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How does JB Priestley expound his views of social hypocrisy in An Inspector Calls

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‘An Inspector Calls’ is a play that was written by J B Priestley. It was written in 1945, after World War II. However the play is set in 1912, which is known as the Edwardian Era, before both of the world wars. The Edwardian era was a time of division between the poor and the rich. It is often regarded as the romantic Golden Age of long summer afternoons with big hats and garden parties. At this time Britain was very powerful and had the worlds largest navy. It was also a time for economic success. For the lower class life was a struggle, there was very little money for them.

Work was also very hard and strenuous for them since there were very few regulations about safety in the workforce and trade unionism was in its early days. Workers had no choice but to obey their employers because they knew that this was the only way for them to earn money and feed their family. Workers had little or no breaks and had to work long hours. They also got punished if they talked and were hardly ever allowed to go to the toilet. Women were paid half the wage that men did.

During the time period of 1911-1913 5% of the population was from the upper class, they owned 87% of the country’s total wealth. 3% of the country’s total wealth was shared between the lower class and the middle working class people who owned businesses and shops. For the upper class people life was joyous. They embraced leisure sports which led to fashion. The upper class didn’t work. Their money was inherited. After World War II Britain had certain changes for example compulsory education and better medical care. It became new for women to be employed in anything except factories. Artists at this time were influenced by a greater awareness of human rights.

Before the start of the play, the stage directions are given. All of the action in the play is set in the dining room. There are three acts in the play. The characters in the play are Arthur Birling who comes from the middle class but is very wealthy. He has married Sybil Birling who comes from the upper class. Their daughter is called Sheila Birling; she is to be married to Gerald Croft who is a very wealthy man. They all live in an industrial town called Bromley, its like Birmingham in modern days. The Birling family have a fairly large suburban house with good solid furniture of 1912.

Their house has been described as ‘the general effect is substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike’. This is described like this because the Birlings family want people who come to their house not to be comfortable. The solid furniture in their home is symbolic since it shows that they are not interested in the problems of the lower class plight as long as they are in profits. The lighting which should be pink and intimate until the inspector arrives. The lighting is like a cover up. We only see what they want us to see.

Their true colours will be revealed when the inspector arrives. Their wealth is shown through ‘champagne glasses’ and ‘port glasses’ at that time port was a drink that only the rich could afford. In Stephen Daldry’s National Theatre Production he shows street children coming from under the stage. This represents the bomb shelters from the world war. The audience can also hear air raid signals and bombs. This also establishes the idea of a world war. We also hear harsh violin strings that are jagged this creates tension in the audience.

The children are wearing shorts and pullovers which is the 1945s fashion. They are playing on the stage which represents the bomb site. It is also raining and smoke is coming out which resembles bombs being throwed. The stage also resembles a derelict area ruined by the bombs of the warfare. There is constant drizzle on the stage which maybe resembles fire hoses putting fire down. The streets are also cobbled and there are broken buildings. The sky is shown to be a dark and angry. Against the 1945 backdrop you see a house and it slowly moves to the centre of the stage.

This is shown to be the Birlings house. It’s set back in time in 1912. It’s set up from the stage which shows that it isn’t from 1945. It’s a dolls house which is set on stilts which reflects the distance back to 1912. The house is also set on stilts which symbolises their higher status and that they don’t want to relate to anything else except themselves. As the Birlings house opens the Birlings look oversized in their house which symbolises they are bigger than everyone else. The only room we see is the dining room this is because the play is set in the Birlings dining room.

The violins harsh strings’ playing has ended and we hear the glasses clinking which show the Birlings are celebrating. J B Priestley has chosen a stereotypical family the Birlings who live in Brumley a town such as Birmingham nowadays. Mr Birling is shown as a wealthy self made business man. He is highly successful and a magistrate. J B Priestley uses dramatic irony to expose Mr Birlings short sighted views in the early parts of the play. He does this through showing Mr Birlings speeches as his philosophy. Mr Birling shows his philosophy in his speeches Mr Birling says ‘I say there isn’t a chance of war.

The worlds developing so fast that it’ll make war impossible. ‘ He is ridiculing the prospect of war when the audience knows that there have been not one but two wars. Mr Birling then says ‘the titanic. And unsinkable’. The audience also know that the titanic sank. This shows us that Mt Birling can’t see beyond himself. Eva Smith was a worker employed by the Birlings in July 1910. After Eva had come back from her holidays at the end of August 1910, she was broke and did not have enough money for her living expenses; neither did the group of girls whom she went with.

This was the main reason for them to demand money but Birling describes them as being ‘rather restless’ which shows that he didn’t care as to why they wanted money. So this was about 10p in modern days, rise in wages. This was not a lot to ask for but Mr Birling had refused. He says ‘I refused of course’. The reason why he did this was because ‘if id agreed to this demand for a new rate we’d have added about twelve per cent to our labour costs’. This shows us that Mr Birling is a selfish and self centred person who only cares for his profits. Mr Birling remembers Eva smith as being a ‘lively good looking girl’ and ‘a good worker too’.

