Discus the role of Inspector Goole, considering a verity of different interpretations and using textual evidence to support your response The play, ‘An Inspector Calls’ gives the audience a great insight into the early 1900s. Two of the key political viewpoints that are expressed in the play are socialist and capitalist. During the 1900s the gulf between the upper and lower classes was at an all time high. The play explores many political viewpoints, many of which are Priestley’s own. Priestley is a strong socialist, he uses the character Mr Birling to express his dislike for capitalists.
The play was written in 1945 but was set in 1912. This was a useful strategy to help create dramatic irony, and make the birlings look foolish, for example, Mr Birling says “I say there isn’t a chance of war.” Yet as we know there was a war, Priestley also knew this so by having Mr Birling say this, Priestley has made him look stupid because he was wrong and therefore putting his views across to the audience about his opinions on capitalists.
This play is full of different interpretations of Inspector Goole. One of the common interpretations is that Goole is used as a tool or a vehicle for Priestleys political views. It is made clear to the audience that Goole’s viewpoints are in complete contrast with the Birling’s. In the play Goole is a strong socialist, as is Priestley. Goole dislikes capitalists and sees them as selfish and greedy, as does Priestley. The fact that the character of Goole and Priestley share these views is the first indication that Goole is a mouthpiece for Priestley’s views in the play.
Priestley is keen for people to have a socialist attitude, he has a strong aim to achieve social justice and make people see errors of their ways. He shows this in his play through representing Goole as the moral conscience. The audience knows this when Goole is speaking about seeing Eva in the hospital and he says ‘A nice little promising life there and a nasty mess somebody’s made of it.’ He says this to make the Birlings feel guilty and try to make them see errors of their ways. In contrast to this, the Birlings refuse to take any responsibility for Eva’s death, they believe in looking after themselves, the individual.
A further interpretation is that Goole can be seen to represent a ghost symbolising, for example, the ghost of repression. He makes the Birlings realise that the working classes are treated poorly and have many less rights than the upper classes. He also shows the Birlings how by treating Eva like a working class girl, badly, could have been one in a chain of events that lead Eva to commit suicide.
Goole says ‘What happened to her then may have determined what happened to her afterwards, and what happened to her afterwards, may have driven her to suicide.’ Goole can also be interpreted as the ghost of the working classes, he tries to make the Birlings see that there is no shame in being a working class citizen and that just because someone is working class doesn’t mean they live an unhappy and miserable life. Goole tries to show the Birlings this view by saying ‘A girl died tonight, a pretty, lively sort of girl, who never did anybody any harm.’
It is obvious that from showing the Birlings that working classes are still humans and are not worthless, which is what the Birlings originally thought of them, that they now feel guilty for what they have done. After finding out that she is partly to blame for Eva’s death by getting her sacked from her only steady job, Sheila says ‘Yes, but it didn’t seem to be anything very terrible at the time. Don’t you understand? And if I could help her now, I would.’
Sheila had always shown some socialist views even before the inspector has really made her feel guilty, she says ‘But these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people.’ Although Sheila’s father is a capitalist, Sheila shows a moral conscience. She realises that the workers are not just cheap labour and they are real people with feelings, which is not a view we would expect her father to have. This indicates that Sheila has some socialist views although she did get Eva sacked in the first place so she still believes in treating the lower classes with less respect, like her father.
An alternative idea is that Goole can be seen as a time traveller. By Priestley using this idea, it helps him to put his views into the play by showing that people need to be aware of what’s going on. Before the inspector spoke the Birlings, they seemed oblivious to lives of working class people or at least thought that their lives shouldn’t be taken much notice of. Gerald compliments the cook and Mrs Birlings response to this is ‘ Your not supposed to say such things.’ This shows her snobbish attitude towards working class people, she believed that staff should not be thanked.
This attitude was changed after Goole had spoken to the family. When Eric has found out that Sheila had got Eva sacked from Millwards he says ‘My God, it’s a bit think, when you come to think of it.’ This implies that he thinks that what she has done is harsh. In response to this, Sheila says ‘ Oh shut up Eric. I know, I know. It’s the only time I’ve ever done anything like that and I shall never do it again to anybody.’