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    J. B. Priestley’s play “An Inspector Calls” Essay

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    In 1945 J. B. Priestley wrote the play “An Inspector Calls”. It is a very tense play; the audience are always on the edge of their seats. It is didactic as it conveys a social and moral meaning to the play. The play has naturalistic conversation all the way through, to make it seem real, like you could be there. But it also has surreal elements; for example; the inspectors name is Inspector Goole. This sounds like a ghoul or a ghost. And at the end of the play, he disappears and his existence remains a mystery. In the play Priestley is making political and philosophical statements.

    He is offering us, the audience a message; the message that we should think about society; to not split the public into two groups the rich and the poor, to come together as a community. All the characters are responsible for Eva Smiths death, and through her death it shows that everyone is responsible for everyone else and that we should not think that if it doesn’t involve us personally, than it is not our problem, because it is. Priestley wrote the play in 1945, but the play itself is set in 1912. I think he did this because they play is set two years before the outbreak of the First World War.

    Looking back on it, Priestly must have thought that 1912 seemed to be a secure time. Britain had a Navy, no wars were going on and Britain was wealthy. For people like the Birlings, life must have seemed great. But to people like Eva Smith, times were hard. There were no laws to help them get higher wages, and no help when they were out of work. To girls like Eva Smith it was a taste of hell. This creates a sense of unease and an ironic contrast as at the end of the play, it is the Birlings that are in hell, maybe not money wise, but in their conscience.

    Priestley is trying to make a social comment on the war, as families like the Birlings, war doesn’t seem possible. They are so wrapped up in their own worlds; they don’t seem to be able to acknowledge reality. The play is set deliberately in one scene, the dining room of a large comfortable, suburban house belonging to the Birlings. This is to create a sense of their claustrophobic world. This creates an interesting contrast because Birling thinks that war isn’t possible but the audience knows that just a few years later the First World War broke out.

    I think the play is set in a large, wealthy house to show a contrast. It is to illustrate the contrast between the upper and lower classes, and how they differ. Here is a well-off family enjoying themselves, getting all life’s luxuries. But also here is a girl who just wanted higher wages, and someone to love her. Instead this wealthy family look down on her. For example when the inspector tells the family that Eva Smith has committed suicide, Mrs Birling says; “I don’t suppose for a moment that we can understand why the girl committed suicide. Girls of that class…” ‘Girls of that class’.

    This is showing her snobbish, selfish side. This is the contrast I think Priestley is trying to make between the wealthy and the not so wealthy in 1912. They do not associate with each other socially, only when the lower class is working for the upper class. However not all the family are so small-minded. Once they have noticed that they have done something wrong, they do feel guilty. Shelia still feels angry with the others because they are not acting as if they are guilty, where in her eyes they are. I think she feels so angry because she is more guilt than anyone else.

    Shelia abused her privileged position and attempted to destroy someone’s life based on petty jealousy. She didn’t sack Eva Smith but she acted totally unreasonably and behaved very snobbishly. Shelia now realises that she is partly responsible for Eva’s death, but in her view the others haven’t admitted this to themselves and that is why she feels guilty and why she is angry with the rest of her family. While the others are relieved to find out there is no girl, Shelia reminds them that they still did terrible things to someone and that they were very lucky that nothing did happen to this girl; But you’re forgetting one thing I can’t forget. Everything we said happened really happened.

    If it didn’t end tragically then that’s lucky for us. But it might have done. ” Gerald thinks about it logically and tries to come up with a reasonable explanation to what has just happened. He comes up with the idea that maybe there wasn’t really a girl at all. He is trying to remove the blame from them. He is showing the symbolism of hope in the play, saying that there is still hope for them because there is no girl, so the things thy did weren’t as bad as they were made out to be, as they didn’t drive a girl to suicide.

    They are not responsible for a girl’s death. But he is as much to blame as the others are. He may try to kid himself by thinking that he gave her food when she hadn’t eaten for days, kept her over the summer months and allowed her to stay in rooms and gave her money even when the affair had ended. But the truth of the matter is that he used her for a couple of months; he didn’t try to help her find employment to get on with her life. In order to take the blame away from himself, he says that there obviously was no girl so they didn’t do anything wrong.

    But what he is not recognising is that they all sill did terrible things to another person. So, if there was a girl who was thinking about committing suicide, they would have all played a part in the girl’s motives for killing herself. Mr Birling has a main part in this play. He represents the middle-class business owner of society. He lives a luxurious life while his employees have to survive on a pittance. His privileges come with responsibility but he does not seem to take notice of this. Employees such as Eva Smith should have rights.

    He took away a girl’s job without considering the consequences of a dismissal without a reference. How was Eva Smith supposed to find a new well-paid job without a reference form her last job? But Mr Birling didn’t give one thought to what she did as long as she was off his hands. I think that Mr Birling clashes with the Inspector because he fails to see he has done anything wrong. The Inspector thinks he has, and is trying to show Birling this. But Birling refuses to believe it. “I don’t see we need to tell the Inspector anything more. In fact there’s nothing I can tell. I told the girl to clear out, and she went.

    That’s the last I heard of her. ” He was explaining how he washed his hands of this girl and he sees no reason why this has anything has anything to do with why Eva Smith killed herself. Birling still doesn’t realise that this was the start of it. He played a part in the long string of events that led to her suicide. Later on in the play, I think he almost recognises that the whole family has done something wrong. But as soon as he starts to think this, Birling gets the news that the Inspector is not real, so he feels excited, relieved that the blame is taken away from him.

    However he is not entirely satisfied so he gets Gerald to ring the Infirmary and he then finds out that there is no dead girl. He is then very triumphant and relieved as is the rest of the family, and he is trying to put it all behind him and thinks everyone else should do the same. He is just telling Eric and Shelia to do this when the phone rings. “That was the police. A girl has just died on her way to the infirmary – after swallowing some disinfectant. And a police Inspector is on his way here to ask some questions. ” And as the play ends on this note, the audience is left very tense and on the edge of their seats.

    This is because the Birlings think the nightmare has ended, when really the inspector was just preparing them for what lies ahead. The audience is also left confused as to whom the inspector was. The play has a very tense double ending. The play could have ended when the inspector left but that would leave the characters to wriggle out of the truth and once more continue their lives in a selfish and hypocritical manner. So J. B. Priestley makes his point more forcibly. I would say that J. B. Priestly makes a very clear statement. Priestley chooses to make his criticism of his society through a well-off middle class Edwardian family.

    This shows their wealth and outlook on life. For them it is a life where you dress up for dinner, have maids, where ladies leave the men alone to the port and the serious conversation; whereas the women have the general chit-chat about the weather etc. This is obviously not what it was like for Eva Smith/ Daisy Renton. She is a careful worker with a much stronger sense of morals than the Birlings; yet she is condemned to unemployment, and poverty. None of the middle class society helps her and she is eventually driven to suicide.

    Certainly the play contains a deeply social message; emphasised by an atmosphere of mystery and symbolism. Gradually the emphasis shifts away from the realistic details and the play begins to deal with different issues. The language becomes less realistic and the moral message is more insistent. The inspector gradually becomes the mysterious voice of conscience. He tells the Birling family that men should learn of their responsibility towards of each other. The play shows that the responsibility that a middle class family take is a sham; and that people should take more responsibility.

    The message for the audience is that they should not only question the Birlings’ generation, but also their own. The political message is a very general one. In this play, individual people are criticised. This is to demonstrate that the play declares that we have a responsibility towards one another. People must become more supportive of each other. They must also develop a different concept of social duty. The final message of the play is a plea for change, first a change in human nature, then a change in society.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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