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An Inspector Calls Social and Historical Context Essay

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An Inspector Calls is set in a fictional industrial city in the North of England; this allows J.B Priestley to explore the social and historical context of the play. Back in the times Priestley set the play, the social classes were divided into upper class people, middle class people and working class people. The class system was taken so seriously that people from one class could not mix with another class and people who were born into a certain class could not move up the social ladder very easily.

The Birling family are members of the upper class. Mr Birling is the social climber in the family as he was born into the working class and worked hard to climb up the social ladder. Mr Birling is always looking for a way he can improve his business. This suggests he is proud of his position in the upper class but he still wants to move up.

In the play, Inspector Goole represents Priestley’s views. The play opens with the Birling family celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila with Gerald Croft. When the Inspector enters; the atmosphere in the Birlings house changes. The Birling family are dragged to a halt from the party. Mr Birling does not hesitate for a minute and takes the responsibility of getting the information from the Inspector.

The play seems to be in the traditional murder mystery genre. There are many implications to support this, such as: the Inspector making the other characters baffled, the way Gerald, Sheila, and Eric scruple in many occasions and also the way Mrs Birling does not yield to the Inspector’s interrogation. However; as the play progresses, the Inspector undermines this idea through his actions. By the end of the play the audience are unsure whether Inspector Goole is a real Inspector or is just an impostor.

Inspector Goole is central to the play. He is extremely commanding and authoritative, in his speech and in his personal presence: “he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness.” The stage directions repeatedly show him “taking charge massively.” This conveys that Inspector Goole is made to dominate the other characters.

The Inspector uses sophisticated questions to ensure the other characters are caught out. He gets the characters to confess their role in the death of Eva Smith. He cleverly uses their own keenness to avoid blame against them: “And you think young woman ought to be protected against unpleasant and disturbing things? Gerald: If possible – yes. Goole: Well we know one young woman who wasn’t, don’t we? Gerald: I suppose I asked for that.” Similarly, with Mrs Birling, he encourages her to condemn the father of Eva’s baby, before allowing them to realise that the father is Eric – “If he is, then we know what to do, don’t we? Mrs Birling has just told us.”

Inspector Goole also affects the pace of the play by placing only one person in the hot seat at a time. The Inspector is very determined and will not be misled or diverted from his aim. “It’s the way I like to go to work, one person and one line of enquiries at a time.”

In the play, the inspector seems to represent a working class person that is comfortable in his position. We see this he does not get intimidated by Mr Birling’s boasting of him knowing Colonel Roberts. Mr Birling, on the hand represents a working class individual that has worked extremely hard to climb up the social ladder. As Mr Birling is a member of the upper class, he holds himself as massive as possible and thinks nothing can get in his way.

We can relate these ideas to the setting and context of the play. The year that the play was set, 1912, was a year that the class system was taken seriously. J.B. Priestley wrote the play in 1912 to convey how the upper class people’s views were different to those in the working class. We can see the Inspector is a working class person as his views are different to Mr and Mrs Birling’s. Also; unlike some of the Birling family he is sympathetic.

The Inspector affects the other characters greatly. He uses their own knowledge to dominate them. Once the Inspector has resolved the problem and made the character understand their role in Eva Smith’s death, he immigrates to anther character. The Inspector makes them feel genuine remorse for Eva Smith, although it does not seem to stick with some of the characters.

Some of the characters such as Eric and Sheila take in the guilt and realise that what they have done was highly blameable. Sheila is perhaps the most sympathetic of the Birlings, though her own part in Eva’s death is arguably less defensible than Mr Birling’s. she is a highly perceptive character who 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. And I hate to think how much he knows that we don’t know yet.” However; some of the characters are not as sympathetic. The other members of the Birling family refuse to take any blame and refuse to give in to the Inspector’s interrogation. However, the Inspector brings them out using their own knowledge.

Inspector Goole also affects the audience. He encourages us to use our minds in figuring out how the characters are involved in the death of Eva Smith before revealing it to us. The Inspector leaves the audience wondering whether he is a real Inspector or and impostor. My feelings before the ending of the play were that the inspector was a murderer that had set up a plan to kill a lady, and decided that the Birlings could be part of this.

Overall, I think that the Inspector is just the conscious of the characters trying to make them see sense. The Inspector had a funny name which was critical, as it gave us a slight hint to what he could be.

The Inspector played the most important role in the play. In my opinion the Inspector was made to dominate the characters and to make them realise the errors of their ways. If the Inspector was not a character in the play then the play would not have a dilemma. Also the Sheila would remain the spoilt person she was and Eric would not have changed from being a person that was drunk all the time. The Inspector changed the life of some. However, the Inspector could not change the other characters.

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An Inspector Calls Social and Historical Context Essay. (2017, Oct 11). Retrieved from

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