followed in 1914, and to the progress mankind is making, as represented by the Titanic, which sank after hitting an iceberg. At the beginning of January, when Priestley had just finished writing his script, there were no London theatres available, so Priestley sent the script to Moscow, where it was produced simultaneously in two theatres in 1945.

It was then produced in London, the following year, at the New Theatre on the 1st October 1946. This was possible because in 1944 the tide of World War 2 had just changed in favour of the British, so the Old Vic Company (the company who presented the play in London), were able to move back to London because there were no longer any air raids. This play is set out in 3 Acts. The main setting of the play, the Birling’s dining-room, in their fictional home in Brumley, an industrial city in the North Midlands, is constant throughout. The main themes in this play are that of Women’s rights, class and social responsibility.

At first, the genre of the play seems to be that of a simple, detective thriller; however, after seeing the involvement of all the members, the genre turns to that of a ‘whodunnit’ play, with the inspector finding out who was mainly to blame for Eva Smith’s death. The opening scene starts off in a room with good solid furniture of the period. There is a fireplace in the corner of the room and seats around a table where most of the action will take place. There should also be a high armchair where the inspector sits, to show he is in charge and higher than them.

There is a side table next to the door with a telephone on it. The lighting should be a light colour to show the family is happy and carefree until the inspector comes in, then it should be brighter and harder. This makes it more dramatic. It shakes the audience out of their expectations of a conventional play. The conversation between Mr. Birling and Gerald is mainly Mr. Birling boasting about how he is a ‘self-made man’ and trying to coolly brag about how he might be on the next honours list and saying casually “Just a knighthood, of course”.

This shows us how Mr. Birling is trying to impress Gerald with his boasting because Gerald’s father owns ‘Crofts Limited’, a more successful business company, and so this makes him of a higher class. Mr. Birling makes the engagement of his daughter to Gerald sound more like a business transaction than a proper engagement which is shown when Mr. Birling makes his speech and says ‘Crofts limited is both bigger and older that Birling and Company- and now you’ve brought us together’. He is trying to join ‘Birling and Company’ and ‘Crofts Limited’ so that they can work together, ‘for lower costs and higher prices’ which is Mr. Birling’s version of a capitalist mantra.

Gerald is trying to impress Mr. Birling by being calm and congratulating and agreeing with everything he does. He admits to this when he says “I insist upon being one of the family now. I’ve been trying long enough haven’t I? ” Mrs. Birling in the first scene seems very proper, polite and she speaks and conducts herself like an ‘upper class’ woman should. In those days, after dinner, the woman would leave the room, and they would leave men to talk about business and politics.

This difference between men and woman is a main theme throughout the play and can be seen most clearly here. The conversation between Sheila and Gerald at first is mainly Sheila flirting and teasing Gerald. This shows the audience that there is a strong bond between them, we can see this from the stage directions “half playful, half serious”, showing us that Sheila had a liking towards him and this also expresses Sheila’s playful personality. At the end of the play Sheila is no longer happy, but more mature, serious and penitent, feeling a real sense of social responsibility.

Mr. Birling’s speech made reference to how war is not possible because the Germans do not want it, how the Titanic is unsinkable and how the Russians ‘will always be behindhand’. This use of dramatic irony by Priestley is very effective because the Titanic does sink, there is a war, and the Russians became the most powerful country for a certain period of time. The audience at this point would be laughing and thoroughly enjoying the play because they know all of this does actually happen and how ironic this all is.

Priestley’s aim here is to challenge the selfish individualism of Birling and ensure the audience do not ally themselves with his character. The triangle of power between Mr. Birling, Gerald and Eric has Eric firmly at the bottom of the triangle. Eric is still young and immature and we can see from his actions and the adverbs used in the stage directions that he is ‘insecure’ and ‘confused’. Mr. Birling treats Gerald more like a son than he does Eric. This shows us he is trying to impress Gerald.

Mr. Birling seems to be in the most control but in fact Gerald is at the top of the triangle because he was born into an upper-class family and because by marrying Sheila he is bringing together two of the biggest companies. Mr. Birling is very interested in business and with the references he made in his speech it seems he is also interested in politics, “talking as a hard-headed man of business”. Gerald is also interested in business, but not so much in politics. Eric does not seem interested in any of this and we can see by his behaviour that he also has a drinking problem, which may hide deeper issues.

The inspector’s entrance is very strong and significant moment because it is introducing the most important character in the play. Inspector Goole is a very serious character as we can see from the adverbs ‘gravely’, ‘dryly’ and ‘slowly’. He is about 50 and is wearing a suit which makes him look sharp, authoritative and imposing. We can see this from the stage direction, “He immediately creates a impression of massiveness”. The inspector’s attitude towards Mr. Birling is always polite, but firm. This annoys Mr. Birling greatly which Priestley shows by using adverbs such as ‘rather angrily’, ‘abruptly’ and ‘somewhat impatiently’.

It can also be seen in Mr. Birling’s speech, “There’s nothing else, y’know. I’ve just told you that” Sheila, however, is moved to tears of shock and guilt; the inspector is successful in making her see the consequences of her actions. Which can be seen by her reaction, ” I behaved badly too, I know I did, I’m ashamed of it. ” This progression from naive innocence to more mature understanding is a good way it clearly convey the contrast Sheila represents to the attitude of her parents.

