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    How effectively does Priestly portray mankind’s cruelty in his play Essay

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    “An Inspector Calls” was set before the First World War, but it was released after the Second World War. One of the main reasons for this was that Priestly wanted to give the audience hindsight so they would know what really happens when the characters are discussing ideology beliefs. Priestly also wanted the audience to understand what capitalist think at that time, this way he could ridicule the views of the future that some of the characters have. This way of dramatic irony is used to manipulate the audiences’ feelings.

    For example when Mr Birling is discussing war, which is a very sensitive issue, he makes a look of rash prediction which not only makes him untrustworthy it also makes the audience dislike his attitude. At the time of release of “An Inspector Calls”, there was growing competition from the communist/socialist east, the USSR, which influenced Priestly’s socialist views. Some at that time thought that within a 10 years or so the communism and socialism would spread to the western countries.

    Priestly himself also believed that the lower class in Britain would one day have a revolution and over throw the upper class. The play shows many examples of cruelty dealt to the lower class by the upper class, for example Mr Birling caring more about his reputation that human life. This shows why the socialist should rebel and overthrow their capitalist leaders. Another great influence of his novel is the First and Second World War. Priestly having served through the First World War saw the horrific battles taking place. He also lost most of his friends that he had known before the war started.

    One of the main signs of the influence is in a speech by the inspector “in fire and blood and anguish”(Act 3, Page 56). When the First World War broke out, never before had the world see such a horrific war. The “fire” symbolises the destruction and the havoc cause by the new technology. The “blood” would symbolise the huge loss of human life. The anguish, which may have been one of Priestly feelings in the war, symbolises the suffering and torments that the men faced in the war. Having lived through the Second World War, it gives Priestly hindsight of the result and devastation of the war.

    This could also be a prophecy of wars that could come in the future if people do not treat other people fairly. This is a political message that Priestly is try to get through he manipulates the audience into think that if people don’t help each other wars will appear. An other possible meaning of this quote is that the inspector is talking about judgement day were individuals will be held accountable for their abuses. Priestly is trying to focus on the wrongs that the capitalist has done, and this is a warning to them, telling them to correct their wrong or face the onsequences.

    However judgement day may have another interpretation it may be the day where the lower classes rebel against the upper class. Mr Birling is described as a rich businessman who was not born in a wealthy family but worked his way up society. He reflects a person in upper class, but who was not born with wealth instead worked his way up. This shows in several places in the play, one of the most obvious ones is his manners. He seems to be not aware of all the manners that come with his class; instead from time to time he shows manners that are inappropriate.

    For example he says “Thank you” to Edna the maid. Another sign is his inappropriate long speeches that he gives out during dinner, which is inappropriate since they are concerning politics and business rather than Sheila and Gerald’s engagement. Priestly does this to show the audience how selfish that Mr Birling. He is seizing a joyous engagement party of his daughter to boost his reputation by giving ling and tedious speeches. It seems that he cares more about the merging of his company and Gerald’s mother’s company than Gerald and Sheila’s happiness.

    Mr Birling also shows insecurities about his position and how others think of him. For example he tries to impress Gerald by telling him of his possible knighthood, and he hints Gerald to tell that to his mother. This shows Mr Birling’s insecurity about the way that others think of him. He wants to boost his reputation by showing others of his possible accomplishment, which would make him look more respectable. This insecurity may have been cause by his past history; he may have been born in a less respectable family.

    He said, “When I was Eric’s age. They worked us hard in those days and kept us short of cash. (Act one, page 9) This suggests that Birling was born in hard times; a comment, which would certainly hint humble beginnings. Priestly wished to portray Mr Birling as some one that the audience would dislike and distrust. For Birling gives very naive views of the future. He predicts that “there isn’t a chance of war”, however this is certainly wrong, a few years later the Great War broke out and may countries were left in ruins.

