In 1894 J. B Priestley was born into a middle class family in Bradford. As his grandparents were working class, Priestley had an insight into both social tiers and the strong divide between them. Priestley became bombarded with opinions from a multi-talented philosophical social reformer, George Bernard Shaw. George Bernard Shaw believed an improvement in human nature was long overdue and the quote ‘It’s all that the young can do for the old, to shock them and keep them up to date’ left a permanent impression in Priestley’s thoughts that would later influence his writing.
Throughout his lifetime Priestley saw many unnecessary disasters such as lower class people dying from the cold, mill explosions and an unemployment epidemic with a lack of government assistance. The liberating suffragette movement combined with the eloquent influence of H. G Wells throughout it allowed Priestley to accept society changing as a possible occurrence. Although, the tragedy of death and destruction caused by the First World War shook society, these mistakes were not only repeated, but also magnified in the Second World War.Order now
Witnessing these unnecessary disasters, Priestley began to form strong opinions about the problems in society. In 1945, when the Second World War ended, Priestley wrote ‘An Inspector Calls’ in Moscow and incorporated the communist views of the Soviet Union with the opinions of H. G Wells and George Bernard Shaw. This produced a moralistic play aimed at reform society’s virtues rather then an entertaining play, although the play proved to be popular with its audiences for entertainment purposes.
‘An Inspector Calls’ integrated the idea that economic value was irrelevant when measuring a persons nobility and every class of person is entitled to a decent standard of living. Priestley set ‘An Inspector Calls’ in 1912, to convey his message most efficiently as he had experienced preventable capitalist mistakes. He related his play to an extreme disaster involving the whole of society. It was also a time when materialistic beliefs stood strong and allowed Priestley to mock these beliefs. Priestley uses factual evidence of Titanic in ‘An Inspector Calls’ to prove this opinion wrong.
People assumed that a ship of Titanic’s enormous size and luxury was unsinkable. However, the ornate fittings and obvious wealth on the ship gave a false sense of security and many people died. The audience feels distant from the Birling family at the beginning of the play, as they give an impression of being very self-centred. The family seemed very content and stable together and away from the problems of society. As the inspector reveals the harsh truth about their behaviour towards Eva Smith the family breakdown to show the audience fragile and empty lives, the audience lose respect for the family and begin to pity them.
Although, Eric and Sheila’s maturity and responsible attitudes gains the audience’s admiration. ‘An Inspector Calls’ operates in real time in a tense discussion about the consequences of the Birlings’s selfish actions. The heartless acts do not actually occur in the play but are only spoken about and the audiences are informed through conversation about Eva Smith’s suicide and her reasons. As the audience never experience events contributing to her death or her actual death, the author has the opportunity to alter previous events.
The dubious information leaves the audience in anticipation. As the action is not witnessed it is easier for the audience to accept Eva Smith symbolising the future. Except for Eric and Mrs Birling the inspector confronts each member of the family in chronological order, to complete the audiences and the characters’ understanding. The inspector reveals that Mrs Birling rejected Eva Smith from her charity organisation before she knew Eric was the father. This is because with the knowledge that Eric was the father, Mrs Birling would have reacted differently and not shown her hypocrisy.
The play is easy to accept because it is in a realistic setting and at the time it was written, many people had similar beliefs to those raised in the play. As the story slowly unwinds, the audience senses an approaching climax that keeps them in suspense. The inspector keeps releasing clues and the mounting tension with each interrogation holds the audiences’ interest and challenges them to solve the mystery. For example Sheila says to Gerald ‘I expect you’ve done things you’re ashamed of too’, which hints that Gerald has a shameful secret.
The inspector enters the play dressed in a darkish suit and is described as a man who creates an ‘impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. ‘ His strong presence interrupts the excitable atmosphere of Sheila and Gerald’s engagement celebrations and transforms almost instantly into an aura of tension by his uncomfortable questions, despite the families attempt to avoid the inspector’s enquiry. He proceeds to slowly reveal the truth in a logical fashion to influence both the play characters and the audience.
The inspector presents many clues, such as insinuating Eric’s involvement as he protests for Eric not to ‘turn in’ as ‘you might have to turn out again soon’. The order is important as this is designed to both intrigue the audience and to influence the audience’s thoughts. Priestly used this as an instrument to convey his notions. The inspector allows the characters to announce their opinions in an arrogant manner, then contradicts them by revealing the truth. The inspector asks who is to blame and Mrs Birling reply’s ‘blame the young man who was the father’ but later the inspector reveals Eric is the father.
The audience relates to the inspector’s questions connected to the current social events of the period. In a similar way to the characters, the audience is allowed to form opinions, which are later demolished. The inspector exits with a final summary of Priestley’s righteous notion, ‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body-We are responsible for each other’ as our lives are ‘intertwined with’ occurrences of the future and peoples happiness. The effect caused by Birling’s selfish beliefs correlate with society’s similar views that this would result in disastrous consequences of ‘fire and blood and anguish.
‘ The inspector acts as a Greek chorus filling in pieces of information and makes righteous comments as if he is on a higher moral level. One example of Priestley’s ideas about social status being unrelated to ones nobility, is communicated through the inspector as he says ‘Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think. ‘ In response to ‘we’re respectable citizens and not criminals, Priestley did not want too much attention concentrated on who the inspector was, but to the points he made.
As a result the inspector spoke concisely with little emotion or information about himself, he would either ask a question ‘She talked about herself. ‘, a comment to show he was listening such as ‘Go on’ or a judgmental comment such as ‘I was looking at what was left of Eva Smith. A nice promising life there, I thought, and a nasty mess somebody’s made of it’ referring to the Birling family symbolising the destruction cause by someone’s unnecessary action to instigate a war.