Gerald Croft’s ‘easy manner’ is similarly disrupted by the inspector; he is distressed by his realisation of his part in Eva smith’s/Daisy Renton’s life and death and would leave, later to return, apparently contrite. Mrs. Birling, however, remains entirely untouched by the inspectors; she remains cold and refuses to see how Eva Smith’s death can have followed as a consequence to her actions, which is shown when she says ” I think we’ve come to the end of this wretched business-“. Only afterwards, faces with the realisation that their actions have led to the death of her grandchild, does Mrs. Birling break down, “(agitated) I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it … “.

Finally Eric, revealed as the father of Eva’s child, is affected in a similar way to Sheila if not more, because he could not support her after she became pregnant which can be seen by the adverbs ‘unhappily’, ‘nearly at breaking point’ and ‘miserably’. We can see that the throughout his enquiries, the Inspector, has remained entirely in control; at times he has ‘massively taken charge’. Sheila regarded him ‘wondering and dubiously’ and later she says that no-one told him anything that he did not already know.

Through this creation of the powerful, all-knowing nature of the Inspector, and by revealing the apparently incredible but all too real change of events in which the characters are all involved, Priestley has successfully moved both his play and audience beyond the bounds of naturalism into the supernatural. The unreal quality of the Inspector’s final prophecy of ‘fire and blood and anguish’, and Priestley’s reference to World War 1, with which he effectively fills the inspector with an almost mystical superiority.

Sheila’s monologue shows us how much she has changed from the beginning of the play; she seems now more of a woman, whereas before she acted childish. “She almost breaks down, but just controls herself”, this shows us she is truly sorry for what she has done and regrets it, by doing this Priestley wants us to empathise with her, but simultaneously, see Mr. Birling’s ignorance. If I were to direct Sheila’s monologue the lighting would be dark and hard, almost like a spotlight on Sheila.

Sheila would be standing up and talking face to face with the inspector and the others would be in semi circle around them so they audience would be able to see them all but Sheila will be central and all the audiences attention would be on her. Women at this time were seen as being delicate, fragile and obedient to their husbands or fathers. Women were trying to get rights the same as men, beginning the Suffrage movement. Under Roman law, which influenced later British law, husband and wife were regarded as one, with the woman the “possession” of the man.

As such, a woman had no legal control over her person, her own land and money, or her children. Mrs. Birling is a middle class woman of considerable influence who is involved in good works, considered a suitable occupation for a lady in society. This is shown when the Inspector says “a prominent member – of the Brumley women’s Charity Organization”. Women of higher classes did not work, but did only charitable work. This was seen as acceptable as it was a caring role that fitted with the idealised Victorian view, still held then, of women as mothers and carers.

Sheila follows this path by not working, the only occupation mentioned which she does is shopping. Daisy/Eva is a working class girl, possibly an orphan, who has to work for a living and is seen to be completely at the mercy of men. Pre-marital sex was frowned upon in the middle and upper classes if you were female, but not if you were male which may be an attitude still held today in many respects. This was due to fear of pregnancy outside of marriage as there was little contraception. The Moral code of the time was ladies were supposed to remain virgins until they married.

According to a double standard of morality, respectable women had to be chaste but respectable men did not, but sex was supposed to be only with working class girls, mainly through use of prostitutes and mistresses, as doing so with their own class would have been breaking the moral codes. This shows that lower class women didn’t hold the same status and reveals the hypocrisy of the time. The upper class men could not fall in love and marry the lower class women though, as this was considered unsuitable in the case of Eric and Gerald.

You only married within your class, or preferably higher. Working class girls were at the mercy of rich men and could find it hard to refuse sex to a man as it was these men who held social and economic power. This is shown when Eric says ” I wasn’t in love with her or anything-but I liked her- she was pretty and a good sport”. Many of these women became pregnant and had no resources to care for themselves or their children. Unmarried mothers were frowned upon and in some cases treated as if they were mad and locked up.

This becomes a main theme after we find out Gerald had an affair with Daisy/Eva and then we also find that Eric gets her pregnant when she became his mistress. The inspector’s entrance at the end of Act 1 is very dramatic because of the timing. Gerald and Sheila have just been talking about Eva/Daisy and how Gerald had spent last summer with her. Gerald has just told Sheila to ‘keep it from him’ and Sheila in reply ‘laughs rather hysterically’ and then says ‘Why- you fool- he knows… You’ll see.

You’ll see. It is at this point the Inspector enters and this builds up even more tension because it leads the audience to think maybe he has been listening from outside the door or as is more likely, he already knows part in the suicide. At this moment the audience would be able to see Gerald’s face as he looks ‘crushed’ and then the inspector looking ‘steadily and searchingly’ at them. Then he just says ‘Well? ‘ and that is the end of the Act. This is very effective because it leaves the audience in a sense of suspense and leaves them wanting to find out what happens.

