Priestly deliberately set his play in 1912 because the date represented an era which was very different from the time that he was writing. In 1912, rigid class and gender boundaries seemed to ensure that nothing would change. Yet by 1945, most of these boundaries had been broken and Priestly wanted to make the most of this opportunity and, through the play, he encouraged people to seize the opportunity the end of the war had given them to build a more caring society. “An Inspector Calls,” was able to show the audience of 1945 how silly and socialistic they had been by being unaware of the lives of the lower class workers.
Apart from Edna the maid, the cast of “An Inspector Calls,” does not include any lower class characters. We only see the rich and upper classes of the Birlings and Gerald Croft. Yet we learn a lot about the lower class as we, the audience, are able to see the attitude that the Birlings had for them. Priestly has purposely used only upper class characters so that their mistakes and ignorance can be fully taken in by the audience. Therefore, this leaves a more effective message imprinted on the general public. Our first socialite, Mr. Birling saw Eva as cheap labour and took advantage of the fact that she was poor and had no home.
He treated her like dirt because she was not part of the upper class and fired her when she and a group of other factory workers rebelled for higher wages. This is seen in the words, “… four of five ring leaders who had started the trouble… And this girl, Eva Smith, was one of them… She’d had a lot to say – far too much to say… ” This shows the audience that Birling doesn’t care for people with a lower social standing as he thinks that they are worthless and don’t need to be treated properly or given a fair wage for their hard work.
This is what many upper class socialists did before the Second World War as they were unaware that their easy lives rested upon the hard work of the lower classes. Our second socialite, Sheila Birling is a nai?? ve young lady who was more interested in her looks than anything else. Just like her father at the beginning of the play, Sheila despised people who were not as rich as she was and treated them with no respect. However, when she is shown the picture of Eva Smith, Sheila was very much affected, as she was the one who had got Eva Smith fired from her steady job at Milwards.
She admitted that it was her fault that Eva had been sacked as she had seen her smirking when she had gone in to try on a dress that didn’t suit her. This is seen in the phrase, “… I was looking at myself in the mirror I caught her smiling at the assistant, and I was furious… ” Throughout Act 1, Sheila grows up a tremendous amount. Sheila started off as a “a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited. ” By the end of Act 1, she is horrified by her own part in Eva’s story. She feels full of guilt for her jealous actions and blames herself as “really responsible.
These actions are very similar to the suffragette movement allowing women to become more self dependant and giving women the right to openly express their opinions. Priestly used the suffragette society in “An Inspector Calls,” because it was an event that changed many women’s lives and brought about a revolution for change. Throughout Act 1, Sheila matures from a girl who is constantly being patronized by her mother, into a woman with feelings for others and a broad view of life. It is very noticeable the difference in how the different generations react to the Inspectors messages.
Sheila was honest and admitted her faults to the Inspector and felt responsible for the death of a “human being. ” Not only that, but she examines her conscience and decides what is best for others rather than thinking about her herself all the time as she did as we were introduced to her at the beginning of Act One. Sheila was also sympathetic for the strikers – an idea that horrified Birling, who could only think about low production costs and ignore the human side of the issue, however the old thought that paying the minimum wage was alright.
Mr. Birling, a typical social climber, was also set in his ways and confident that he was right and saw his daughter as “young and foolish. ” Priestly has used this technique because it shows the elder generation watching the play in 1945, how selfish they were and how their mistakes changed the fortunes of many poor and homeless factory workers. The play was designed by Priestly to do just that and make the post-war generation understand their errors and stop social standings from getting in the way of what was important to other human beings.
The inspector himself adds tension, drama and is also able to get many messages across to the audience in Act 1. He controls the pace and tension by dealing with one line at a time. For example, “And why did you do that? … And what had this girl done to you? ” This allows the inspector to gain the audiences full attention and get his many messages across clearly and allow us to dwell on what he has had to say. I think that this is very effective as the Inspector is the most controlling character in the play and the most mysterious.
Not only did he enter wearing a long black coat, unannounced and unknown, he is able to see right through each character leaving the bare and naked truth. This is very effective throughout Act 1 as the Inspector is a strong individual who is able to express many statements without saying very much at all. He is quiet and listens to what the other characters on stage have to say and is able to interrogate by breaking down false illusions. This is shown by the way that he interrogated Mr. Birling.
Birling tried to stop the Inspector from asking too many questions by constantly saying that he was once “Lord Mayor” and was “currently celebrating Gerald Croft’s engagement” to his daughter. By saying all of this, Birling was trying to oppose the Inspector by showing off and telling that he was very well established and well connected throughout the community. However, the Inspector ignored this and finally found out the truth by breaking away the shields that the Birlings tried to create to save themselves from ruining their social standing.
All in all, I think that the Inspector is Priestly in disguise and he has used that character as a door to unlocking the ignorance that many people had in 1912. By doing this, he is able to communicate to us and the audience, about the mistakes that our pre-second world war generation made and how inconsiderate they were to the factory workers which had made them rich and given them social status. “An Inspector Calls,” is a very political drama as Priestly uses historical events to shape the different characters and get messages across to the different social and political parties.