Examine the role of the Inspector in J. B. Priestley’s ‘An Inspector calls’ By definition, the word Inspector is ‘1. An official appointed to inspect. 2. A police officer ranking between a sergeant and chief Inspector.’ Whilst a normal Inspector is there to find the perpetrator of a crime, the Inspector in this play appears to be there for very different reasons. The Birlings, Arthur, Sybil, Sheila, Eric and Gerald Croft, are celebrating Sheila and Gerald’s engagement, everyone is in a happy and joyful mood. Arthur is lecturing them all on how everything will be all right.
You’ll be living in a world that would have forgotten all these capital versus Labour agitations and all these silly little war scares. He also says that there will not be a war, the Titanic is unsinkable and that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own. This is dramatic irony as the audiences of this play have probably lived through these events. Suddenly the doorbell rings and the Inspector enters. This happens at such a crucial point, almost to save Arthur Birling from embarrassing himself in front of the cast and post-war audience of 1945.
At first, the Inspector appears to be like any ordinary Inspector of that time, Stage directions – page 11 A man in his fifties, dressed in a plain darkish suit of the period. He blends in with the Birlings, and does not look unusual. He comes with news of a young girl called Eva Smith, who committed suicide due to swallowing disinfectant. So at first sight, the play appears to be a ‘whodunit’ genre, in which traditionally the identity of the criminal would be revealed. Here however, each character is shown as an accomplice to murder, though not one of them has done anything to Eva Smith which a court of law would describe a crime. We know Eva Smith has committed suicide, so why is the Inspector questioning the Birlings if there is no criminal? What is he trying to prove? If he’s not an Inspector, what is he?
There appears to be links between the Inspector and the supernatural, he appears to have some supernatural connotations, his very name suggests this: The fact that this will sound to the audience like ‘ghoul’ (meaning ghostly specter) means that they immediately wonder about his origins; the characters on stage may not necessarily pick up on this, especially as he clearly spelt his name out for them, to avoid confusion perhaps.
The obvious pun on Inspector Goole’s name could portray him as some kind of spirit, sent on behalf of the dead girl to torment the consciences of the characters in the play. Alternatively, he could be some sort of cosmic policeman conducting an inquiry as a preliminary to the day of judgement, or simply as a forewarning of things to come. It seemed that J. B priestly did not want to give away the Inspectors true identity, to have revealed his identity as a hoaxer or as some kind of sprit would have spoilt the tension that makes the play so effective. There is an air of menace about the Inspector, he is there for a particular reason, and intimidates the other characters.
He speaks carefully, weightily, and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking. He speaks carefully so that nothing is misunderstood, so he fits in with the upper class and middle class people. He is there to give them all a vitally important message and it can not be confused, he speaks with a sense of authority and his disconcerting habit is very intimidating. If he does not behave in this way, he may not be taken as seriously and so his message will not be noticed. On the stage, the Inspector must appear real, at first there must be no mistake in his identity, these stage directions ensure this.
Creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. He seems to fill the whole stage, the characters may not notice him at first, but the audiences certainly do! It is very important that he appears to be real as questions may be asked about his identity and existence before he leaves. He has a job to do, he is there for a purpose, and it is not a social call! The Inspector questions each of the Birlings and Gerald Croft individually and in very different ways. Not necessarily in the way an Inspector would traditionally ask questions relating to a suicide. One person and one line of enquiry at a time. He wants to be in control of the enquiry.
If everyone is talking at once, key details may be missed out. The Inspector changes his style of questioning depending on who he is talking to. This is an open question, which requires a detailed answer; the Inspector only uses open questions on Sheila, Eric and Gerald because they are easier to get information out of. He has to use closed questions for Mr. and Mrs. Birling. Inspector (to Mr. Birling) I think you remember Eva Smith now, don’t you? Mr. Birling must answer yes or no to this question, there is no other way around it. Mrs. Birling is even more difficult to question.