This is an essay about “An Inspector calls” by John Boynton Priestly. I shall be particularly looking into the Inspector’s character but I shall also talk about the author and the setting of the play. John Boynton Priestly was born in Bradford in 1894. He served in the infantry in the Great War where he suffered many close escapes. After the war John attended the University of Cambridge.
He worked as a newspaper critic and wrote about a number of subjects including his dislike of materialism and mechanisation in society. Priestly also had strong socialist views and thought all people in all lines of work should be paid the same, equal wage. He wrote a number of plays including “Dangerous Corner” (1932), and “Dragon’s Mouth” (1952). His well known play, “An Inspector Calls” was written in 1946. His wife was an English archaeologist and writer. He declined the offer of a knighthood and was awarded the Order of Merit from Elizabeth II in 1977. He died in 1984 aged 90 years old.
The main characters in “An Inspector Calls” are the Birling family who are comfortably in the higher social classes and live in a smart Sub-urban house on the outskirts of Brumley. There is also Gerald Croft is from a more successful family and higher up the social ladder. Arthur Birling likes to fit in with higher social classes but obviously tries too hard to impress people. He and his son Eric run his company, Birling and Co. Throughout the play, which is set during one evening, Mr Birling is trying to impress Gerald. He does this because Gerald’s parents (owners of Crofts Limited) are high up in society and he believes he could find himself a place on the next honours list for knighthood.
Sybil Birling is Arthur Birling’s wife. She is obviously more advanced in her social status and often looks down her nose at people. Mrs Birling is full of her own importance and thinks nothing of lower people’s lives and how her decisions affect them. She is a prominent member of a Brumley women’s society and is always happy to use her influence to get her own way.
Sheila Birling is the Birling’s daughter. She is in her early twenties and is very happy with life. She plans to marry Gerald Croft and the couple are engaged. Gerald looks apon Sheila as an equal to him even though she comes from a lower social family. Sheila always speaks her mind and has very strong beliefs for a young girl. Eric Birling is Sheila’s brother. He is quite a tearaway compared to the rest of the family as he drinks heavily and is quite immature. In his early twenties, Eric often says things which he has not thought through and rarely considers the consequences of his actions, so often lands himself and others in trouble.
Gerald is popular with the Birlings and especially with Arthur because of his higher social background. He presents Sheila with her engagement ring during the play. Gerald is not a shy character and has a strong personality. He is not a very opinionated person so seems to be a very popular person. You can tell from the dialogue that he has a great influence over Sheila, “Shelia: Is it the one you wanted me to have?” This however, doesn’t mean he is dominant over her because Sheila is very self assured and confident.
The Inspector has a very intimidating character and this becomes very apparent when he is questioning the Birling family. He introduces himself as a police Inspector only recently transferred to the Brumley force. Mr Birling takes this opportunity, as he usually does, to inform the Inspector how powerful he is in Brumley. He says he knows the senior ranking officer, Colonel Roberts of the Brumley police. This is meant to intimidate the inspector but he takes it in his stride. From an early stage in the play the inspector’s character reflects J.B Priestly’s socialist views, “Inspector: She hadn’t been able to save much of what Birling and Co. had paid her.”
The Inspector also gives the impression that he knows more about the Birling family than he lets on. For example, he knows that Gerald has had an affair with Eva Smith but shows no knowledge of this. He arrives at the Birling’s house in search of the person or persons responsible for the death of Eva Smith. The Inspector behaves as if he already knows who is the main offender in the death of Eva Smith. He has an almost supernatural feel and demands respect when he enters a room. He creates an atmosphere of power and command.
The Inspector is a very smart character and obviously makes the other characters, except Mrs Birling, very uncomfortable. He believes everyone is responsible for everyone else and this is reflected in his dialogue. “Inspector: She was still Eva Smith when Mr Birling sacked her for wanting twenty five shillings a week instead of twenty two and six.”