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The Way Priestly Gets His Socialist Message Across In The Play An Inspector Calls

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  • Category: Play

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John Boynton Priestly was born in Bradford on the 13th of September 1894. He grew up in his fathers group of socialist friends; he became a socialist, and uses the characters of the Inspector, Eric and Sheila Birling to highlight his views in this play. The play is set in early 1912, before the two world wars, the government at this time were conservative capitalists, and the general attitudes of the older generation was every man for himself and his family and that no-one should worry about their actions and the effects they have on other people.

When the play was written, in 1945, attitudes had change after the two world wars. The separations between the classes had been lessened, and people had started to care more for others. In this essay, I will discuss the socialist message represented by the actions of the characters in the play, and conclude whether the views were expressed well. When you start to read the playa and the title, it seems to be like any other detective novel, but when you reach the end, you discover it isn’t really from a certain genre, but was written to express an opinion. In An Inspector Calls, the play starts in the Birling’s dining room.

The Birlings are a middle class family, who live in the fictional town of Brumley in Yorkshire. Mr Arthur Birling owns a factory, Mrs. Birling is his social superior, and they have two children Sheila and Eric. The play opens with a party to celebrate Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft, the son of a wealthy factory owner. Mr. Birling discusses with Gerald and Eric his ideas for the future, then a mysterious Inspector calls. It turns out that a girl has died, all the Birlings and Gerald are in some part responsible for her downfall. The Inspector tries to get them to accept responsibility, and through that educate them in socialist ideas.

All seems well, but when the Inspector leaves, they discover he is a fraud, and the older generation forget everything they were taught. The role of the Inspector in the play is to express Priestly’s socialist views; he explains his message best in the speech “With their lives, their hopes and fears, their sufferings and chance of happiness 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 each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when if men will not learn that lesson, they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish.

This explains that everyone should care for everyone else, if they don’t they will suffer fire, blood and anguish which could be a reference to war. This would be an ironic reference to the fact that there is a war shortly after the play is set because people don’t consider each other. The inspectors function is to make the Birling family think of the consequences. He seems to be an image of their guilty consciences. He gets information from them without directly asking questions. He is an effective character, and because we never discover who he is, you are left thinking about who he was, and why he tried to educate them in socialism.

At the start of the play, Sheila is very happy. When the Inspector arrives, she first enters the room “gaily” but when she hears the story of Eva Smith’s death, and that her father sacked Eva, she becomes “rather distressed” Sheila is different from her father because she realises that “these girls aren’t just cheap labour, they’re people. This shows that the younger generation already has consideration to others.

Upon discovery that she had the girl fired for being too pretty, she becomes extremely upset and takes complete blame for the girl’s death saying “So I’m really responsible” and “It was all my own fault? which the older characters do not do. Later, she becomes hysterical after hearing how the others were involved, but refuses to leave. After the Inspector leaves, and they discover he’s a fake Sheila has been strongly marked by the inspector’s words and still tries to profit from the message he gave, she says It doesn’t make any real difference y’know” meaning that although he wasn’t really from the police, he had got the whole family to think of the consequences of their actions.

The character of Sheila is impressionable being younger, her views have been altered towards thinking about others, so she has understood the Inspectors message. Sheila’s reactions relate to the play’s idea of expressing socialism by trying to take the blame, because through her guilt she portrays the underlying message of socialism, that you should be responsible for your own actions. However, Mrs. Birling is a refined, upper class woman. She would prefer to be quietly in control of the situation, and doesn’t like being probed by the inspector.

She tries to separate herself and her family from the like of Eva Smith, she says “I don’t suppose for a, moment that we can understand why the girl committed suicide. Girls of that class… ” Mrs. Birling strongly believes that the boundaries between the classes should not be breached and that not being working class, the Birlings’ are different and wouldn’t understand Eva’s motives. Eva Smith is a representation of working class women at this time, she is expected by her social superiors to have no morals.

At this point, Sheila contradicts her, and the Inspector backs up Sheila. Mrs. Birling calls the inspector “impertinent”, she does not agree with him. Later, when the inspector makes her tell her actions she is “stung” but still refuses to accept she has done anything wrong, she says “you have no power to make me change my mind” to which the inspector replies “Yes I have. ” Mrs. Birling doesn’t think her thoughts or her actions can be changed, but the point of the play is to change people’s minds.

She blames Eva’s problems on the father of her child but after she discovers it is her own son, she is hypocritical, and says she wouldn’t have said anything derogatory about the father, proving she doesn’t understand the socialist way of thinking that everyone is equal. She becomes distressed by the inspectors mannerisms and because the inspector turns Eric against her. When the inspector leaves and they discover he’s a fake, Mrs. Birling covers up her feelings by saying she knew what was happening all along.

She immediately thinks that the family should revert to how they were before the Inspector called, and forget how close they’d come to caring for others and taking the responsibility. Mrs. Birling’s attitudes are very capitalistic, she cares more about keeping what happened in the family for their own benefit, the speeches of her family are anti-socialist and so provide a stark contrast between the Inspector and the younger character’s ideals.

With the differences in opinion, the characters who do not promote socialism look unreasonable, this heightens the message of socialism. Dramatic devices play a key part in the play. At the beginning, Birling wrongly predicts the future saying “Titanic… unsinkable – absolutely unsinkable” and “Nobody wants war” this at the start makes you think Mr. Birling is stupid, because we know his ideas are wrong, and think he is pompous when boasting “There’s a fair chance that I might find my way onto the newt honours list.

The inspector uses a lot of irony and sarcasm, for example agreeing that it would be “very inconvenient” to think about others all the time although he means the opposite. The inspector agrees with Mrs. Birling that the father of Eva’s child is “the chief culprit anyhow” when he knows they are all to blame. The inspector’s character is very sarcastic, and he often gives ironic answers to taunt the Birlings, and to give the impression to the audience that they are stupid, thoughtless and inconsiderate.

These factors give the characters a strongly negative image, which makes their way of life seem wrong, and so promotes socialism as a better alternative. Imagery is used to create pictures in the head to make the play more interesting. Towards the end of the play, the issues of socialism and capitalism are highlighted in the characters deciding whether to keep the actions in the family or not. The last speech the inspector makes is very important because it is the message of socialism “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body.

This is the message outlined in the play. Sheila and Eric are the only characters to have understood this and so then explaining that they should care, and Mr and Mrs. Birling being annoyed is very dramatic. Then there is the relief of all the characters after finding out Eva is not dead. Finally the ‘phone call to alert them a girl has just died and the sense of de ja vu when they discover that an Inspector will come and talk to them is very effective because it is open it makes the audience think about what will happen next.

The play has no definite ending; it seems as if the story could restart, or as if there should be more to it. I think that the socialist message is portrayed well throughout An Inspector Calls, because the moral of the play is to care for people and be responsible for your actions or things, like Eva Smith’s life, get messed up. This is made clear in many points and speeches made by the inspector, and with the effectiveness of the ending which leaves the audience thinking about what would happen next.

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