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    The characters of Birling and Goole in An Inspector Calls Essay

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    J. B. Priestley’s thought provoking play An Inspector Calls is an engaging and compelling story from a time that was largely controlled by capitalist principles and the mistreatment of the working classes. Written in 1945 the purpose was to challenge the ideals of the general public of Great Britain and to convey his own social and political message through the contrasting characters of Birling and Goole who are capitalists and socialists respectively. Priestley uses different techniques to great effect. For example he shows how wrong his characters could be.

    Mainly by using hindsight he shows the viewers that a character may give the impression of confidence and poise, this idea may well be extremely far off mark. The act starts with a description of the Birling house, which portrays a strong feeling of affluence and prosperity, and is supported by the quotes ‘heavily comfortable’ and ‘substantial’. This gives the impression of power and authority, but the excerpt ‘not cosy and homelike’ imply that there is greater interest concerning the outward appearances of the family and how other people see them, rather than their emotions and feelings of one another.

    The introduction then goes on to describe the lighting of the set. It is to start of as ‘pink and intimate’, which is another example of Birling’s desire to conceal what his family is really like , and instead portrays them as the perfect model family. the use of dim and soft lighting means that there are many shadows and the audience have trouble seeing what is really there and so hints that there is maybe more than meets the eye with this family and secrets lurk within the shadows.

    The lighting then switches to ‘Brighter and harder,’ highlighting the change of mood in the room when Inspector Goole enters. Priestley also uses it as an effective method to show the Inspector as a voice of social conscience which is in addition representative of the revealing of the pasts of all the characters in the room, and the uncovering of secrets that they have kept hidden from the rest of the group for so long.

    One thing that is obvious from the opening scenes is Mr Birling’s almost obsessive nature with bettering himself and being more like the upper classes. As well as this the audience witnesses him attempting to prove himself to his family and his daughter’s fianci?? e Gerald Croft, which seems to emphasize a hidden insecurity that he feels about his position. He then struggles to cover this up by drawing parallels between himself and Gerald’s father.

    One example of this is when Birling attempts to make Gerald think of him as a relation, by telling Gerald that he is “one of the family” which would in turn compel Gerald to consider Birling as an extension of the Croft family. Another example of Birling’s apparent pleasure in drawing similarities is when he remarks off hand as if it is a coincidence that he and Gerald’s father “drink exactly the same port,” therefore implying that there is more of a link between the two of them than Gerald might think.

    The highly noticeable emphasis on “exactly” is as if he thinks that by making a link with Gerald’s father Gerald will be more impressed because his father is a vastly successful businessman and the exact image that Birling models himself on. Mr Birling is made known to be a very self-centred man and his main concern is how other people view him and if he is able to drag himself up his imaginary ladder of social standings. He informs Gerald that he is “the son-in-law that I always wanted.

    This illustrates the fact that he has forgotten that they are supposed to be celebrating his daughters engagement, but instead his eyes are fixed on impressing Gerald and sucking up to him, which in turn displays his overly sycophantic nature. This continues when he goes onto talking about how they can “look forward to a time when Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing but are working together. ” He seems more concerned about the lasting business opportunities rather than whether his daughter is really happy with who she is about to get married to.

    There is also the sentiment that Birling has arranged the engagement without much of a say coming from Sheila and the audience is not sure if this happy couple are so close as they are portrayed to be. Sheila tells Gerald “yes – except for all last summer, when you never came near me” then when told he was busy at work she replies “yes, that’s what you say. ” The emphasis on “you” suggests that although she is just joking around she may feel as if there is a secret which he is keeping from her.

    He continues to talk about business and repeats many times that he is a “hard-headed businessman” and also adding “practical” the third time he mentions it, as though he thinks of himself as a no-nonsense type of man, regardless of the fact that in a time when he should be celebrating his daughters wedding he is displaying his arrogance and bias towards himself by talking and thinking only of his own distinction in society and how he can increase his reputation. Priestley expertly reminds the audience of this theme in Birling’s character of arrogance and self-importance by using the technique of hindsight.

    In Birling’s speech he says that the country is entering “into a time of steadily increased prosperity,” and that according to him “there isn’t a chance of war. ” However, World War One broke out two years later and continued into a international collapse in the economy. This show his nai?? vety at what is happening throughout the world and destroys this idea of business acumen that he thought he had shown by the quotes “hard-headed businessman”. Hindsight is further used by Priestley when he maintain that the titanic is “unsinkable”.