    Birling also comments on the Titanic, which is famous for it’s sinking. He said, “forty-six thousand eight hundred tons – New York in five days – and every luxury – and unsinkable absolutely unsinkable. (Act one, page 7) This is also incorrect, the titanic sank on its maiden voyage, it hit an iceberg and sunk, killing many people on board, another sign of Birling’s inaccurate predictions. Another thing Birling predicted was that by 1940 there would be peace everywhere. How ever in 1940 many countries where involved in World War 2. Birling also gives his opinion of how Russia is going to be behind all the other countries. Yet, Russia became not only a very advanced country, and it also became one of the super powers in the world.

    Birling’s comment reflects the capitalist view of the socialist countries. This shows how naive and how capitalist under estimate the socialists. He also describes people in the Balkans as warmongering “half civilized folk”. Even though the Balkans the Balkans were one of the triggers of the First World War but at that time Germany was looking for an excuse to start a war, yet again another naive and foolish comment. Since the audience has hindsight in what was going to happen, these comments would cause the audience to distrust Birling’s judgement even cause the audience to look down upon Birling.

    Priestly is also portraying the view of the capitalist society, for example he says, “We the employers at last are coming together to see that our interest – and the interests of capital – ar e properly protected” (Act one, Page 9) This shows the selfishness of the upper class, they only care about themselves and their money, they don’t care what is happening to their workers or other people who are living in poverty. Birling tries to make his position as a respectable businessman by elevating himself above others such as Eric. He says, “Just let me finish, Eric. You’ve a lot to learn” (Act one, Page 7).

    He makes Eric seem like an inexperienced inferior thus promoting himself to an old more experienced person. However ironically through out the play Eric seems to show a better view of society than Birling; he seems to be more considerate of others. For example when he found out Eva Smith died he instantly was sorry about the death and accepted the blame; however Mr Birling seemed to deny his part in her death and push the blame towards Sheila and Eric. On one hand Eric was saying, “We did her in all right” from here you can see that Eric has accepted his part of the blame form Eva Smiths death.

    One the other hand Mr Birling is still in denial, he still does not believe that he was accountable for Eva Smith’s death. Towards the end he seemed more worried about a public scandal than the death of the Girl. It shows he values his reputation more than the life of other people. This symbolises the capitalist philosophy of every man for himself; it shows how cruel and selfish humans can be, only caring about themselves and willing to sacrifice lives of other people for their own gains. One of the main signs of capitalism being an unfair society is the sacking of Eva Smith.

    Eva Smith who was a hard working worker gets sacked for asking for fair wages, which later on leads to her tragic end. This is a very good example of the cruelty of capitalism and how individuals don’t concern themselves with the greater good, instead they put priority over to their individual gains. In some plays for Inspector Calls the stage is made higher than usual. There are children outside in rags showing the poverty, while the rich Birlings are happily having their dinner party inside their comfortable home.

    This shows how little consideration that the capitalist have of other people; they are willing to sit in their comfortable houses and throw fancy parties will their fellow country men are starving the streets. Mr Birling also pushes his blame on other people to make himself feel better and more superior. He also lies to himself by thinking that he has done no wrong in this incident, which would get rid of any guilt. For example Mr Birling says, “You’re the one I blame for this”, instead of owning up what he has done, Mr Birling is determined to shift all his blame on others.

    On the other hand Sheila and Eric who feel guilty about what they have done seem to be symbolising the socialist view since they are concerned about other people other than themselves. This shows the contrast of a Capitalist society and a socialist society. Mrs Birling who was born in to wealth unlike Mr Birling. She also is deceiving herself in thinking that she is a kind, benevolent woman. She sets up her committee, which helps women in need to fool herself into to believingg that. This deceit is a way to comfort her insecurities.

    Ironically her influence in the committee only makes it worse for Eva Smiths, since Eva Smith damaged her reputation by copying her name she deprives Eva Smith of help. “Yes, I think it was simply a piece of gross impertinence… prejudiced me against he case” (Act 2 page 43). This shows that Mrs Birling is willing to kill and woman if she damages her reputation. Again Priestly is trying to portray how selfish capitalists are, only thinking about themselves never think out other people. Just like Mr Birling she denies that she help to cause the death of Eva Smith.