Eric’s entrance at the end of Act 2 is very dramatic because of the timing of his entrance. Eric enters just after Mrs. Birling has been saying that the man who got Eva/Daisy pregnant should ‘confess in public to his responsibility’ and that she considers it his duty to do this. The inspector then reveals that he is waiting for Eric. All this is while Sheila has been begging her mother to stop but she continued and it s now that she realises that it was her son who got this girl pregnant. Mrs. Birling seems speechless and all she manages to say is ” Eric, I can’t believe it. There must be some mistake”.

The use of the stage directions ‘distresses’ ‘terrifies’ and ‘thunderstruck’ convey the tension as does Sheila’s last line before Eric enters, ‘Mother- I begged you and begged you to stop-‘. If I were a director I would make sure tension was built up at these points by over exaggerating the characters facial and body expressions and making the characters speak louder and faster as it came closer to the characters entrance and when the person entered everyone would become silent. The Inspector’s final monologue leaves quite an impression on the family, audience and reader – especially this final speech.

This is the most important remark the Inspector makes in the entire play, as it sticks in the minds of everybody, and ultimately sums up his role in the production and his socialist ideologies. Priestley has used a lot of emotive language in the inspector’s final speech, such as “hopes”, “fears”, “suffering”, “happiness”, “blood” and “anguish”. In turn, this causes the Inspector’s speech to be quite dramatic, as the sentences that these words are woven into are short, abrupt and straight to the point – mirroring the Inspector’s duration at the Birling’s’ residence.

As well as this, the Inspector’s speech makes good use of the first person pronoun ‘we’, uniting the Birling’s with the people that they feel they are superior to – poor people. By the way that the Inspector declares in the metaphor “we are members of one body. We are responsible for each other”, he makes clever use of the pronoun ‘we’, which in turn finalizes the idea that we are members of one body, and we are responsible for one another.

It is also contradictory to a section of one of Arthur Birling’s speeches: “By the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else” which is the complete opposite to what the Inspector is announcing. “Millions and millions and millions” uses triadic structure as a cohesive device to make sure we do not forget about all the “John Smiths and Eva Smiths”. At the end of this seemingly prophetic speech he says ‘Good night’ which leaves a slight feeling of bathos compared to the heightened emotions of the rest of the speech.

The passage also anticipates World War One, in the sense that at the very end, the Inspector says “if men will not learn that lesson, they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish” – this, to the Birling’s, is a prophetic statement, but the reader and audience are aware of it as it has already come to pass. To emphasise that idea, the Inspector lengthens the list of words he mentions; instead of just using a comma between “fire” and “blood”, he chooses to use ‘and’, which sensationalises the comment and makes it sound somewhat more important than if he had just normally listed those specific words.

The way the Inspector enunciated his name so specifically at the beginning of the play ‘G-double O-L-E’ may lead us to think that ‘Goole’ may have been a pun for ‘Ghoul’ which is a malevolent spirit or a ghost, a person who robs graves or a Muslim legend- an evil and disgusting demon thought to eat human bodies, either stolen corpses or children. I feel that this particular speech encapsulates the Inspector’s reason for being at the Birlings’ house, and the effect that it has on the audience and reader as well as the characters is quite similar.

The Inspector’s speech shows frequent emotive language to trigger feelings in the audience, which then reminds them of their own errors in the past – Priestley’s main incentive for writing this play was to make society realise their mistakes, look back on them and learn from them; the audience and reader have already experienced World War One and economic hardship, and so this speech is just a reminder of what they ultimately got themselves into – it’s like watching their own mistakes occur again and again.

The revelation at the end of the play that he is a fake inspector and that there really is a girl who dies of a suicide leaves us pondering who the inspector is. He could have been a real inspector, a God avenging angel, a vision of what Priestley wanted himself to be, a relation of Eva Smith/Daisy Renton, a time traveler or he could have been a dramatic device used to drive the plot onwards. This may have been why it was ‘sourly noticed’ by the London theatre critics, because the audience did not understand what Priestley intended the Inspector to be.

The time theories that may have influenced the play were those of D. P. Ouspensky who said ‘Experience is a cycle of life and we can only escape if we change for the better’. This is telling us to change to help ourselves so we can progress in life. Another theory was that we could ‘see forward in time as well as looking back, consequently we could change actions for the future’. ‘An Inspector Calls’ is concerned with themes of power, morality, and social responsibility. The need for society to change is a central theme of this play.

In it, Priestly emphasizes the need for future generations to act and prevent further bloodshed. He hoped “An Inspector Calls” would contribute to public understanding which might lead to societal restructuring along with more socialist principles to insure that all the members of the society were aware of their social responsibility. These themes in ‘An Inspector Calls’, although written in the 1940’s and based in 1912, are still, incredibly relevant in today’s society. Even though we have evolved from those times, social indifference is still the predominant influence.

Lessons could have been learned from the past and a new future should have been created. This has not happened, and it is beyond the scope of this analysis to determine the reasons why. It is sufficient to say that An Inspector Calls illuminates the problems and offers food for thought. Contrary to Margaret Thatcher’s view of no such thing as society existing, An Inspector Calls is about all families and all individuals; this wider reference shows that it presents a microcosm of an array of societies.

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