An Inspector Calls is set in the year 1912 but was written by J.B. Priestley in 1940, during the Second World War. Priestley had witnessed the suffering, torture and discrimination of the working-class people who lived throughout the two World Wars and the years that lay in between. Priestley’s experiences had influenced him to expose his thoughts and opinions during the course of the play. These are expressed through the various roles played by the Inspector.
Arthur Birling an affluent businessman, is holding a family dinner to celebrate his daughter’s engagement to Gerald Croft, who himself is the son of a very prosperous businessman. Into this scene intervenes a police Inspector, investigating the suicide of a young working-class woman. The Inspector plays very important roles in this play. Without the Inspector, none of the characters encounter with Eva Smith (or otherwise known as Daisy Renton) would have ever come into the open. For this very reason the Inspector is known as the catalyst for the events of the play. Whilst Birling is summing up his views on politics and society, the Inspector rings the bell and cuts off Birlings speech mid-way and Birling never gets to finish his speech.
‘…that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own – and- ‘ This has a major significance in the play, as it shows that an average man like the Inspector can make someone as powerful as Birling, completely powerless. It also shows that the Inspector’s points and beliefs were more valid and humane than Birlings capitalistic views and beliefs The first impression of the Inspector is described by Priestley in terms of ‘massiveness, solidity and purposefulness’, this represents that he is an unstoppable force within the play. ‘He speaks carefully, weightily and he has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses’. This symbolises the fact that the Inspector thinks carefully before he talks and that what he says has a valid reason. It also gives the impression that the Inspector sees through the person to the real person beneath.
Before the Inspector arrives, Birling had been setting out his views, ‘every man must only look out for himself’, but the Inspectors role proves that this isn’t the case. The Inspector also plays the role of a Socialist against a Capitalist. The Inspector is against Capitalistic views because he is not just concerned about himself but about others as well. ‘So you used the power you had…to punish the girl because she made you feel like that?’ One of the most essential roles played by the Inspector is that he doesn’t only just confront each character but he also forces each character to admit the truth. The irony that lies here is that the Inspector doesn’t find out anything that he doesn’t already know. The Inspectors intention is to merely get them to see what they and the others have done and to make them feel responsible for Eva Smith’s (or Daisy Renton) death.
The Inspector has a very specific technique of carrying out his interrogation. ‘One person and one line of enquiry at a time’, It’s the way he likes to work because ‘…otherwise, there’s a muddle…’ His role here as a policeman is quite unusual as compared to that of a usual policeman because a typical policeman wouldn’t have insisted on interrogating one person at a time. Moreover, a typical policeman would have interviewed each person separately, this goes to prove that the Inspectors aim was to show the others what they have done.
Another unusual quality that lies within the Inspector is that he is more concerned about criminal law than moral law. But the Inspector deeply believes moral values. He tells the characters: ‘If you are easy with me, I’m easy with you’ He his here conveying that that you should do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. He also shows that he has love and pity for those who are willing to accept their responsibility, however not to the extent that of forgiveness. After all ‘the girls dead though’.
Despite the fact that the Birlings and Gerald are very important figures in society, the Inspector walks in and in seconds manages to take total control. Yet he doesn’t control their reaction and how they are affected by the girl’s death. ‘No, wait a minute, Miss Birling’, ‘Then I’d prefer you to stay’