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Gcse Essay Questions An Inspector Calls

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Discuss the Role of the Inspector in J. B. Priestley’s Play: “An Inspector Calls.” The play is set in 1912, in a well-to-do household in Brumley. The family who live there, and are later subjected to the Inspectors’ questions, are the Birlings. Arthur Birling is the father, Sybil Birling his wife, Sheila his daughter and Eric, his youngest son and heir to the family business. Also present is Mr. Gerald Croft, who is engaged to Sheila.

The audience are first introduced to the family in the dining room where they have just finished a celebratory meal in honour of the forthcoming marriage of Sheila and Gerald. The engagement is significant to analyse because it is an opportunity for the Birlings to become business allies with the Crofts. It is convenient that Gerald is getting married to Sheila because it creates a good chance to increase the profit, wealth and prosperity of both families. This shows Arthur to be quite a calculating, devious gentleman who considers his own business and social image above all else.

The timing of the Inspector’s arrival is important. Arthur is lecturing Eric and Gerald on the importance of a man looking out for his own interests and well being. The inspector’s arrival punctuates Birling’s capitalist pontificating and later reveals it to be complacent and mildly ignorant: “… – a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own – and -…” At this point the doorbell rings and the Inspector then enters.

From the outset the Inspector seems to be a massive character, not due to physical size but his actual presence and aura surrounding him. He conveys a sense of power and is not at all intimidated by the family’s high social status. The Inspector somehow manages to facilitate the revelation of the truth from each character in turn by providing them with minimal facts and allowing them to elaborate upon these facts themselves. He does not actually press them heavily with questions requiring ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, he merely acts as a catalyst and ignites an emotional fuse within all the characters, some more than others.

He begins by addressing Mr Birling. He tries to shock him by telling him of a young woman in the infirmary who swallowed some disinfectant; “Burnt her inside out, of course.” This revelation of suicide invokes the most interesting and notable response from Eric. He involuntarily yells out; “My God!” This shows him to have an emotionally explosive temperament.

Birling is made aware that the young woman, Eva Smith, was once under his employ at the family works. He is shown a photograph of her, although neither Gerald nor Eric are permitted to see it. This annoys Gerald and may invoke a suspicion of foul play into the minds of the audience – however, the Inspector retorts with a seemingly legitimate and logical answer that satisfies both the young men: “It’s the way I like to work. One person and one line of enquiry at a time. Otherwise there’s a muddle.” Birling is now beginning to get agitated and rather annoyed with the Inspector. The Inspector seems, somehow, to be able to inflict silence and obedience upon people, and when Sheila enters the room Birling subdues upon hearing the insinuation that the youngsters may be involved with the young woman.

On page 19 we are revealed a first glimpse of the Inspectors’ morality. Birling refers to the girls as “not cheap”, and the Inspector interjects with; “These girls aren’t just cheap labour, they’re people.” We can form a number of preliminary judgements from this statement, and it also allows us to remove a section of the mysterious cloak surrounding the Inspector. We could assume that the Inspector is a man with a social conscience, who cares for those around him. He could also be seen to be a socialist, one who believes all people are equal; unlike Birling, who is a radical capitalist – he believes in the upper classes presiding over the common people.

This political opinion was quite common in the early 1900’s and was regarded by those in the higher social classes to be the correct and proper one. Socialism is the belief in a unified society, where all people are socially the same. If we were to compare the Inspector and Birling to modern day political figures we could use a number of obvious examples. The most prominent comparison being that Birling is similar to Margaret Thatcher and the Inspector is, while not as extreme in his political views, in some ways similar to Karl Marx: “There are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.”

The consequence of the Inspectors visit is that a lasting impression is formed upon two of the characters, Sheila and Eric. These two are the people who are going to change the views of people in the future by converting to the Inspector’s socialist opinion and impressing the errors of capitalism upon others. Whether or not this will help to alter society is doubtful, but the Inspector himself will know his part.

Although the Inspector appears to be real, there is another possibility to consider. The name ‘Goole’ is a pun on the term for ghost, or ‘ghoul’. The Inspector does not necessarily have to be a real person, but could just be the resulting presentation of all of the characters’ internal consciences. What I am suggesting is that each of the characters may have performed separate, unrelated acts of indiscretion and felt guilty about them. This guilt may have recycled over and over in their minds and has taken on a physical form to reveal their true character. We will never know what Priestley fully intended the Inspector to portray, but I believe that he uses the Inspector as a mouthpiece for his own socialist views. Priestley is trying to make society aware of the errors in the capitalist regime under which they live and allow people to form their own opinions and feelings.

The Inspector is the most powerful character in the play. He is not afraid of anyone, and often tells Birling to ‘shut up’, or tells him to; “don’t stammer and jabber at me man! I’ve just about had enough of you people.” The audience are subtly introduced to the family, whereas the Inspector is virtually flung upon them. I feel that Priestley does this intentionally so that the audience does not have the opportunity to form premeditated and inaccurate views about the Inspector’s personality. He wants the audience to see the Inspector as nothing, merely a tool to catalyse the discussions between the family.

At the end of the play each of the characters are affected in different ways. The characters who appear to be the most influenced by the Inspector’s visit are the two children, Sheila and Eric. They are disgusted by their parents’ nonchalant attitude towards the nights’ events. Arthur and Sybil Birling disregard the Inspector’s visit when Gerald announces that it could have been a hoax. They are relieved that their social status will not be damaged and that no one will ever know about the things they have done. Sheila has an altered outlook on life, and tries to make all of the other characters realise that whether or not the man who visited their house was a real inspector, he still managed to reveal many dark secrets about each character. By doing this he allowed them to see each other in a new light.

The two endings are to re-enforce the message that the characters cannot be sure of anything. They initially thought that when the Inspector left their social status would be fine and intact. However, as Birling is celebrating the audience may feel that the capitalists have once again beaten the masses, the phone rings. I feel that this is to allow the audience a glimpse of hope, reiterating the fact that even though you think that you cannot win, there is always hope. The socialists appear to win in this play, however the battle is always ongoing. Socialist. Capitalist. Communist. Democrat. It is all politics, and ‘An Inspector Calls’ is merely a way of expressing those opinions in an artistic form. Maybe there are a few more Inspectors among us, waiting to speak out. Who knows?

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Gcse Essay Questions An Inspector Calls. (2017, Nov 08). Retrieved from

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