    Through out the whole interview with the inspector, Mrs Birling remained defiant and unwilling to accept the fact that she has contributed to Eva Smith’s death. She said “But I think she had only herself to blame” (Act 2 page 43) this only shows that she will not own up to what she has done, she even shifts the blame to Eva Smith in order to protect he reputation. It shows that even at this point she still will not let go of her reputation. It also reflects how little sympathy that Mrs Birling has for Eva Smith even though she died such a horrific death partly caused by Mrs Birling.

    This shows that she is still deceiving herself into thinking that she us a good woman, but deep down she is actually a cold hearted woman who is willing to destroy someone’s life if the tarnish her reputation. The Inspector acts as a prophetic voice to what will happen in the future. For example the inspector hints the coming of the First World War, the Second World War and also the Russian revolution by saying “if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish”. In the Russian revolution socialists rose up against their capitalist leaders and overthrew the government.

    This may be the lesson that Priestly is hinting since the revolutionaries found it necessary to take up arms against their leaders. This is very important for the audience because all the prophecies that the inspector makes seem to come truth. The audience would automatically compare him with Mr Birling’s naive guesses. This would gain the trust of the audiences for the inspector because he seems to be a truthful figure. From the play, the Inspector does not act as a normal inspector would, as he does not refrain from giving his opinion, and he would show more respect to the people that he is interviewing.

    He asks why didn’t Birling give extra wages to Eva Smith, this is a very personal question normal inspector would avoid these kinds of questions. His name also suggests that he is a supernatural being, Goole sounds very similar to the word “ghoul”, and therefore could suggest that the inspector is a supernatural being, a voice from another world. The inspector also represents a voice of socialism; he represents the views of socialism. In his final speak he mention “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other” (Act three, page 56).

    This is a highly socialist view, and Priestly contrast deliberately what Mr Birling has said about “a man has to make his own way – has to look after himself” (Act one, page 9). Mr Birling’s philosophy is a vivid symbol of the capitalist society, which caused the horrific death of Eva Smith, and the Inspector’s philosophy symbolises those of a socialist society which people help each other and care for each other. He tells us that we should look after one and another because “We are members of one body”. This comparison makes the capitalist society appear very selfish and unjust.

    The inspector acts a person who highlights the cruelty of the Birlings. In the beginning of play the Birlings seem to be a respectable family who don’t get into much trouble. However, after the interrogation like questioning by the inspector revealed what the Birlings were really like. The walls that Sheila talks about the Birlings are building represent the deceit that the Birlings. have built around themselves. The Inspector knocks down these walls of deceit to show what the Birlings are really like. He also shows the audience what characters are really like by breaking down the outside facade.

    One of the last signs of cruelty show in the play is the reaction of the characters when they realize Eva Smith is not really dead. Mr and Mrs Birling are relieved that they are not guilty. They resort back to the old ways. This shows that they only care about themselves since now they will not have to face a public scandal. However they have not listened to anything that the inspector said. On the other have Sheila and Eric have still not forgotten what the inspector said. Sheila says, “I tell you… you’ve all sopped” (Act 3 page 71).

    This shows that she has taken in what the inspector has said. Even though she is not guilty any more she still thinks about the other people in the streets. Priestly effectively portrays the cruelty of mankind’s through characters such as Mr Birling and Mrs Birling, and how the death of Eva smith was the cause of their cruelty. Also he shows the audience that even though the evidence in front of Mr and Mrs Birling they still denial that they had any part in Eva Smith’s death. He uses comparison with the socialist society to show how life could be a mush fairer and better for the common people.

    Even though this play has a dark tone, it still contains hope. For example Sheila and Eric have a totally different view on this situation than their parents. They feel what the Inspector said was correct and they also felt guilty for causing Eva Smith’s death, Eric says “and I say the girl’s… that’s what matters” (Act 3 page 67) from here you can tell that he has stopped caring about his own reputation and started caring about Eva Smith. This could mean that Priestly is hoping the younger generation could escape the capitalist views and accept the socialist ideas.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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