    Mrs Birling, Sheila and Eric leave the room which gives the opportunity to for Mr Birling and Gerald to talk alone. This speech by Mr Birling underlines his insecurities of what people think of him and his family. he says “I have an idea that your mother – Lady Croft – while she doesn’t object to my girl – feels you may have done better for yourself socially. ” This has obviously manifested in his head adding to the already large anxiety he feels, and so encourages him to hint at his name being in the next honours list, “I might find my way into the next honours list. But he cant stop there and has to boast that it is “just a knighthood of course. ”

    In the opening section of the act he brags that they are drinking “exactly the same port as your father. ” He tries to hide his insecurities by controlling the whole occasion and through his overwhelming confidence. He then attempts to increase his social standing by encouraging Gerald to tell Lady Croft about the forthcoming honours list, “Well, when she comes back, you might drop a hint to her. This displays a manipulative side to his nature by controlling Gerald to his own means to increase the reputation of himself in view of the upper classes. When the Inspector enters the lighting changes for the third time in the play as the Inspector and changes the perception that the characters have and starts to bring light onto the recent proceedings. There is an immediate impact when he enters and is immediately viewed by the other characters as extremely menacing and ominous.

    He is shown to be like this by the stage directions which have a common focus on his size and appearance and is described to have a “disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses,” and gives an “impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. ” The word “purposefulness” shows that he is direct and straight to the point and does not care about social status or any other insignificant things like that when conducting his investigation.

    He then continues questioning Birling. Birling tries to put him off and change the subject when the Inspectors inquiry goes in such a way that displeases him, and Birling starts acting “somewhat impatiently,” which suggests that he is used to getting his own way and being in control of proceedings.

    While being questioned Birling takes it upon himself to tell the Inspector that “he was an Alderman for years- and lord mayor two years ago,” and “is still on the bench. He is attempting to suppress the Inspector and regain control because it reveals his hidden insecurities. He then warns the Inspector that the Chief Constable is “an old friend of mine,” and implies that he has influence in high places and that somehow he feels that the Inspector should find this threatening. However in these times when Birling seeks to intimidate him he interrupts by “cutting through massively,” this is to prove that no matter how hard Birling fights to regain control the Inspector still has a firm hold over events.

    Sheila, in this part of the play is identical to her father for the fact that she is mostly concerned about outward appearances so when she gets the answer to her question that Eva smith “wasn’t pretty when I saw her today, but she had been pretty – very pretty” there is extra weight on the fact that she had been pretty through the use of a pause for dramatic effect and then the words “- very pretty. ” By stressing what means a lot to Sheila it puts pressure on her and also reminds her that she is partly responsible for the loss of such beauty.

    This section marks the change of character in Sheila in which she changes from being like Birling and only caring about herself and now being concerned and realising that everyone is responsible for the consequences of their actions. Further on the whole group realises that the Inspector is here not just to question Birling but the whole family. At the point that Birling recognizes this his whole persona changes from one trying to scare the Inspector and intimidate him with all his talk of influential friends and positions of power to a more charming yet sycophantic side of him.

    He then strives to shift the blame from himself by starting into a speech in a “marked change of tone. ” He then goes on to say that “if I’d known that earlier, I wouldn’t have called you officious and talked about reporting you,” On the words “I’d” and “I” there is extra importance as if this will diminish the likely allegations on himself and aid in protecting his conduct concerning Eva Smith. Inspector Goole informs Birling that “public men, have responsibilities as well as privileges. ” This is Priestley again using the Inspector to make apparent his social awareness.

    He also uses it earlier when Gerald says to him that they are “respectable citizens and not criminals. ” To which the Inspector counters that “sometimes there is not much difference. ” He is implying that what class you are does not have any consequence in whether you are a good person or not. He then goes on to question Mrs Birling for the first time. He describes her as a “prominent member-” in the group and, because of the word “prominent” must take much of the accountability for the girls suicide. The silence of Mrs Birling when accused is taken by the Inspector as an admition.

    It is plain to see that Mrs Birling was prejudiced towards Eva Smith and was to self-important to help her because Mrs Birling saw it as degrading to help someone of such less social standing. Priestley shows that social status is the origin of superiority and therefore positions of power are ill-used and compassion to other people is forgotten through this use of prejudice. In An Inspector Calls Priestley uses many different techniques. For example he utilizes hindsight to show that Birling’s view of the future is deluded and that anything he says or believes is mistaken, including his social and political values.

    Inspector Goole on the other hand is the complete opposite of Birling. He is Priestley’s voice in the play, he knows that the behaviour and type of person someone is cannot possibly be affected by what type of social background they have. Through the Inspector Priestley calls for a change in the old ways of the ruling classes and a totally new system. One thing that is clear is that the audience are drawn to the strong willed Inspector and the offstage voice of Priestley and find themselves repelled by the formulaic Birling household, with its materialistic and selfish opinions who offer no support for anyone outside their family.

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