‘An Inspector Calls’ was written in 1945 and was set in 1912, two years prior to World War I. This is a significant matter as Priestley sets up the characters in his play to be at the height of optimism. He does this so, upon the arrival of the Inspector and his destructive path the Birling family would have a lot further to fall when they each get knocked down. 1912 was a time of peace and optimism and it was common knowledge that Britain could go down one of two roads; advances in technology, improved economy etc or that path that is feared later on in 1938, War.
Of course as the reader from 2006 we know that War is the path Britain will choose. It is a significant fact that the reader knows about the upcoming war. This is because it shows us just how arrogant Mr Birling is, when he announces to the whole family that we are entering an age of prosperity and peace (Act One Page 6 “You’ll hear some people say War is inevitable. And to that I say – Fiddlesticks! ” Mr Birling). Priestley’s experience in both of the World Wars influenced him greatly when writing this play, especially the characteristics and traits of the Inspector.
He was a great supporter of Socialism and the Welfare state and he uses the Inspector to show this is in the play. In brief terms, the Inspector’s role in the play is to act as a defending and forwardly attacking militant of the working class who are oppressed by the Capitalist age they live in. The Inspector’s method of interrogation portrays him as a policeman of morality rather than of the Law. Criminally there is nothing wrong with what the Birlings have done but morally they are fully to blame and the Inspector is there to punish them.
He inspects each member of the group’s behaviour and involvement with Eva Smith. He handles each member of the Household differently and his first interrogation in Act One shows significant levels of evidence to show that the Inspector is there to judge them morally. After the Inspector explains to Mr Birling why he is here Mr Birling is quick to dismiss his involvement with the case and shows little care. Immediately, almost instantly the Inspector rebounds and pushes further into Mr Birling pushing down the wall Mr Birling had risen between them.
Mr Birling goes on to say how if everyone took responsibility for all that went on we would be in an awkward world and the Inspector jumps on this and Birling becomes quite irate, addressing such issues that drove Eva away such as starving her of a good salary, firing her for protesting. However irate Mr Birling becomes the Inspector keeps on asking questions and eventually exhausts all the information he can out of Mr Birling and then moves on to the next family member to get causal evidence to make the previous suspect seem even worse morally.
Mrs Birling imitates Mr Birling in trying at the height of arrogance to protect the family’s capital aristocratic status but fails as the Inspector soon points out what she has done that infringes his moral policy, he is assisted by Sheila who has now sided with the Inspector to attempt to benefit herself. The Inspectors sums up all of the Birling’s moral faults on pages 56-57 in a short speech embellished with emotive powerful language and phrases. “One Eva Smith has gone, but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us… ho’s lives are in some way intertwined with ours. ”
This powerful statement has shown how the Birlings have failed to server their country and been selfish and morally out of order. They have caused the death by depravation of someone who was intertwined with them through there desire for capitalist gain. On page 59 Eric makes the Statement “He was our police inspector all right. ” This almost perfectly sums up the Inspector. The Inspector was a tailor made character sent by the author to destroy the Birlings. Secondly we must examine closely the possibility that the Inspector is there to act as the voice of Socialism.
At Various points during the play the Inspector make rash statements about the injustice of the capitalist era and how it is the duty of those in better ways to support those who are struggling. This comes through evidently to present the socialistic ideals of the author who believed in socialism. To balance this we see that the Birling family are extreme capitalists and this is none more evident than fro Mr Birling when he talks about his workers or ‘his girls’ as nothing but cheap labour and that it is his duty to keep labour costs down to ensure high profits. This presents the whole play as a War on capitalism.
This gives the Inspector the role of being a one man army against Capitalists pigs. On pages 9-10 Mr Birling makes a capitalist speech and he declares that it is each mans duty to make his won way in life and he slates the rising of socialism and refers to socialists as cranks and makes a sarcastic remark about how a society or a community is utter nonsense. At this point the Inspector arrives. I think this is significant. As the arrogance of the Birlings begins to get louder and more anti-social the Inspector arrives to dampen the flames and bring down the capitalistic views and defend his side.
In his closing speech on page 56 he makes a classic socialist statement about how we should support one another in the community and work to better the lives that are intertwined with ours. This stands out a lot and makes it seem quite clear that the author I using the Inspector as his representative in the battle between the two political means. The final facts to consider lay with the possibility that the Inspector is a visitor of future. Is it not a coincidence that he knows the whole truth about the involvement of a family in a suicide that in that part of the play had not even occurred yet?
It is prevalent that the Inspector is never told anything that he does not already have knowledge of. Sheila comments on this on page 60 when she says “We hardly ever told him anything he didn’t already know, did you notice that? ” In the Inspector’s final speech on page 56 he refers to the fact that if men do not learn to abolish this primitive childish capital era then in blood fire and anguish then the lesson will be taught to them. This is clearly a representation figure of speech pointing to the tragedies of World War II this shows his knowledge of future events and lays further evidence supporting his role as a visitor from the future.
In conclusion I would say that the Inspectors role in J. B. Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ is as a representative of 1945’s shifting society that is sent to try and defeat capitalist family the Birlings who represent the capitalist giant, Britain and avert World War II and send Britain down a better path. All the evidence presented points strongly to this. The Authors socialist beliefs, the morality of the Inspector, the Inspectors socialist representation and his knowledge of the Birlings and the future all point clearly to this social Inspector who I many ways differs from your average policeman, one may say.