The play ‘An Inspector Calls’ has been set in 1912, however it was written in 1945 by J.B.Priestley. These dates are particularly important because in 1912 when it was set, the attitudes of the higher and middle classes where those typical of the Edwardian period. They were happy with the fact they were financially secure and that the country was currently going through a time of industrial prosperity, they didn’t want things to change.
Whereas, the time in which the play was written the people had suffered the tragedy of the Titanic, two World Wars and were just overcoming the economic depression of the 1930’s. Priestley had seen such a rapid change over the past thirty years, that he began to worry that the people might reclaim the old Edwardian attitudes and opinions, and so they would be back exactly where they were thirty years previous. By airing these concerns throughout the play, he is trying to make the point that it was these attitudes that lead to the first and second World Wars, and therefore if the 1945 audience adopt these views once again they could trigger war once more.
Throughout the play Priestley raises many of the issues that he personally finds concerning with the way in which we choose to live our lives. He was concerned with the fact that some people can find it perfectly normal to go through life being selfish, only thinking of themselves and not others. This concerned him because he was worried that if people were to only think of themselves, then it would drive them to greed and self-absorption. This would only generate abhorrence towards others and cause friction between them and the people surrounding. Priestley’s political concerns were those common to his political party, the Socialists.
Priestley was well known for his Socialist attitudes of equality and justice; he believed everyone should be treated the same and the social class system should be abolished as it only caused hostility and prejudice between people, just for their wealth and social status instead of being interested in a persons actual personality. In the play, it is ironic but not at all coincidental that the period in which it is set, the Edwardian era, consists of attitudes, which are in complete opposition to the Socialist beliefs of Priestley.
Priestley’s biggest concern with people at the time was the lack of responsibility they showed. The attitudes of the higher and middle classes in 1912 were those common of the Edwardian era. The social classes meant a division between them, causing a lack of responsibility. Priestley emphasises this lack of responsibility through the role of Birling, and casually uses the role of the Inspector to progressively mock him throughout the play.
The role of the Inspector can be interpreted in many different lights, for one he is seen as trying to make the Birling’s aware of the fact that their actions do not only affect their lives but others as well. Another way the audience might see him, is as a teacher, he is not only making them aware of the affect they have on others, but also trying to teach them a lesson so they will be discouraged from making the same mistakes again later on in life. Priestley tries to extend this message, so he is not only teaching the Birling’s a lesson but also attempting to convey the message further a field by showing the audience the aftermath which these decisions have caused, knowing they have the use of hindsight, this is also known as dramatic irony. The audience would be empathetic with this message, as they had lived through two wars and know what the result can be when people choose to live in this way.
The Inspector represents Priestley’s strong moral views. He has the moral dimension of allowing the others to see that they can find forgiveness for what they have done through future good behaviour. His concern is for morality, rather than legality. This is what separates him from the stereotypical analogy of the ‘normal’ policeman. He shows the Birling’s how people are responsible for how they affect the lives of others. The inspector also communicates the idea of Socialism to the audience; Priestley himself was a socialist and he continually uses the control he has over how the characters are portrayed to try to influence the audience round to his way of thinking, the idea that the world is a community where everyone should be helping each other.
The play ‘An Inspector Calls’ can be categorised not only as detective genre but also as a well-made play. The play is classed as a detective play because it has all the basic requirements to fit the genre of a detective play e.g. detective, red herring, starts with a crime. The basic feature of a well-made play was a well-developed causality in the plot, and usually a hero that ideally has two simultaneous tasks to overcome.
In addition, the script should alternate action, comedy, drama, and romance from scene to scene throughout the screenplay. ‘An Inspector Calls’ fits the criteria for a well-made play almost flawlessly. The well-developed causality in the play would be Eva Smith, although we never get the chance to meet her in the play the tragedy of her death prompts what happens in the rest of the play. The play follows the feature of alternating script by using different speeches for different purposes; some parts of the play are used to make the characters look dim, “Oh-how horrible! Was it an accident?”
The purpose of that quote was to make Shelia look ridiculous, as it would be quite impossible to drink disinfectant by ‘accident’. Another purpose is to convey a message, “You can imagine how she felt”. The Inspector uses phrases like this example, to promote a feeling of empathy from the characters towards Eva Smith and to endorse them to feel guilty for the part in which they all played in her death. By Priestley varying from one tone to the next, it keeps the audience entertained and further extends our knowledge of the characters personalities and attitudes. Priestley also uses many dramatic devices throughout the play to keep the audience interested and involved in the play.