J.B. Priestley was born in Bradford, Yorkshire on 13th September 1894. J.B. Priestley became a clerk in a local wool firm and was very interested in politics. In 1914 he joined the infantry, he was nearly killed on at least one occasion. J.B Priestley left the army in 1919. J.B Priestley was a very successful as an essayist and novelist. J.B Priestley broadcasted regularly for the BBC giving personal reflections of the conditions of wartime. Very popular with listeners but not the BBC, who were put under pressure from the Ministry of Information and the BBC cancelled the talks because he was considered to be too critical of the government. Priestley wrote 40 plays and “An Inspector Calls” was written in 1945.
The play is set in 1912 in an imaginary place called Brumley. Just before the World War I. It’s a realist play, the story takes place in “real time”. When each act stops it’s as if time stands still. The new act opens on exactly the same scene as the end of the old one. In “An Inspector Calls” there is a message about equality and discrimination. J.B. Priestley did this purposely. It is shown quite clearly in this play, how strong the separations between different classes were and how the upper class people treated the working class and how little we realised that we are responsible for others.
Whilst Inspector Goole was at the Birling family’s house, they all learnt that they had played a part in Eva Smith/Daisy Renton life, which lead to her death. They discover each other’s faults i.e. Mr. Birling was greedy- he sacked Eva when she asked for a raise, Sheila was jealous and envious of Eva when a hat that she wanted suited Eva better than her ‘it just suited her’, Mrs Birling was prejudiced- she refused to help this poor girl at a time when she most needed it and Eric showed his immaturity and irresponsibility-he stole money to support Eva after he realised that Eva was pregnant with his child. They learnt that there is a certain amount that people can take until they are pushed to their limits and do something irrational.
The Birling’s represents the upper class. They are in charge, they can hire and fire those of the working class and they treated the working class every badly. The workers did not have employment protection laws or health and safety laws. Eva represents the women of the working class quite well due to the fact that she continued to search for a job after she was sacked from two jobs in a short period, then made homeless and finally pregnant. These things, which happened to Eva, happened to many people at that time.
Mr. Birling’s attitude towards his workers is not in a manner that shows he cares about their equality or even as people. He feels the workers are getting greedy when they asked for a raise, since he believes he’s paying them more than they deserve. It is revealed to us that at the time there were no rights for working people. They were paid very little, 1.12 per week; their weekly saving was about 29p (twenty-five shillings). In the inspector’s final speech it is clearly a warning, that if they continue the way they are now, the outcome will not be good at all: “…If men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”
In the Inspector’s final speech he is very emotional and uses his body language to show how he feels about the matter ‘…surveys them sardonically…’ and he is very forthright about who started the sequence of events that cost Eva Smith her life ‘You started it’. The Inspector represents the voice of Priestly. He believes in community and if we don’t work together then disaster is inevitable. Priestly’s main aim in the play was to show what would happen if we did not work together as a community and take responsibility for each other. ‘…Blood and anguish’ for the audience this refers to the war which they had just experienced but in the Inspector’s speech it is a warning of what is to come.
At the end we see that the ‘new generation’ (Sheila and Eric) learned their lesson and showed that they understood what they did, and wanted to change to become better people. The ‘old generation’ (Mr and Mrs. Birling) were shown what they could lead someone to do, and started to show that they would change. As soon as they found out that no-one was admitted into the mortuary that night, they acted as if nothing happened, so they learned nothing and wanted to continue with their way of life as it was before that night.
I think that Priestley portrays this as a play because it would be more interesting to audiences than reading a political pamphlet. At the time the audience would be middle class people since they had the wealth to have a privilege. In addition they would have just experienced the deprivations of World War II. Therefore they would recognize the ignorance and bigotry of the Birling family. On reflection, perhaps Sheila does deserve more blame than her father.
Although Sheila shows more remorse than Arthur her reasons for getting Eva sacked are less valid. Arthur saw Eva as a leader of troublemakers who could disrupt his production. Sheila however got rid of her for a far less important reason caused by her own temper and jealousy. The moral of “An Inspector Calls” is that no matter what class we are we are all equal and that we must work together. Priestly wanted to get this moral across, I think he did, but unfortunately there will always be people like the Birling’s.