An Inspector Calls, set in 1912, is a play with many social and political messages. J. B. Priestley believed a great deal in socialism and believed that many other people needed to be more caring about their community and the people in it. Priestley uses the character of the Inspector to convey his own thoughts, feelings and opinions about social issues. However, he also uses other characters, particularly Mr. Birling, to show the audience how cynical some people can be. It is possible that J. B. Priestley set this play in 1912 for a reason.
Arthur Birling is a rich businessman who thinks very highly of himself, even though he is often wrong. Arthur”s family respect him and listen intently to his ideas that “there isn”t a chance of war” and the Titanic is “unsinkable. ” As the play was written in 1947 and set in 1912, this is an example of dramatic irony and the audience would know that Arthur was very wrong in his opinions and might even think him to be stupid. When he says “the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you”d think everybody has to look after everybody else”, he explicitly says that he is strongly Capitalist and is narrow minded.
Priestley wanted the audience to have a low opinion of Birling because he was discouraging his Capitalist politics and trying to show people like Birling to be at fault When Mr. Birling makes his speech he makes several points which Priestley himself disagrees with, he uses the Inspector as a medium to make a point to both the Birling family and the audience that we shouldn’t all “Look out for our own” which is how Birling describes it. According to Mr. Birling every man should put himself first, even before his family.
We know this when he says “A man should look out for himself, and his family if he has one”; this shows just how full of self-importance he actually is. The timing of the Inspector’s entrance is immediately after Birling has made this speech. Throughout the play there are hints that the Inspector isn’t all he seems to be, is it possible that he’s actually just a fraud claiming to be an Inspector? The Inspector called himself “Goole,” which could be a pun on the word “ghoul” which is often referred to as some kind of ghostly being.
Towards the end of this script it becomes apparent to the audience that he wasn’t an actual Police Inspector. However, Priestley doesn’t actually reveal who, or what, the Inspector is, perhaps Priestley’s aim was to leave this matter a complete mystery. This tactic could have been to ensure that his viewers continued to think about the story and hence would also have to think about the issues of Socialism and this is something which he was desperate to do. The Inspector’s aim in the play is to change thoughts and opinions of the Birling family and the audience viewing.
One of the ways he attempts to do this is by questioning each one of the Birling’s in turn. The Inspector firsts interrogates Mr. Birling, asking him why he dismissed Eva Smith from her job at his factory, just for asking for more money. Birling was “surprised” at being questioned, so it seems that what he says is usually accepted as correct. His surprise could also be because of exactly what the Inspector was questioning. Birling says that it is his “duty to keep labour costs down” which indicates that he does not think of each worker as a person and cares a great deal about money.
The fact that he did not recognise the name Eva Smith even though she was someone he dealt with directly and a worker who stood out, further shows that he does not think of his employees as people. To him they are nameless and have no individuality. Priestley has done this to make audience members realize that even if a person has a very minor job, or is poorer than most, they still deserve to be treated with respect. The Inspector recognises early on that Sheila is more morally sound than her father as she points out that “these girls aren”t cheap labour – they”re people. When she says “So I”m really responsible? ” she shows that she can admit when she is wrong. The Inspector probably thinks more highly of her than Arthur because of this, he realizes that she shares the same views as him when it comes to the way workers should be treated.
Once the line of questioning turns to Gerald, the Inspector is more friendly to Sheila. He understands that she would want to hear about Gerald”s affair with Eva Smith and ensures that she stays by arguing that if she left then and heard no more she would “feel she”s entirely to blame. When Gerald tells his story, he is questioned mainly by Sheila who is angry with Gerald for betraying her. The Inspector treats Gerald with neither fondness nor contempt. He observes that “he at least had some affection for her and made her happy for a time. ” By questioning Gerald about his affair with Eva Smith, or “Daisy Renton”, the Inspector is showing that everyone should think about the possible consequences of their actions, before they carry them out. This is something that Priestley wants the audience to notice. Mrs.
Birling is not present for the majority of the questioning, so she is unfamiliar to the Inspector”s abruptness. She describes him as “a trifle impertinent”. She, like Arthur Birling, seems to be used to receiving nothing but respect. This is because she is of a high-middle class. The Inspector treats the characters with the same disregard as they gave Eva Smith. Mrs. Birling becomes increasingly annoyed at how the Inspector treats her. This is shown when the Inspector says, “You”re not telling me the truth”, and she replies “I beg your pardon! She seems horrified by the way she reacts that somebody could speak in that way to a lady of her class. Her behaviour shows how full of self-importance some people can be. Like her husband, Mrs. Birling refuses to accept any responsibility for the death of Eva Smith. Protective of her family, she does not criticise any of them either, but turns all of the blame onto the unidentified man: the father of Eva”s child. She very happily says that the man should be “dealt with very severely” and made to “confess in public his responsibility,” oblivious to what most of the audience would have realised; that Eric was the father.
This is another example of irony. She believes that the man must be someone who is working-class and has not been brought up properly because he was a drunk and guilty of theft. By doing this Priestley’s aim is to show that all classes of people should be treated the same, and lower class people shouldn’t be looked down on. Each of the Birlings and Gerald have done things to Eva that were wrong. However, Sheila and Eric are very regretful and seem to have learnt from their mistakes and immediately become more likeable and seem less at fault.
The Birling parents represent the older people, perhaps Priestley is hinting that he believes older people are less likely to change their views, as they’re more set in their ways than younger generations. The Inspector implies that the Birling parents and Gerald Croft are the ones more at fault because their ideas about class and Capitalism do not change. Priestley and the Inspector think that “Public men… have responsibilities as well as privileges” which suggests that Priestley thinks that those who forget their responsibilities also cause social problems.
The Inspector says in his final speech “We are responsible for each other…. if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish. ” This is an implication that he is criticising those who do not learn, not those who have acted that way in the past. The Inspector leaves immediately after he makes a speech which sums up how he, and Priestley, feel about people disregarding other peoples’ feelings. In this speech he, and therefore Priestley, try to make people understand just how serious problems can get when we do not realise that “We are responsible for each other. This speech gives an opposite message to that which Birling gave whereby he said that “a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own. ”
It was at that point where the Inspector entered, as if to prove him wrong. In his speech, the Inspector makes reference to the forthcoming war with the idea that if people do not learn that “We are members of one body…. then they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish. ” This is a very powerful statement and it would seem that the Inspector is implying that the war was sent to punish people for not working together, and at the same time forcing them to do so.
The war did break down barriers between classes and people had to all work for the country, not for personal gain, so what the Inspector spoke of was accurate. I think Priestley used the idea of war to convey his message because it was a major issue when the play was written and everyone would have suffered from it and would care greatly about it. The play finishes with a telephone call from the police saying that “A girl has just died…. after swallowing some disinfectant” and a real Inspector will question the family.
This is an unexpected twist. The fake Inspector was there to punish them on a moral level and to try and make them feel guilty enough to change their behaviour. This was accomplished with Eric and Sheila, but not with the others. The only thing that they would be affected by was a “public scandal,” and the real Inspector would ensure that that is what they would get. Without this twist, it would seem that the Birling parents and Gerald would escape unpunished. The Inspector”s main purpose is to teach.
In the context of the play, he told the characters what had happened to a particular girl because they had each been guilty of selfishness. In regards to the whole of society, he voiced Priestley”s opinions that we cannot make any progress if we do not work together. In my opinion, those watching or reading the play today would not gain as much from the story in regards to the moral teachings because most have now accepted the advantages of Socialism over Capitalism and so do not have as much to learn on the arguments of this issue as the audiences of 1947.