By Analysing the different reactions of the characters to the inspector’s visit, discuss who or what he might be, and what aspects of society Priestley is inviting his audience to question ‘An inspector calls’ is an interpretation of J.B. Priestley view of the British people in the 1940s although the play was set in 1912.The play opens with the Birling family and their guest Gerald Croft at the dining table. Then Edna the maid told the family that ‘an Inspector’s called’.
From this the audience may think that this may be a crime play. However this is a play about moral, social issues, and how people think in the 1940’s. Priestley uses dramatic irony through characters such as Mr. Birling who thinks that the ‘titanic’ is ‘unsinkable’ and that ‘there isn’t a chance of war’. He also shows how the reactions of the characters change while the Inspector is there. From the beginning Priestley shows that the Birlings are not as perfect as they seem to be. He uses the inspector as an omniscient person who waits systematically to say the right thing.
Inspector Goole is taken to be central in the play. He is very commanding and authoritative. ‘He creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness’. This shows how intimidating he is at first impression and that it sounds as though he has come with a purpose. The play also shows him as, ‘cutting through massively’. This shows that he dominates all the other characters and has no fear of anyone. For example when someone shouts he doesn’t shout back instead he speaks ‘coolly’.
When the Inspector visits the Birlings, Eric has a slight feel of guilt. While the inspector is interrogating Mr. Birling, Eric found out that Eva Smith lost her job. He shows sympathy for her when Gerald says that Mr. Birling ‘couldn’t have done anything else’. Eric then shows a bit of his guilt by saying that his Father ‘could have kept her on instead of throwing her out.’ This shows that Eric had a slight idea of where this was going to end up. Later on in the play Eric leaves the house for a while, which everyone hears and then his Mother wonders:
‘Where can he have gone to?’ This also shows that Eric is feeling guiltier about Eva’s death than before, but he can’t bear the thought of her dead. Eric took on the blame quite early on in the play. He becomes uneasy when he thinks that Birling and Gerald know something about him, but responding to Gerald’s assurance that it was a ‘joke’ with ‘well I don’t think it’s very funny’. This shows his guilty conscience. Another show of guilt is how he leaves the house. His Mother thinks, ‘where can he have gone to?’ Priestley gives us clues before hand about Eric’s guilty conscience with the drinking and how he reacted to the ‘joke’ by his Father and Gerald.
Sheila is the most sympathetic out of the Birlings. Once she is involved she feels really terrible. She is highly perceptive and is the first to realise that the Inspector is no ordinary policeman and that he has an almost supernatural knowledge: ‘Why you fool he knows’. ‘Of course he knows’. This shows how she tries to understand the Inspector and find out what he’s all about. In this case she has already understood the inspector. Also she is the first to realise that the father of Eva Smith’s baby is Eric, and then tries to get her mother to stop insisting that the father ‘be entirely responsible’: ‘(With sudden alarm) mother – stop – stop!’ At the sudden alarm she has realised that Eric is the father of the baby. This shows how perceptive Sheila is and how she is trying to understand the Inspector and his questions.
Sheila and Eric’s relationship was not very close before. However Priestley shows that during and after the Inspector’s visit Eric and Sheila’s bond becomes stronger. During the Inspector’s visit Sheila understands what the inspector was talking about while her Mother was being questioned. ‘Mother – I begged you and begged you to stop -‘ This shows how she knew about Eric being the father of Eva Smith’s child and she tried to stop her brother getting into this. After the Inspector’s visit they also show that their relationship has strengthened. Usually Eric and Sheila bicker a lot and disagree. But while their parents were being heartless Eric had to ‘agree with Sheila’ because this was telling them how ‘ashamed they were of their parents. This shows how their brother- sister relationship has become stronger and that they can trust one another more. Priestley shows how brothers and sister can bicker and fight and not get on as a whole but they will always love one another no matter what.