This shows us that Eva Smith was a well dressed and hardworking young woman. When Mr Birling had not raised their wages, Eva Smith and the group of girls ‘went on strike that didn’t last long, of course’. In September 1910. The strike didn’t seem to change Mr Birlings mind. After ‘a week or two’ he let all of the girls come back ‘at the old rates’ but he sacked all of the ‘four or five ringleaders’ this was because Mr Birling thought that the ringleaders had caused all of the trouble and didn’t want any further trouble. Eva Smith was one of the ringleaders so she got sacked as well.

Mr Birling says ‘If you don’t come down sharply on some of these people, they’d soon be asking for the earth’. The inspector replies’ But after all it’s better to ask for the earth than to take it’. He means to say that it’s better to ask than to actually take it. Mr Birling feels that whatever he did to Eva smith was right and he can’t accept any responsibility for her to commit suicide. This illustrates that Mr Birling is selfish.

The Inspector also says ‘what happened to her then may have determined what happened to her afterwards, and what happened to her afterwards may have driven her to suicide’ . e means to say that Mr Birling sacking Eva, could have led to something else in her life which could have built up to so much stress in the end. Just like a line of dominoes, knock one over and itll knock all the other over. This is what happened in Eva’s life. After Eva Smith was sacked by Birling, ‘She was out of work for the next two months. Both her parents were dead, so that shed no home to go back to’. She was also ‘living in lodgings, with no relatives to help her, few friends, lonely, half starved, she was feeling desperate’.

This tells us that she was in a very bad condition after the Birlings had sacked her. Afterwards the Inspector says ‘There are a lot of young women living that sort of existence in every city and big town in this country’. By this he means that there are lots of young women, living that sort of life as Eva would have. He then says. ‘If there weren’t, the factories and warehouses wouldn’t know where to look for cheap labour’. The Inspector is suggesting that young women like Eva have no choice but to work for cheap labour at factories and warehouse owners take advantage of this and pay them very little.

The Inspector then says that the family ought to put themselves ‘in the place of these young women counting their pennies in their dingy little back bedrooms. ‘ The Inspector is suggesting that women like Eva have a very bad way of living their life. At the opening of the play we meet Sheila. Sheila is Mr Billing’s daughter. She is a ‘pretty girl in her early twenties’. Sheila and the Birling family are in the living room and are celebrating Sheila and Gerald Crofts engagement. Sheila is a well behaved daughter, she listens to her mother. She is naive and materialistic.

An example of this is when Gerald proposes to her and gives her the ring. Sheila gets more interested in the ring than in Gerald. She says ‘Yes-the very. Oh-it’s wonderful! Look mummy isn’t it a beauty? ‘ This tells us that Sheila is quite materialistic. Sheila is protected by her Father, Mr Birling who is like a pillar in society, everyone looks up at him. Sheila doesn’t really know what is happening in the real world she is unaware. Eva smith had got a job at Milwards in December 1910 but she was sacked by the end of January 1911. The reason n for her being dismissed was Sheila.

The Inspector says ‘A nice little promising life thee, I thought, and a nasty mess somebody’s made of it’. The Inspector is purposely trying to make the Birling family feel guilty. Eva smith was sacked because ‘a customer complained about her-and so she had to go’. The customer that complained about her was Sheila. When Sheila went to Milwards with her Mother. She had found a dress that she likes and tried it on. Although her ‘mother had been against it’. She still went to try it on. The dress didn’t suit her but when she caught Eva smith through the mirror holding the dress against herself it suited her and she got jealous.

She went to the shop assistant and said to sack Eva and the threat she gave was ‘I’d persuade mother to close our account with them’. Sheila was jealous; this shows us that actions have consequences. At the beginning of the play Sheila was a spoilt materialistic daughter of the Birlings. She was an obedient daughter and never went against her mother or father. After the Inspectors interrogation she changes, she no longer remains the Sheila she used to be. Sheila starts feeling guilty she can see who the Inspector is unlike her parents who still remain the same from the beginning till the end of the play.

Towards the end of the play she says ‘I suppose we’re all nice people now’. This shows us that Sheila has changed and realised her flaws and what she did to Eva smith. Sheila also wants Gerald to realise what he has done she says ‘you see Gerald to realise; you haven’t to know the rest of our crimes and idiocies. ‘ Sheila describes what her family have done to Eva as ‘crimes and idiocies’. This tells us that Sheila thinks that everyone has done wrong to Eva and she is not the only one to blame. After the Birling family know that the Inspector was a ‘Jingo!

A fake’ Sheila thinks that it doesn’t matter. She thinks that the Inspector has taught her family something. She says ‘you began to learn something. And now you’ve stopped. ‘Sheila is telling her family that because the Inspector was a fake they’ve gone back to being just as they were before. Sheila wants her family to change and not be so self centered and selfish. Some of the things she says are ‘No he’s giving us the rope -so that well hang ourselves’. The rope is a metaphor used. Sheila is suggesting that the Inspector isn’t forcing them to say anything they are falling in his trap to say things.

Sheila also says to her mother ‘You mustn’t try to build up a kind of wall between us and that girl… And it’ll be all worse when he does’. This tells us that Sheila is telling her mother not to hide anything from the Inspector as he will get the truth out. The wall is a symbol of social division between the Birlings family and Eva Smith. In the National theatre production in Garrick London Stephen Daldry’s portrays Sheila quite well. He shows Sheilas confession outside of the Birlings house. The dining room has been an element of protection for the Birlings family in which they have been wrapped in known as a social veneer.

By showing Sheila outside the Birlings house it symbolises that the Inspector has broken the Birlings social veneer. When Sheila is confessing she doesn’t look at the Inspector direct and talk, she is looking at the audience. It’s as if she’s confessing to the audience. Stephen Daldry has involved the audience as Sheila looks at the audience and is confessing. When the Inspector is asking Sheila to tell what had happened at Milwards she looks guilty and has curiosity on her face. Initially Sheila was a rich and spoilt daughter of the Birlings family but she is the first to change. Sybil Birling is Mr Birling’s wife.

She is of a higher status than her husband though. She is a very typical woman of the time the play is set in and doesn’t talk much she always puts her husband first. She also cares quite a lot about her social position in society. In Stephen Daldry’s production she is shown to be as a highly respectable person in society. Mrs Birling is also just like her husband she is narrow minded. She’s as myopic as her husband Arthur Birling. Throughout the play she is dismissive of Eva and the Inspector. She tries sending Sheila back to bed whilst the Inspectors interrogation. She also tries telling Sheila not to contradict, trying to exert her power.

When Mrs Birling gets a picture of Eva smith shown to her by the inspector she denies the fact that she knew her. Mrs Birling is also the chair of a charity that raises money to help people who are homeless or unemployed. The charity was called Brumley women’s charity. Eva smith had gone there to get some help because she was pregnant and didn’t have a roof over her head or any money. Eva smith Tells Mrs Birling that her name is ‘Mrs Birling’ Mrs Birling gets angry and tells all the charity workers not to help her at all. This shows that Mrs Birling had a short temper and didn’t care about others she was selfish.

Mrs Birlings also has a son called Eric; she treats him as if he’s a child but she really doesn’t know him. When Mrs Birling say ‘And this is the time you choose to tell me’ she has just found out how much Eric drinks which shows that she doesn’t really know her son very well although she acts as if she does. When Mrs Birling says ‘ but I mustn’t say that so far you seem to be….. that my husband was Lord Mayor only two years ago and that he’s still a magistrate. ‘ This shows us that Mrs Birling is just like her husband is she is trying to interfere with the Inspector to make the Inspector scared of her and go away she is threatening him.

Mrs Birling is reminding the Inspector of their high status but the Inspector doesn’t seem to care it doesn’t seem to make any impression on him. Mrs Birling also tells the Inspector that; I don’t like you tone nor the way…. give you much rope’. This tells us that Mrs Birling is impatient and gets angry very quickly. The rope is a metaphor it symbolises that the Inspector is manipulating each of the Birlings. Mrs Birling also classes Eva smith as being of a very low class when she says ‘Girls of that class’. This shows us that Mrs Birling is dividing her class and the girls class.

This shows that she is a selfish person and doesn’t care about Eva’s class and thinks that all lower class people have no value. She’s looking down on the lower class people the word ‘that’ used is very powerful. In Stephen Daldry’s production she is shown to be taller than the Inspector whilst standing. She also looks quite fierceful and a powerful person. She has a harsh jaw line which mirrors her harsh manner. She’s wearing white gloves and a red dress which shows her wealth. Whilst talking to the inspector she uses quite a lot of hand gestures which shows that she treats the Inspector as if he’s a nobody.

Stephen Daldry shows the confessions to the audience in a way that the Birlings hypocrisy is revealed. As the inspector leaves the Birlings family he says ‘One Eva smith has gone but there are millions and millions of Eva smiths and John Smiths still with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness’. The Inspector is giving an example of those who suffer at the hands of who exploit them. The Inspector also says she was treated’ like an animal a thing…. not a person’.

The Inspector is referring to a thing that was used, abused and disposed of by the Birlings. The names Eva and john are used because they are quite common names. The Inspector also says ‘all intertwined with our lives. And what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for others. ‘This goes against Mr Birlings philosophy of what he said at the beginning ‘a man has to make his own way-has to look after himself’. The Inspector is trying to get a message across the way that you treat other influences them and our lives.

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